Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicanonautica: Jesús Helguera -- Mexico Romanticized

by Ernest Hogan

You never know where research will take you. That’s why to try to keep my mind open while doing it. Like that old coyote Columbus, you never know when you’re going to discover something.

I was struggling to come up with images to use on an upcoming ebook of my collaboration with Rick Cook, Obsidian Harvest, a novella that appeared in Analog and Gardner Dozios' Year’s Best Science Fiction Eighteenth Annual Collection. We needed a portrait of the hero, an Aztec version of a hardboiled private eye. Rick smiled and said, “Mexican beer calendar.”

A cryptic statement, but I instantly knew exactly what he was talking about: Sexy images of Aztec warriors and maidens that for decades could be seen in bars, restaurants, garages, and Chicano homes. Sometimes they would be reproduced in paintings done by a talented family member.

They were the paintings of Jesús Helguera.

These images would also be reproduced on vehicles. At one time they were a common as stylized flames and those decals of ratty-looking, cigar smoking Woody Woodpecker -- and those Moon eyeballs on barrio cars.

And they are still reproduced by other artists.

Helguera’s iconic images don’t have the revolutionary spirit of Rivera, Kahlo, Orozco, and Siqueiros, but like Posada’s woodcuts, they present something essential about Mexico. Slick and classical -- some might use the word “commercial’ -- Helguera’s paintings offer lush, beautiful fantasies of Mexican life and history. Hollywood couldn’t have done a better job.

They are wonderful visual aids that could liven up history lectures. Did I mention that they were sexy?

My Aztec detective isn’t as guapo at Helguera’s warriors -- he’s more streetwise, and battle-hardened, but I'm knocking myself out trying to give him some of their charm.

Ernest Hogan is also knocking himself out getting a Cortez on Jupiter ebook ready for release. The short story that Cortez on Jupiter was based on is coming out in the anthology Alien Contact on November 1st, and can be pre-ordered now.

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