Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Guest Columnist Ricardo Muñoz: Collecting Chicanarte. In Memoriam: Serge Hernandez

Editor:"What is Chicano Art?" A question akin to answering, "What is Chicano Literature?" Clear your throat, rare back, and don't say anything. Let the art do the talking. 

Arte becomes in the eye of the Collector. Definition by acquisition. Not because the Collector says so, but because the Arte says so. A work calls out "here I am, Chicano Art!" and the Collector buys it. Sometimes, they don't see it first. No ratiocination other than checkbook logic.

What is Chicana Chicano Art? The stuff on the walls of this particular collection is some of it. In upcoming columns, La Bloga explores the genre of arte and collecting. We welcome Guests with their own collections and views of what they're doing.

La Bloga-Tuesday's Guest Columnist, Ricardo Muñoz, stands out, among the small population of raza Fine Art collectors specializing in Chicanarte, for his support of Los Angeles artists and venerable Avenue 50 Studio. 

La Bloga welcomes Ricardo with appreciation for his collection, and this reflection on art, taste, cultura, aesthetic motivation. Unspoken in the essay, gente: Galleries are opening and soon you will be standing in front of a compelling work of arte. Buy it. 
michael sedano 

Essay On My Attraction To Art Collecting

Ricardo Muñoz

I can't specifically recall when I first purchased a work of fine art.  

I do recall obtaining one or two art works in exchange for duplicate wedding gifts made at a wedding gift exchange store.  One was a seascape and we may still have it somewhere in our storeroom. 

Having taken courses in Art History and Art Appreciation at UCLA, I acquired a bit of academic knowledge about European art.  My parents had art books purchased to expose us at home to great works of art.  I was drawn to many of the images and they left a lasting impression.  In my youth, I regularly visited the Los Angeles County Art Museum, then at Exposition Park.  

On trips to Mexico, during my late teens and early twenties, I got a good exposure to modern Mexican Art by visiting museums and observing a large number of public art works.

Thinking about what has motivated me to become a fine art collector has led me to think about my self-identity and personal philosophy.  

I believe my personal philosophy of existentialism has been the principal motivating force that has led me to collect fine art works. 

One concept of existentialist philosophy that drives my motivation is the sense of profound loneliness that is held by each individual (Siamese twins may be an exception).  This loneliness exists  because each person has an individual consciousness.  Each person has their own individual existence. We can't totally know all about another being's life.  

This means no one can fully comprehend you, nor me.  Most of us beings, including myself, try to know, comprehend and understand others, especially those closest to us. 

My wife,Terry (Maria Teresa), has shared in the decision making on many of the works we purchased for our collection.  We have hosted a number of silent art auction fundraisers and Terry so much liked many of the works that were hung on our walls for these events.  These events have significantly increased her interest in collecting fine art.    

Having this existentialist outlook drives my interest in fine art, for in it I find a form of communication of existential messages that the artist has created to relate something about the artist's own sense of their being.  

Expressionism is the style of art that attracts me most, for in it dramatic feelings and emotions are what the artist seeks to communicate.  

When the artist is successful, the observer of the work will be drawn deeply into the theme.  The artist will impart through the image a message that transcends the artist's separateness from observers.  Of course individual observers may find messages that differ among themselves.

The works that I have collected have touched me in some way and most have been the product of artists whom I have known personally.  A substantial number are the works of artists whom I have befriended.

My eldest daughter, who attended the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts for  three years, followed by four more years studying visual art at Cooper Union, has left many of  her works with us for safe keeping.  Of course, my daughter Brigida's works are ones that belong to her, for they have never been purchased.  They are most special to me for they are images she produced and are existential messages from within her being, giving glimpses into her conscience.  One of her works that is most intriguing is the eye which she produced while at LACHSA.  She has never put a name on this work but I consider it an "Existential Eye".

Among the works in our collection are ones that have strong existential images.  Andres Montoya, in many of his works, conveys the theme of isolation and estrangement.  In a work entitled "Waiting", he paints a scene of a solitary man standing on the street waiting for someone.  Montoya told me the narrative is derived from a film about a man who goes off to war, but before leaving he and his girl make a pact to meet up after the war ends at the location where the man in the painting is waiting.

A painting by Carlos Bueno, from his the series "Virgenes de la Media Noche", is an image of desolation.  A middle aged prostitute sits at a table with her elbows on the table holding her head with her hands and possibly weeping.

Kathy Gallegos renders a pastel  image of an accordion player with his eyes closed, apparently playing with deep feeling and emotion.  In this image of the accordionist one senses that he has a passion for music and performing it. For an existentialist finding a passion is an ultimate goal.

Ramses Noriega paints a religious-themed mixed media watercolor entitled "Cristo Man of Hope" that raises the issue of humanity's quest for salvation. 

I have experienced a great amount of emotional lift from having these works of art displayed in our home since they are constantly in view.  They draw me into thinking about what message the artist either consciously, or subconsciously, produced.

One of the most recent acquisitions is the commissioned painting by Eloy Torres which he has not entitled but I call it "La Abuela Manuela con Maria Estela".  

The subject of this portrait comes from a photograph I took of  my mother-in-law, Manuela Martinez, who is holding on her lap, my daughter, Maria Estela, who at the time was one year old.  

One of my uncles, Rodolfo Urias, wanted to paint this portrait using the photograph, but he became ill and was unable to do it.  I became familiar with Eloy and we became friends through Carlos Guitarlos who knew Eloy from back in the 1980s, when Eloy was a guitarist and singer with a new wave band called "The Rent" or something like that.  

Eloy still devotes some time to music and song writing.  I became more familiar with Eloy and his art and he paints photo-realist works as did  my Uncle Rodolfo.  Last year at one of the art events I had a conversation with Margaret, Eloy's wife, and she told me Eloy had lost out on a job opportunity and he was in need of some work.  Later I decided to ask Eloy if he would be interested in doing the portrait that Uncle Rodolfo never started on.  He decided to do it.  

This is one work that Terry and I acquired sight unseen since it still had to be produced.  It turned out great.  

The portrait in the painting closely resembles the photograph but the background sky and mountain vista is Eloy's creation.  He put a great deal of thought in deciding what background to paint.  Eloy's rendering seems so alive to me and takes me back in time to when my daughter was one year old and my mother-in-law was living and in relative good health.

With the growing interest I have in fine art I expect to go on collecting more works and experiencing the feelings and thoughts one gets from the images produced by gifted artists.  

Through my participation as a Board Member of the Avenue 50 Studio I meet many artists whose works I admire.  Many of these artists are not yet represented in our collection, so we look forward to including the works of more artists, each with their distinct images and messages.

Ricardo Muñoz  
Born in Bisbee, Arizona, in 1942, where his father was employed as a civilian by the the US Navy as a censor to monitor the transmission of international communications crossing the border with Mexico.  The following year, when his father became an active member of the US Navy, Ricardo relocated to Tucson, with his mother and older sister to the home of his maternal grandmother.  After his father was discharged from the Navy, the family moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where his brother, Rosalio was born in 1946.  The family moved to Los Angeles, in 1947 where later on two other siblings were born.  Ricardo was educated in Los Angeles public schools including: Rowan, Riggin, Avenue 21, Nightingale and Franklin High School.  

After high school in 1966, Ricardo received a BS in Finance from UCLA, started an MA program in Sociology at USC which he dropped and switched to the UCLA Law School from which he graduated in 1971.  

Thereafter, Ricardo's legal career included working as a lawyer and an administrator for poverty law programs and as an Administrative Law Judge and Presiding Administrative Law Judge for the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. 

He married in1972 and he and his wife have been blessed with four children.

Editor: Sergio Hernandez, pioneering movimiento artista and distinctive stylist, has transitioned after serious illness. Antonio SolisGomez remembers his friend and colleague in this special eulogy. Today, La Bloga calls the roll, our friends, la cultura's artists.
Gilbert Lujan, Magu?
Sergio Hernandez, Serge?

In Memoriam: Early ConSafos, with Sergio Hernandez, qepd

© AntonioSolisGomez

Sergio Hernandez, Diane Velarde (Mrs. Serge)

Photographs © Oscar Castillo.
Drawings by Sergio Hernandez


Tudi Flores and I began working as social workers with the Head Start program run by the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation within a week of each other in early 1967. We had both bounced from other jobs, those days of the War on Poverty, a boon for Chicano college graduates looking for employment. Soon we learned that we were both also Lincoln High School Alumni, had a love of literature, a taste for wine and a highly developed sense of moral indignation wherever we saw bullshit or injustice. Over the course of several months, many bottles of wine, the reading of the hyperbolic articles in La Raza Newspaper and the smugly intellectual academic articles in the journal, El Grito, we both were keen to be see something more down to earth, more literature with the sweat and moral hunger of working men and women from the barrio.



Rafas Lopez

Tudi told me that his friend Ralph “Rafas” Lopez was also interested in a Chicano publication and was holding a meeting to discuss that very possibility.

Frank Pancho Sifuentes

The day of the auspicious meeting at the apartment of Rudy Salinas I met his two roommates Gilbert Gonzales, a History Doctoral student and Pete Fernandez who worked for the same youth Corp Agency as Rafas, and another man named Frank Sifuentes who also worked with Rafas. We seven men were the original group, gathered to discuss the formation of a Chicano publication, an idea first fostered by Arturo “Tudi” Flores and Ralph “Rafas” Lopez.


Sergio Hernandez

Thus we met for about a year, collecting weekly dues at our rotating meeting and finally deciding on the name for our publication. It was not an easy decision, the options ranging from more literary sounding names to the extreme one voiced by Rafas, Con Safos, a term from his wilder days as a vato loco from the Dog Town barrio, used when he scrawled his names on walls, a sign to ward off the denigrations that were expected from rival gangs. Pete was the only other true blue gang member, belonging to the notorious White Fence, the rest were never affiliated with a gang. 



The name Con Safos Magazine was adopted when we settled on a subtitle that bound all of us in purpose, Reflections of Life in the Barrio. 

We were now ready to publish our first issue with most of the material coming from within the group and settling in on Rafas’ apartment as a working space and later on a house extended to us by Father Luce of the Episcopalian Church of the Epiphany, where La Raza was also Headquartered as well as some other activist groups. 


Fast forward to the Spring of 1968 when I was working at the International Institute in Boyle heights as a social worker with new immigrants but recently assigned to work with a summer program called Operation Adventure created by Maxine Junge, offering children classes such as Art, The Mad Scientist, Photography, Newspaper Reporter, Mexican Folkloric Dance, Film Making etc. It was expanding a year around program the Institute was conducting on Saturday mornings using college student as volunteer teachers but was now able to hire fulltime college students for the summer using money from the War on Poverty. Most of the participating children lived in the huge Aliso Pico Housing project, most were Latino or Black and all of them were below the threshold for poverty.


Sergio Hernandez

We were interested in hiring a diverse staff that would reflect the background of the children and we were taken aback when we received more than a hundred applications for the twenty positions. As Maxine and I sorted through them we spotted one from someone who had used a felt tipped marker to print in bold confident letters, Sergio Hernandez, Artist and we both wanted to hire him on the spot. But we didn’t and we interviewed him and he was all that he seemed on paper, a charming confident, cheerful person and already displaying much artistic talent.




When our summer program started, I was able to see Sergio’s artistic talent as he worked with the children and our staff and I mentioned Sergio as a possible staff artist at one of our Con Safos meetings, telling them that I had seen that he was the real deal, born and raised in the Florencia Barrio, a quick study in producing illustrations and honest and genuine as a person. I was given permission to invite him to one of our meetings.


Sergio was not yet twenty and had attended East Los Angeles Community College the previous semester. He was interested in art, baseball, girls and cars. He drove a yellow Camaro muscle car and the back seat was strewn with papers, drawings and his art paraphernalia. I showed him our first issue and asked him to read it and to consider working with us if he liked what we were doing. He said he would and would let me know. However after more than a week had passed and nary a response from him, I asked if he had had a chance to read the magazine. He said yes, an answer that years later he revealed was not true, that he had just thrown the magazine to the back seat with the rest of his stuff and forgotten about it. But he was embarrassed to admit his negligence and agreed to attend one of our meetings.


The Fence. Sergio Hernandez

I can imagine that he thought that he was to meet with a bunch of old vatos but our meetings were always lively affairs with lots of wine and weed if desired, robust conversion and raucous laughter, a feature that characterized our whimsical attitude towards almost everything for nothing was sacrosanct, not even ourselves.  He must have liked what he experienced for he readily accepted to work with us and became a regular member at all of our meetings. 


Rafas and a couple of vatos from the barrio


As per our custom, Sergio was asked to host a meeting at his house. He still lived at home with his mom, his sisters Grace and Becky and his brother Manuel. His dad was separated from his wife and it was a difficult situation for Sergio because one could tell that he admired him. The dad was a finish carpenter, meaning he did carpentry that involved fine work such as windows and trim, a sort of artist with a saw and hammer. His mother was a teacher’s aide but was beginning to consider going to college and obtaining her teacher’s credential, which she eventually accomplished when she was in her late 40s and became a classroom teacher.


Sometime before the year ended Frank “Pancho” Sifuentes, who was a natural born broker with a passion for matching Chicanos with resources and opportunities helped Sergio enroll at the Cal State College at Northridge for the Spring of 1970. It was here that he was to meet his future wife Diane the following year, when she enrolled as a student at the same college.


Although Sergio was busy at his new college he still managed to illustrate several stories and to help letter the cover. We were all pretty jazzed with the community’s reaction to a bigger magazine with better stories and great illustration from Sergio.


We moved our working space to the basement of a home that Rafas purchased atop a hill that overlooked Lincoln heights and the entire city of Angeles, on clear days one could even see Catalina Island. The work space was crude. Because it was a hillside home the basement consisted of three levels the first level at the entrance was about ten feet wide and the second level where we laid out the magazine was narrower, about 6 feet wide. It was here that we built some tables with two by fours and where we worked. The first level was where the many visitors came to get high and make music. 

Tudi Flores, Bear Lopez, John Figueroa, Pancho, Rafas in the workshop

Sergio worked tirelessly on the next three issues, producing many illustrations for stories and articles as well as creating the cartoon strip Porfi and Arni. He was a joy to work with, an artist who needed little direction to produce something that was very appropriate and well done. When the content of the issue was selected by Tudi he would give Sergio a copy of something he wanted to illustrated and usually we would sit around, get high and give him ideas. Pen and paper in hand, he would dutifully sketch, take notes and nod agreement. But he never worked in the workshop on his drawings. He would go back to school and comeback with a great drawing that nobody could recognize from the ideas we had given him. But it was better than all of us expected.











Armando Cepeda said...

Sergio was a great artist and a gentleman. May he rest in Peace.
-El Mando Tejano from Orange County. Originally from El Paso.

Armando Cepeda said...

Sergio was a great artist and a gentleman. May he rest in Peace.
-El Mando Tejano from Orange County. Originally from El Paso.