To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, the Art Collections Department would like to highlight some of the amazing Latinx artists in the Escalette Collection whose work has impacted American art and culture, and enriches the experiences of students, staff, faculty, and visitors on Chapman University’s campus.
Ana Serrano is a first generation Mexican American born in Los Angeles, California in 1983. Inspired by both of the cultural contexts in her life, she creates work utilizing a variety of media including drawing, collage, sculpture, and motion. Her work bears reference to those in low socioeconomic positions, with particular interest in the customs and beliefs, as well as the architecture, fashion, and informal economies present within this segment of society. A current theme explored in her work is the socio-cultural aspects of drug trafficking, and the branding and acceptance of the drug lord lifestyle. She is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
Serrano’s colorful cardboard creations bring the details, textures, and pop culture of LA urban life indoors. She is particularly interested in how residents alter and adorn their dwellings with vibrant color.
“I just think it’s interesting how different people can have such different taste in color… As you go into higher income neighborhoods you’ll see that palette is very muted, and very homogeneous. [In] lower income neighborhoods, where you don’t have a homeowners association, you see these colors that are really vibrant. I do think they’re happier too.” -Ana Serrano, 2014, KCET
Although most of Serrano’s pieces are miniatures (like those in the Escalette Collection), in Fall 2011, Serrano took over the Rice University Art Gallery in Houston with “Salon of Beauty,” a site-specific installation of an avenue with large-scale buildings including a quinceañera cake shop, bargain store, and a strip club. Each of the structures had to be built individually and pieced together like a puzzle to create a microcosm of Chicanx urban life. Looking at her works and noticing the hyper-realistic details provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the familiar LA landscape from a new perspective. The viewer is immediately familiar with the type of place each of her works represent, and can easily engage in the fun of imagining the people, activities, sounds, and smells that are normally there. There’s something whimsically exciting about seeing the amount of attention that Serrrano puts into recreating even the most mundane features of daily life (like an air conditioning unit or rain gutter) and seeing how they contribute to the miniature urban landscape.
Pablo López Luz grew up in an artistic family, learning about celebrated Mexican photographers such as Graciela Iturbide, who had a significant impact on Luz as a young artist. In 2006, after studying communications, he earned a Master’s degree in Art at New York University and the International Center of Photography in New York. Luz’s work often references the Mexican landscape tradition. He is best known for his aerial photographs of Mexico City, a megalopolis in the process of constant mutation, of rapid and chaotic growth. He has also explored the links between history and the contemporary world, especially the question of Mexican national identity.
The Escalette Collection has two works from Luz’s Frontera series (2014-2015) which explores the landscape of the Mexico – US border from – literally- a new perspective. These photographs, shot on helicopter flights that spanned 1,295 miles, are intended to disrupt the dominant narrative of the border as a zone of contention, and open up a new visual paradigm to reinterpret our understanding of “the border.” From above, the border wall is seen as only a small, man-made blemish, a scratch on the face of an otherwise whole, pristine landscape. From above, it’s nearly impossible to know which side of the border is which, a disorienting effect that points to the contrived meanings and significance that we as humans have attached to this unnatural, constructed object. In his book Frontera, Luz was also interested in exploring the naive idea of order and separation that borders falsely provide; in trying to construct order within the landscape, humans have paradoxically created a source of disorder, chaos, and violence that plagues the people living around it. Luz says he often wonders if there were no human borders, would the conflicts we hear about so often in the news (i.e. illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, narco-wars, sex tourism, etc.) even exist.
I just question the actual idea of the border, and the actual idea of building a bigger, taller, stronger wall. Once you’ve seen both of our countries from above, from my perspective, you realize how absurd it all is.” -Pablo López Luz, 2017, Travel and Leisure
Patrick Martinez’s L.A. upbringing and diverse background (Filipino, Mexican and Native American) has provided him with a unique approach to his surroundings. Influenced by the Hip Hop movement, Martinez’s early art practice began with graffiti, which later led him to the Art Center College of Design where he graduated with honors in 2005. Through his skill in a wide variety of media (painting, neon, ceramic and sculpture), Martinez critically explores the everyday realities of suburban and urban life in L.A. with humor, sensitivity and wit.
“My works and the concepts developed through them speak to the diversity that is Los Angeles. I am interested in the vernacular of the landscape. The use of stucco, spray paint, tile, and neon combined with traditional methods and materials of art production provide me with the space to present current socio-economic challenges and how they affect the constituents of the city and the country… Through the production and presentation of my work, I am looking to tell the stories of the communities, people, and establishments that create the signs and symbols that so distinctly characterize L.A. ” – Patrick Martinez, calfund.org
Armed with the materials and visual culture of L.A. life, Martinez seeks to elevate the stories and struggles of small neighborhoods to national and international platforms. A poignant example of Matrinez’s advocacy is his “Lost Color” series which re-envisions Pee-Chee folders to memorialize actual victims of police violence, an ongoing project Martinez started in 2015. Martinez had been experimenting with Pee-Chee folders for some years before. His original Pee-Chee work started in 2005 and portrayed what he described as a “generic version” of violence including policemen chasing a person or running with a gun drawn. He continued this series until 2007 when he decided to put the idea aside. Nearly a decade later, advances in technology allowed more police brutality instances to made headline news. Now, people across the country were sharing cell-phone videos and photos that documented the use of extreme, and sometimes lethal, force in graphic detail. After the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Martinez felt compelled to return to his Pee-Chee folders to share the violent stories being hear on the news and social media. As the news continued to turn out stories and the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, Martinez continued to paint and print, recalling how “there was always content.” Martinez also made smaller folder-style prints (like the ones in the Escalette Collection of Art) that he sometimes distributes to high school and college students as a way to memorialize those whose lives were cut short by police violence.
“It’s just something to record history and present it in a creative way… I want to represent everybody and have their story at least be acknowledged… That’s why I’m doing a lot of them.” – Patrick Martinez, 2016, KCET
The Escalette Collection has four of Martinez’s folder prints (all are currently on display on the 3rd floor hallway of Beckman Hall) which each memorialize three victims of police violence, one in the top segment, one in the middle next to the Pee-Chee logo, and one in the bottom segment. Po-lice Misconduct Misprint (mint) memorializes Johnathan Santellana who was shot and killed by police (top); Rey Garza who died from gunshot wounds inflicted by a police officer who did not clearly identify himself (middle); and Alexandra Svoboda who was tackled by police during a protest and suffered a dislocated knee (bottom). Po-lice Misconduct misprint (natural blue) references an African-American student at Columbia who was grabbed by the neck at her desk and thrown across the floor by a police officer (top); the NYPD grabbing a woman’s hair after she was already put in handcuffs (middle); and UC Davis students being pepper sprayed by police while sitting on a paved path in the campus quad during a demonstration (bottom).
Ramiro Gomez was born in San Bernardino, California to undocumented Mexican immigrant parents who have since become US citizens. He attended the California Institute for the Arts for a short time before leaving to work as a live-in nanny with a West Hollywood family, an experience that greatly informed his subsequent interests and artistic practice. Gomez’s work is known for addressing issues of immigration and making visible the “invisible” labor forces that keep the pools, homes, and gardens of Los Angeles in such pristine condition. His method for doing so involves placing life-size cardboard cut-outs of gardeners, nannies, and housekeepers on display in neighborhoods and parks around Beverly Hills, California. The faces on these cardboard cut-outs are intentionally expressionless and lack normal features so that the viewer is only left with the bare outline of a person. Gomez states, “there’s no details for the fact that when we drive by the real people, we don’t have the time necessarily to observe the details; their eyes, their nose; their moles; and their imperfections. We just have time to view the physical outline and my cardboard cut-outs are interpretations of that.” More than just replicating an optical experience, the vagueness of Gomez’s cut-outs powerfully communicates the “invisibility” of the workers they represent. Too often the existence of housekeepers, gardeners, etc. are defined by the outcome of their work – how clean the house is, how well manicured the lawn is – rather than their individual being. They are only known by their easily replaceable label of “gardener,” “housekeeper,” “nanny” instead of their name, interests, passions, family, and so on; a simplification as lifeless and false as a cardboard cut-out. And yet, these “invisible” people are doing some of the hardest and most essential work that our society relies on to function normally.
These people do hold up a specific amount of society on their backs and on their hard work. They’re upholding households (and) taking care of families, so that the families can go on with their lives.” – Gomez, 2012, PRI
By placing his cardboard cut-outs in public areas, Gomez seems to be inviting us, even forcing us, to think about the real people who make the look of the place (straight cut hedges, sparkling pools, shiny windows) possible. In this way, the cut-out serves as a jarring stand-in that invites us to remember the hard-working people in our lives whose work we passively appreciate every day.