Some Past and Recent Forays into Poster & Graphic Art, Publications and Blogs

Since my early efforts to produce visual art works, I have aligned closely with the graphic arts; and a lot of my journey as a creative person reflects that. During my high school years at West Los Angeles University High School during the mid-1970s, I got involved in various causes: the farmworker rights campaigns led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta; the global human rights struggle; and the environmental protection movement, among others. My creative pursuits reflected this.

In April of 1977, I was commissioned by Alicia (Lícha) Alatriste, one of the La Raza Student Association leaders of my school, to produce a poster announcing that year’s Cinco de Mayo dance at the West L.A. Armory. It was a simple, but heartfelt piece that honored the Mexican flag and the Águila Azteca (Aztec Eagle) that anchors it. It was a nod to Chicano liberation and the farm workers’ efforts in the fields.

I was inspired by my budding connection with Carlos Bueno, the then-recent co-founder of East Los Angeles Self-Help Graphics Art Center. Carlos had been coaching me over recent months in the art of mural making. Through his work and influence, I had come to better appreciate the magnificent legacy of Mexican and Chicano popular culture, politics and art.

Indeed, my introduction to Self-Help Graphics (SHG) additionally opened the windows of my consciousness to the history and politics that were beginning to be made on LA’s Eastside during that time, especially through the profoundly impactful murals, paintings, and graphic art creations of the era’s now iconic Chicano art movement leaders who were connected to it. According to SHG’s website on the cusp of the organization’s 50th anniversary, in the years following its incorporation in 1973:

…SHG empowered and nurtured several generations of artists, particularly from communities of color, who have historically struggled to gain access to printmaking workshops. Since its inception the founders (Sister Karen Boccalero, Frank Hernandez, Carlos Bueno, and Antonio Ibañez) articulated a philosophy of creative social change, as well as a professionalization and commodity production process, as a publisher of limited editions, to help artists of color succeed in the art world of Los Angeles. Renowned artists such as Carlos Almaraz, Tomie Arai, Barbara Carrasco, Yreina Cervantez, Felipe Ehrenberg, Diane Gamboa, Raymond Pettibon, Patssi Valdez, Gronk, Sonia Romero, Willie Middlebrook and Overton Lloyd, excelled through their atelier program, working closely with master printers in the production of fine art serigraphs. SHG was also a meeting ground for youth cultures as evidenced in the underground punk scene at the Vex, a unique music venue housed at SHG.

At SHG, you could see amazing works of art any time you might drop in: paintings, photography, and papier-mâché. But most of it was graphic art in the form of posters and serigraphs. Always bright, amazing and memorable, these print works reflected the life, the soul, and the experience of the surrounding neighborhoods that made up East Los Angeles. The talent surrounding SHG was unsurpassed in that time. In so many ways, SHG and the Chicano art revolution that it helped to spawn was the modern analog of the early 20th century artistic circles that established the cannon of Western contemporary art in Mexico (through the muralists and their allies in the visual and performing arts) and in Europe (through the Dadaists and the Bauhaus movement).

During the years following my creative formation in LA’s rich cultural landscape of the 1970s, I developed my artistic practice mostly in the shadows, focusing instead on scholarship at UC Berkeley and Harvard; and, then, my professional pursuits in public policy and philanthropy. I drew and painted on weekends and over vacations. I read a lot about different artists and I visited a lot of museums and cultural centers.

Occasionally, I showed my works in various art shows at places like ARCO Plaza in Los Angeles, the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation in Bonn, Germany, and the Gallery of Graphic Arts in New York City. But it wasn’t until after the 9/11 attacks that I began more regularly to gain public exposure in graphic art formats and venues. One of my first breaks came in 2003, when printmaker Leighton Kirkpatrick used one of my paintings as the anchor for his recently-relocated graphic arts and photography center in Oklahoma City. 

He had been developing awesome giclée prints of my original artworks for sales and collections of my work in New York City, since 2000 when I moved back there to scale up my social investment advising firm Mauer Kunst Consulting. Leighton and I shared a quick and natural connection. He genuinely liked my work and, as far as I was concerned, nobody did better reproductions of it than him.

In 2006, I was invited by the leadership of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) to produce an original work of art that would be featured throughout that year on all of the organization’s public communications, and in connection with its national awards dinner programs in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, and Washington, DC.

For MALDEF’s consideration, I produced two very different images, building on the continuing crescendo of anti-immigrant sentiment that had been increasing over the past decade across much of the nation. One was a darker piece called, Justice Has No Borders. It was my preferred piece for being bolder and more unapologetic in its statement of contempt for the kind of racist, anti-immigrant policy that was building at the time. MALDEF opted to use the more dreamy and positive image that I created, called The Border Crossing: Mind, Matter, Movement.

Also around that time, I began to manage large national philanthropy initiatives that organically created opportunities to link with my social purpose artwork in graphic formats of various kinds: publications, posters, journal and magazine covers, and the like. The California Endowment-supported Focus Funders Program and the Diversity in Philanthropy Project, both of which I co-developed with The Endowment’s president, Dr. Robert K. Ross, provided rich platforms for several of my pieces to gain broader national currency.

In the first instance, during 2006-2007, we convened several significant gatherings of donors and foundation executives to discuss the emergence of community-focused inclusion funds serving historically underfunded populations of color, LGBTQ groups, and women. To report the impacts of The Endowment’s $12 million investment to support these funds’ development through community-based multicultural health initiatives, we produced two important publications that featured my original collage work. One, published in 2006, featured my work, Vision of Some Better Place, on the front cover. A second, produced in in 2007 featured my piece, Patrons of the Opera. Recently, a poster reproduction of that piece has been included in the permanent collection of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Later, in 2008-2010, Dr. Ross and I wrangled over 30 leading foundation trustees and executives across the country to form the Diversity in Philanthropy Project, a broad coalition committed to significantly increase the representation of diverse communities in foundation governance, leadership, grants and investments. In our aggressive pursuit of this agenda across the U.S. social investment landscape, we also produced important and influential reports and summits that resulted in additional opportunities to incorporate my visual artworks as aides in advancing the cause.

At the 2008 Council on Foundations Annual Conference in Seattle, WA, we organized a suite of inter-related and widely-attended leadership panels on the issues. And, following that gathering, we also hosted important regional leadership dialogs. In order to advertise and memorialize these historic conversations, we produced a brochure that featured on its cover my original collage work called, The Promised Land. The piece was also carried in allied publications by groups like Philanthropy Northwest.

Finally, along the way, I had the opportunity to have my original art featured in important publications, like the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Journal of Hispanic Policy and the Art of Life: Artist, Emergence and Culture blog series.

In the final analysis, I especially like to produce and share works in graphic art formats because I feel that they are a more democratic way of making each piece live. They facilitate proliferation and public engagement. They make it a far more accessible and inclusive proposition for people to experience my art; and, in the process, to take in the full measure and the meaning of my creative statements. Whether posted to a wall or published in a book, brochure or magazine, whether online or on the production line, graphic art is finally public art, something in which we can all share. And that’s what I most love about it.