Olga García Echeverría
The first time I ever saw Manuel Acevedo’s work was last year at ChimMaya Gallery in East Los Angeles. Evocative and beautiful, Acevedo's large portrait of a naked man holding a bouquet of roses stood out and pulled me in like a magnet. I was drawn to the emotions the piece evoked and the combination of colors, rich blue and red, popping out against what I originally thought was black and white charcoal. Once up close, I realized that the drawing was made of endless small ink strokes, or as Manuel calls them “scratches and scribbles.” While staring at the thin, fleeting lines in Acevedo's piece, I couldn't help but think of Carl Jung and his theory on the primal need we all have to unleash our subconscious through wild doodling. How many ink scratches must have gone into the 36 X 50 portrait at ChimMaya? Thousands, perhaps even millions. Not even Acevedo knows, but the piece took him over two years to complete.
Born and raised in Pico Rivera, Manuel A. Acevedo started doodling in junior high school at the age of 13. Back then, he mainly drew celebrities, people in magazines, and cartoon characters. At the age of 17, however, after graduating from high school, Acevedo started to explore the gay community in West Hollywood. “For the first time I started to meet a lot of gay people who were out. This had a big influence on me and it was also during this time that I more openly explored my own sexuality.”
Coming out at such a young age wasn’t easy, especially in a Latino, catcholic family. Like many queer youth, Manuel was initially alienated and disowned by his parents because of his sexual orientation. Forced to leave home, he wandered from friend’s house to friend’s house, until he eventually moved to San Diego. It wasn’t until a few years later that he returned to Los Angeles, where his family came to terms with accepting him and he was able to reunite with them.
It was at the Academy of Arts at the University of San Francisco that Acevedo began to draw the male body and in particular gay portraits. “I wanted more of a personal connection to my art work, something that was a part of me. I wanted to draw people who were like me and who weren’t ashamed to show their sexuality. It’s something that can and should be shown in art. Growing up I always had to repress that.”
Since completing the Academy of Arts, Acevedo has been steadily developing his portfolio. His ink-scratching masterpieces are distinctive, bringing into the limelight images of hard-looking homeboys locked in passionate kisses, gay eroticism, and the male body as sexual-political-visual poetry. Acevedo, however, sees his work differently. “My work, I don’t necessarily see it as sexual or sensual. I see it as proud portraiture. Iconography—creating icons of portraits. It’s kind of like when you go to church and see the Virgin Mary. She’s an icon. My work isn’t religious though. It’s representative of my friends and the people in my life. But I guess there’s a type of worshipping, an appreciation of them.”
Responses to Acevedo’s work have varied. "Many times I’m asked things like--Why gay men? Why sex? Why can’t it be still life or landscapes or fantasy? Why can’t it be anything else than what I’m doing—which is gay men. These comments come from a variety of people, sometimes family, sometimes strangers. Even within the gay community, I get different comments about my work. Some praise it, others point out that being gay isn’t just about sex, ‘the sexual revolution is over’ they tell me.” Despite the occassional criticism that may come his way, Acevedo has a great amount of support, especially within the queer community. His greatest supporter during the past 5 years has been his boyfriend Sal, who appears repeatedly in his drawings. "He's my greatest support and muse."
When asked what his parents now say about his work, Manuel smiled and let out a deep breath, “Oh man! At first they were very skeptical about what I was doing and about who I am. Yet, they’re actually the ones who encouraged me to go to art school. When I came back from art school, they saw the shift in my work and they were like What happened?!" Despite this, Acevedo shares that when his parents visited ChimMaya, they were very proud to see his work displayed. They were also surprised to see the works of other gay latino artists. "It's like they realized I'm not the only one doing this."
About his process, Manuel shared that he never starts a project and just finishes it. "I start one this week and another the next. It’s like a wheel. Depending on what day it is, I may work on one piece or three pieces. As long as I’m working and the wheel is moving, I’m flourishing.” Currently, he has about twenty pieces on the walls. He's working on all of them at the same time. Kind of. “I just keep rotating, depending on the day.”
But it isn't easy for Acevedo to always know instinctly when a piece is finally done. He jokes about his boyfriend Sal often asking him the same question over and over again: Are you done yet? Are you done? The truth is that when Acevedo draws, he never really wants to be done with the piece nor does he want to let it go. "It’s a labor of love, especially the large pieces that have taken such a long time. It’s awful because once I get a piece framed, I know I can’t open it up and work on it some more. But yeah, I have to eventually let it go and I do.”
Well, lucky for us that he does let his creations go, for Acevedo's work clearly fills a void in the Chicano-Latino art world. Like Acevedo says, "We need more gay latino artists out there. I was so closeted when I was young. As an artist, I had to do something that brought together the different parts of me—my love for art, my sexual orientation, and my community—and this is what I've created.”
If you'd like to check out more of Manuel Acevedo's work, you can visit his website. http://manuel-acevedo.com/
Manuel Acevedo will also be displaying some of his work at the 16th Annual West Hollywood Exotic Art Fair. March 25th-27th, 2011. Check out the following link for more information:
Bueno, that's all for today's Sunday blog folks. Until next time, peace and queer besos!