PICTURING HISTORY: LIGHTS, DARKS, CAMERAS, AND ACTION!
While the Cold War for the most part dealt with the conflicts between the Soviet Union and the United States, it was also one of the most turbulent and transformative periods between Latin America and the United States. Picturing History: Lights, Darks, Cameras, and Action! scrutinizes the history of oil painting, television, cinema, and U.S. empire through the memories of my family photo album during the decades of the 1950s and 60s.
The staged narratives of my paintings, drawings, prints and films re-present my parents as strawberry sharecroppers in the California Central Valley, and later in Southern California, in their attempts to participate in the American Dream. Other historic actors include Joe McCarthy, Arthur Miller, Roy Cohn, Fidel Castro, Louis Armstrong, Jackson Pollock, Rita Hayworth and Pedro Infante to name a few. Juxtaposing histories and aesthetics is my way of highlighting a visual connection between past and present. It is also my way of challenging the viewer to question how past beliefs and value systems continue to influence and shape how we see others, the world and ourselves.
The Late, Late, Late Capitalism Show, Oil and wax on linen on Panel, 18” x 18” x 1.5”, 2010,
All the world’s a stage and this one is full of actors from the cinema and world history to the personal. On the left are Rita Hayworth and her makeup artist. Hollywood changed her name, dyed her hair, removed her widow’s peak in order to sell her “universal” beauty and not appear so Latina. On the guitar is my favorite Mexican star, Pedro Infante, as Pepe el Toro. In the 1950s the U.S. government sponsored propaganda newsreels that traveled in Mexico to combat the fear that the country would turn communist. They called it Operation Pedro. Next to Pepe is Fidel Castro. He and his revolution have survived eleven U.S. presidencies. Wow! and Obdulio, the futbol player from Uruguay. Corporate sponsorship is everywhere. And then my parents, Pedro and Matilde, interrupt it all. They can’t believe what they’re seeing. Of course, they can’t step in front of the velvet rope but we sure can. So if you don’t like the history you’re living, go out and make some of your own.
How To Wage A Cultural Cold War, Oil and wax on linen on panel, 32” x 48” x 1.5”, 2011.
There he is at the center, Louis Armstrong. In the 1950s the U.S. government got into the culture business by sending famous musicians to other parts of the world under the auspices of goodwill. In reality the CIA sponsored these tours to combat the perceived threat of communism. Eisenhower wanted artists and musicians, particularly African-American jazz musicians, to show the reds that art in America meant freedom. Can you say Brown vs. Board of education? The civil rights movement was just beginning to take off. On the far left (but really the right) there’s Bishop Fulton J. Sheen pontificating. On the far right (literally) in the beautiful blue suit is Senator Joseph McCarthy interrogating the playwright, Arthur Miller at HUAC. In the background are his protégé, Roy Cohn, and his best boy, David Schine. They were very friendly to each other. And there’s me as Jackson Pollock, painter of the moment, throwing colored commotion everywhere.
Art, Thought, and Hypocrisy in Times of Terror, Oil and wax on linen on panels, 18” x 36” x 1.5”, 2011,
How does society change? Is democracy really possible? Throughout time art has played different roles and in many different cultural, social and political settings from the ancient to the modern to the now. For critics and others during the cold war, jazz and abstract painting illustrated freedom. The U.S. government even thought so as it sent musicians and paintings abroad to show the world that America was first in equality. These tours were really meant to send a message to nations that they should side with the U.S. and not turn red. Spheres of influence. Terrorism. When? Now? You pick a time. During the Spanish Inquisition, which was used for political as well as religious reasons, people were tortured and sometimes killed. It was also implemented to drive out Jews, Protestant and non- believers. Control the masses by inciting fear. Similarly, American colonists chopped of the heads of some Native Americans to incite fear as well. And then, Abu Ghraib? Serious days for art, thought and hypocrisy in times of terror.
History Exists But Imperialism Has Spaces To Hide It, Oil and wax on linen on panels, 18” x 50” x1.5”, 2012,
There can be revolutions from the left like the one in Cuba with Fidel Castro. There were revolutions from the right with Senator Joseph McCarthy red-hunting. In the middle is the laborer. In this case she is in the fields. What is the history of labor in this country? Where have all the unions gone? What was the bracero program and who benefitted from it? Between all of this is the pretty blue sea, the Caribbean, to be exact. And it’s being sold as paradise or exotica. Go ahead and dance con la senorita or pick coffee with Juan or ride your burro to the mercado. Like the slogan says, “Discover the exciting world…… right at your own back door.” Pero cuidado, History exists… but whose History?
Hide and Peek Or How I Learned To Play-It-Boy, Oil and wax on linen on panels, 22” x 66” x 1.5”, 2012
The 1960s. Where did we take our cultural cues from in order to “act like a man?”
I remember older brothers pleasuring themselves with Hefner’s paper dolls, being asked to retrieve my alcoholic father from his favorite haunt for dinner, and GI Joe dolls. Add to this mix Andy Warhol, stir and bake it with lots of shame and fear and here is what you get as a visual.
Cold Warriors: Red, Hot, Pink, and Lavender, Oil and wax on panels, 30” x 30” x1.5”, 2012.
During the cold war homosexual males were thought to be a national security threat because they couldn’t be trusted around other men. The thinking (or non- thinking) at the time equated homosexual behavior with that of women’s, uncontrolled. Here is a fictional (or is it) narrative that begins with two closeted lovers, Jim and Pete, working for the CIA. Jim finds out that Pete was involved in the CIA backed coup d’état in Iran in 1953 and wants him to come clean. But Pete takes action and that’s all I’m saying. All is fair in love and war? Some say the cold war has melted away. But how do you get rid of an ideological glacier that big? It takes time to melt. Have you read the papers lately?
The Uncertain Trumpet, Oil and wax on linen on panels, 40” x 60” x1.5, 2014,
This painting takes its title from General Maxwell D. Taylor’s book published in 1960. The book criticized the Eisenhower Administration’s defense policy, which he viewed as dangerously over-reliant on nuclear arms. However, the title also refers to Armstrong’s ambivalence towards Eisenhower’s use of African-American musicians as cultural ambassadors. Bishop Sheen, Cohn, and Schine add to tension of the times with helicopters in the background symbolizing the quagmire of the Vietnam War.
Imperialist Nostalgia, Oil and wax on linen on panels, 30” x 90” x 1.5”, 2012
As the historical figures look back at us and possibly to a time when the empire was new, they all appear as red-hot embers. Perhaps they are caught in a house burning. However, their cool, slightly detached, and somewhat melancholic stances give the impression of not being too worried. Could it be the cool blue floor keeping their temperatures down or is that run-off from the melting polar ice caps?
The Great Society: A Work In Progress, oil and wax on linen on panel, 32” x 48” x 1.5”, 2014.
The Great Society, President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s unfinished work from the 960s. Its two main goals were to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. Education, health care and urban problems were also radically re-thought during this time. Many critics believe the Vietnam War cut short his best intentions. My painting compresses time with historical actors to tell the story of this nation’s need to keep chipping away at making a society great. There are artists, Jackson Pollock (a self-portrait) helping to pick the crops in the field, Louis Armstrong taking a break on a strawberry crate, a re-staged portrait of my parents (both in chinos) getting out the vote, as well as Roy Cohn and David Schine from the HUAC hearings. Fidel Castro, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Obdulio the soccer player are here too. I’ll let you figure out who worked towards (or against) a great society.
The Unraveling (for Gore Vidal), oil and wax on linen on linen, paper, and aluminum on panels with mirror ball, recording tape and reels, plastic toy soldiers, gasoline container, 108” x 90” x 1.5”, 2014.
How did we get here? It started with Lee Harvey Oswald in ’63 and the single shot…Really?…the pill…Dr. Martin Luther King warned us of unchecked materialism and our lack of spiritual depth….then he was gone…It was the death of Mao Zedong and the rise of market Leninism…Linda Lovelace and Deepthroat and the Watergate break in…Was Richard M. Nixon truly our last liberal president?…he did create the EPA and OSHA…pill popping and “Mother’s little helper”…It was the Bay of Pigs fiasco…No, it was the Vietnam War…Jock Yablonski’s murder and the death of labor unions…Odd and even days for getting gasoline depending on your automobile’s license plate…Was Andy Warhol gay or asexual and did he really kill art by saying consumer products were art?… Reagan and Thatcher with their deregulation and neoliberal economics…that’s what did it… Really?… Sayyed Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini led the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran….during his reign, the Iranian oil industry was briefly nationalized under Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh before a U.S. and UK backed coup d’état, in 1953, overturned the regime and brought back foreign oil firms…In 1975 most of us were just “Stayin’ Alive” on the dance floor every Friday and Saturday night…..In 1972 gas prices were 22, 24, and 26 cents a gallon…now it’s $4.15, $4.25, and $4.35 a gallon…How did we get here?…”Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother, you’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’…you’re stayin’ alive…stayin’ alive …