Tuesday, October 23, 2018

In lieu of a review, a treasure trove of memory

Treasure Trove in a 2002 Book
Michael Sedano

Cheech Marin. Chicano Visions. American Painters On The Verge. NY: Bullfinch, 2002.
ISBN 9780821228067

I have two copies in the house of Chicano Visions by Cheech Marin. I picked up one today and wondered which it is.

One of my copies came back from the Redlands house when my mother moved in with us and brought a few treasured books along with her foto albums and epiphyllums.

The flowers from her cacti stun me every season.

Chicano Visions First North American Edition came out with a 2002 copyright. It’s a Bulfinch Press imprint of Little, Brown and Company.

The publication meets one's expectations for an art book out of a major East coast house. Published adjunct to the landmark exhibition, Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge, Chicano Visions is an outstanding collection of one collector's uncanny sense of perfection.

Perfection of a moment. Chicano Visions is a snapshot of a snapshot of the ever-growing Marin Collection, snapped sometime in 2002. One day the Compleat Cheech will break your coffee table and bow your shelves.

The artist buys his art for the same reason he's popular on screen. Audiences see themselves on that screen. Marin sees himself in the paint. Audiences line up for each new movie, laughing at familiar scenes, quoting business, seeing it again. The Collector, like the ticket-buyer, puts his money as much for ethos as for aesthetic:

The more art I looked at and thought about, the more that initial feeling of something new and "known" was reinforced and with it a recognition of something powerful at work...they were Chicanos and looked at the world through Chicano eyes."

Chicano Visions. American Painters On The Verge, and the eponymous exhibition, stand out as landmarks in United States art publication and traveling museum shows. As a single-collector book, Chicano Visions rivals Bilingual Press' multi-volume master collection from 2002, Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art.

To Cheech Marin, he's not alone recognizing the vision of Personhood that makes this Chicana Chicano arte. Audiences flock to movies and exhibitions with a sense of urgency hunting for that identification that distinguishes itself from a mass. There is so much good art out there, it's a wonder the community doesn't showcase more private collections. Marin goes to market time and again, reveling in its abundance. Gente, buy this book and buy art. Give Cheech some competition,  órale, support your local artists.

In academic circles, this constitutes a School of Art. That has the ring of truth--just look at the pages in this book. Art Historians will validate this distinctiveness, likely meeting some resistance. It's good to see the issue become an issue among the cognoscenti, if so. Museum goers will line up in Riverside because they know it when they see it.

Cheech doesn't go half-stepping when he brings out a book selected from his collection. In fact, deluxe is a weak word for the bled-to-the-edge 10” x 10” pages. Printed in Singapore, the heavy polished stock holds the thick ink with the precision of a giclée. If you had a razor blade and no sense of value, you could frame the pages and hang them on your apartment wall and impress everyone who ventured into your lair. They’d think you had the kind of taste you’d see in the Riverside art museum Cheech Marin is furnishing like a Chicano Eli Broad, but with taste.

Barbara is who bought the copies of Chicano Visions. I was called to Union City at the last minute, cancelling plans to be there where Margaret Garcia was hosting a signing at her Galeria Mundo in Highland Park. It does rain in California, and that night it rained cats and dogs. Gente were huddled against the brick walls in line, dismal but patient for their chance to buy the treasured unseen volume, and chat with the artists who'd promised to attend. Then it rains.

My wife found parking and trudged into the tempest down Figueroa. Margaret spotted her and ushered her inside. Saved! Barbara didn’t stay too long, so people who were pissed at the interloper weren’t delayed too long. Así somos, gente, all good.

I regaled Barbara from the hotel that night about the weird business meeting, and she was all excited about having the books signed by several artists. Who was there? She wasn’t sure. Ni modo, we both have a bit of anomia in our cognition and not knowing who signed the plates would be answered when I flipped the pages, ¿no?

Cheech signed the frontispiece, to my mom and dad. I was pleased seeing Wayne Healy personalized his wishes to my folks. I knew my Dad would devour the art, not alone for its fine art, but just because it fine art a lo Chicano.

Every time his youngest son came home from some new activity in the anglo world the kid was growing up in, Dad’s first question invariably posed “were there any Chicanos there?" "any raza?” My Dad loved art--he painted, and when he still had eyes, loved photography. There’s where an unexpected treasure developed from inside this copy of Chicano Visions.

I knew to flip through books when I put away my mom’s stuff. She kept flowers, death cards, newspaper obits, receipts, doilies, fotos inside the pages of her books. I suppose whenever my mom had something that needed a flat file she chose a book of sufficient heft. The knitting books were ideal repositories, oversize and heavy. She went through her mystery and adventure novels too fast to leave bookmarks. If she left treasures in those, the Vietnam Veterans took them away. VVA turns books into pulp, like for fiction.

I didn’t think to flip through Cheech’s book when I brought mom’s stuff in from the car. It was still her book, sabes. She didn't give up her stuff just because she lived here. That was in 2009. I don’t know how long Chicano Visions sat under the glass table until today, but long enough I wasn’t certain this was my copy, or the Christmas gift in 2002. This one was Mom’s.

Photographs I’d never seen she’d tucked between the pages. There she is in 1942, a bit past 15 ½, when she married my dad in Yuma AZ. They would get married in Arizona, she decided, because Mom wasn’t going to go pick carrots in Marigold while the familia picked uvas in Cucamonga, just because her step-father ordered.

A Kodacolor print from the week of August 31, 1953. Pitted surface badly deteriorated. Murky shadowed brown lump and instantly I recognize this place. This is the house I was born into, on August 31, 1945, 515 Western Av, San Bernardino CA. My dad was in Germany and my birth gave him discharge points to come home to Berdoo instead of going to the Japan occupation. In my deepest engrams, in whatever chemical stew is brewing in my synapses, that brown hulk, that hedge, awaken my mental Ur, proto-memories of place; I know that house.

With precision I remember language—the first day I understood speech. Just down the driveway, the side door into the cocina, I stood next to the table with the white thing and the good woman talked at me. She left the room. I ran my finger down the icing. I understood, she said don’t do this. I fled out that screen door and high-tailed my diapered cola down that driveway there, by the tree.

My mother in another deteriorating image. She’s alone behind a steel desk, reading a book, a status board behind her. She’s probably figuring out how to run stuff in the air freight terminal. She left slinging hash to work at Norton AFB. From jet mechanics she moved into secretarial then upstairs to run the air freight terminal. Dozens of secretaries in the secretarial pool owed their careers to her.

The Boss had a shiny lacquer nameplate. Secretaries didn't get nameplates. The workers thought otherwise. They sawed a length of steel "L-bar", painted it safety red, and stenciled her name on both sides in USAF blue.

Here she is so young and alone. There’s another foto in the same space, professional USAF P.R. glossy, with the big boss. My mom is holding the phone, pretending to take a call. Maybe it’s 1959. In 1969, there’s a foto of me, standing in uniform holding a radio handset, pretending to be taking a call.

I’ve long held up photographs as prostheses for memory and those albums my mother put together over the decades are treasure troves of familia to bis-abuelos back in the nineteenth century. Like the portrait of Dad squeezing Mom with curling ocean waves behind. I took this foto with a war prize film camera my dad found in some building his tank had blasted to rubble.

They're on the jadeite beach below Highway 1 near Big Sur. Memory invests its own demands on place. I must go down the coast again.  A couple weeks ago I took my wife on a 50th anniversary let's relive a lifetime of roadtrips down Highway 1. You can't get down to that beach right now. So much for a final nostalgic foto.

In many cases fotos come anonymously, no names and dates on the back. Serious faces, a bunch of indians and mexicans, scruffy little kids with long-dead pets, groups of happy faces. My wife's French-Canadian family foto archive matches my mother's albums; same memories, different people.

Finding today's foto treasure trove in Cheech’s book, a publication precious for itself, added tesoro to tesoro. When these fotos dropped into my lap they arrived like a dramatic irony, a sneeze in a Greek play. I was thinking about my folks recently, now I see they’re doing fine.

1 comment:

Antonio SolisGomez said...

very nice em both the writing on cheech's collection and your family photos-enjoyed it