Resurrected Histories: Voices from the Chicano Arts Collectives of Highland Park

The "Resurrected Histories" research project culminates as an art exhibition opening this Saturday, January 14th at at Avenue 50 Studio and runs through February 5th. Curated by Sybil Venegas, art historian, professor, and chair of the Chicana/Chicano Studies department at East Los Angeles College, the exhibition will feature paintings, graphic art, photographs, and publications from the Highland Park collectives Mechicano Art Center and Centro de Arte Publico. It features the work of Carlos Almaraz, Barbara Carrasco, Leo Limon, Guillermo Bejerano, John Valadez, and Dolores Guerrero, among others.

Resurrected Histories was initiated by Avenue 50 Studio through funding by the California Council for the Humanities and the James Irvine Foundation to research the history of art collectives in Highland Park. Project partners include Abel Alejandre of Atelier Visit, Sybil Venegas, Sarah Meacham, John Valadez and KCET Departures.

Below, Sybil Venegas provides an overview of the Chicano Art Movement centered around Highland Park.

Chicano Art in Northeast Los Angeles
Beginning in the mid 1970s a small number of Chicano artists, writers and intellectuals as well as organizations began moving from the East Los Angeles area into Highland Park. In some cases, organizations that had not initially formed in East LA, were beginning to emerge in Highland Park as well. The move to Highland Park marks an interesting era in Chicana/o art history in Los Angeles and the cultural transformation of a Los Angeles neighborhood, not historically Chicano/Latino.

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Among those who moved to Highland Park during this time were artist Carlos Almaraz and his girlfriend Patricia Parra. In 1975 they bought a house on Aldama Street in Highland Park which became an active artist commune and many Chicano artists found their way to this house for varied cultural and political activities. Among the artists who participated in this community, which became known as Corazon Productions, were Magu, Beto de la Rocha, and Frank Romero of Los Four; Wayne Healy and George Yepez who were part of the East Los Streetscapers; Gronk, a member of ASCO; and artists Guillermo Bejerano, Leo Limon and John Valadez.

Centro de Arte Publico and Chisme Arte
In 1977, Almaraz in collaboration with Guillermo Bejerano and Richard Duardo, founded the Centro de Arte Publico (C.A.P.) on 56th and Figueroa in Highland Park. By this time, Almaraz and Bejerano had been in Highland Park for several years, and Duardo, a UCLA grad and former silkscreen printer for Self Help Graphics, had grown up in Highland Park when his family moved to the community in the 1960s. In addition, artists Barbara Carrasco, Dolores Guerrero, Judithe Hernandez, Leo Limon, and John Valadez, joined the Center for Public Art and maintained studio space at the center, while other artists including painters Tito Delgado and George Yepes participated at the Centro as well.

Left to right, back: John Valadez, Judithe Hernandez, Dolores Guerrero. Front: Barbara Carrasco and other CRA employees in 1981. Image courtesy of Barbara Carrasco.

Almaraz and Bejerano were later joined by writer Victor Valle in producing the art magazine, CHISMEARTE from 1977-1980, a publication of the Concilio de Arte Popular, a statewide Chicano arts organization. Both of these ventures ended by the early 1980s, with Almaraz and Valadez creating a studio downtown to pursue more commercial efforts. Richard Duardo would continue at the building on Figueroa, creating his own print studio, initially called Hecho En Aztlan Multiples, printing posters for punk bands, hosting a widely popular punk band rehearsal space and creating a record label, Fatima Records.

Interior of studio, 1978. Image courtesy of John Valadez.

Mechicano Art Center
In late 1975, Mechicano Art Center relocated to Highland Park from East Los Angeles. They had been without a building for almost a year and could not find an affordable space to house a silkscreen workshop and gallery space in East LA. The director, Joe Rodriguez found a building on the corner of Figueroa and Avenue 54. The space functioned for the next two years, with Rodriguez organizing a series of Chicana/o art exhibitions, directing the Ramona Gardens mural project and Sonya Fe running their silkscreen print workshop.

Outside of Mechicano Art Center on Whittier Boulevard in the early 1970s before relocating to Highland Park. Image courtesy of Broome Library at California State University Channel Islands.

Among the work they produced at their Highland Park Centro Nuevo location were the now iconic silkscreen Calendario (1977) and posters announcing a variety of community events. Some of the exhibitions held at Mechicano during their two years in Highland Park included an ASCO exhibit, a Chicana exhibit featuring Judithe Hernandez, Sonya Fe and Isabel Castro and solo exhibits of Lucila Grijalva, Linda Vallejo and Roberto Chavez' work. Their last exhibit was for Dia de los Muertos in November, 1977, including among others, artists Carlos Almaraz, Roberto Chavez, Leo Limon, Harry Gamboa and John Valadez.

In 1989, a little more than a decade after the end of Corazon Productions, Pat Parra who bought out all the original investors in the Aldama house, created a native based healing circle at her property. This circle, which was originally founded by artist Cynde Onesto in Norwalk, relocated to Highland Park and became a Los Angeles based sweat-lodge community known simply as Corazon.

Carlos Almaraz, 1979. Photo by Harry Gamboa Jr. Image courtesy of Barbara Carrasco.

What was ultimately revealed through the Resurrected Histories Project was how central Carlos Almaraz was to the emergence of Chicano art activism in Highland Park in the late 1970's. He was a core element to everyone's memories and stories and indirectly played an important role in the evolving careers of all of the artists involved in this project. To this day he is remembered fondly and with much love.

Shortly after moving to his downtown studio, Almaraz' now iconic car crash series, which he began while at CAP in Highland Park, began to generate commercial success and his future paintings and pastels depicting the urban landscape of Los Angeles have had a major impact on the art world, both locally and internationally. In 1981, Almaraz married artist, Elsa Flores. They briefly shared a studio downtown, however, they moved back to a house on Avenue 53 in Highland Park where they lived for the next two years until moving to Pasadena. In his last years in Highland Park, Almaraz was quite prolific, and the list of his now renowned works including Echo Park Lake, Red Chair, Double Vision, Whatever Happened to the Inca, Europe and the Jaguar, West Coast Crash, Sunset Crash and Greed were painted while living in Highland Park a few blocks from what was once the Centro de Arte Publico. Carlos Almaraz passed away in 1989.


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