- Michael Reyes
Since the Chicano Movement in the 1960s, Chicana and Chicano art has expressed historical counter-narratives, encouraged political activism and mobilization, and unified and educated communities. Here are eight of the most influential Chicana and Chicano artists in Los Angeles, whose works advanced Chicana and Chicano art and inspired younger generations of artists.
In the 1970s, Carlos Almaraz – one of the founders of the local art collective Los Four – brought Chicana and Chicano art to the attention of the mainstream LA art community. Born in Mexico City but raised in LA, he studied at UCLA and Otis College of Art and Design. Besides his iconic pastels, paintings, and murals — specifically his Echo Park series — Almaraz also worked on posters, paintings, and murals for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Almaraz died in 1989 from AIDS-related causes, but his work is still exhibited in both group and solo shows around the world, influencing the next generation of artists.
Chaz Bojórquez was one of LA’s first well-known graffiti artists. He studied Asian calligraphy at the Pacific Asian Art Museum, and visited more than 30 countries to study how graphics and letters influence cultural and national identities. Three of Bojórquez’s art works are now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, including Placa/Rollcall, which is inspired by gang member graffiti writing. In this piece, he lists his friends and mentors who supported him throughout his career. Bojórquez is one of a few artists who has transitioned from the streets to mainstream galleries.
When Richard Duardo died in 2014, young Chicana and Chicano artists mobilized to honor his memory. Duardo was a pivotal Chicano printmaker, and his support for young artists was far-reaching. After graduating from UCLA, he worked with Boyle Heights’ most recognized community-based printmaking center, Self Help Graphics and Art. In the late 1970s, Duardo helped found the Centro de Arte Público – a political arts collective and studio. He also founded the print shop Modern Multiples, which continues using art as a movement for community building today. He published works for more than 400 artists – including Banksy and Shepard Fairey – and was commissioned for big projects, including promotional artwork for the film Frida.
Yreina Cervántez’s art shows the personal and cultural experiences of Chicanas. She’s been a pioneer in including women into mainstream art movements, including the Chicano Art Movement. Her work is transformative and produced through the lens of Xicana feminism. She received a BA in Fine Arts at the University of Santa Cruz, and her MFA from UCLA. She currently teaches Chicana/o Studies at California State University Northridge. Cervántez’s work, including her public murals, has both engaged and educated the community. She’s been involved with community-based centers, the Social and Public Arts Resource Center and Self Help Graphics and Art.
Magú began painting murals in the early 1970s before he joined with other Chicano artists to found the art collective Los Four. During the Los Four period, he worked on major murals and public art installations throughout LA and California. Magú had a major influence in defining Chicano art in LA and expanding the framework of political Chicano art to also include aesthetic interests. His paintings and sculptures are exhibited around the world, and he has a large extended family of mentees and colleagues. He organized many gatherings over the years, called Mental Menudo, where ideas and questions about Chicano art were explored. He is one of the first American artists of Mexican descent to have had an international art career.
Vallejo has received inspiration for her mixed-media works from her experiences traveling and studying throughout the United States, Mexico, and Europe. She attended high school in Spain, studied theater arts in London, completed her undergraduate work in Fine Arts at Whittier College and the University of Spain, and received her MFA in printmaking at Cal State University Long Beach. Her recent works are diverse juxtapositions that look at contemporary cultural and political issues. Her work — including her Make Em All Mexican series — tackles familiar images and positions them in dialogue with contemporary questions about race and class. Her work is extensive, and relevant to Chicanas and Chicanos everywhere. Her work belongs to many private collections, including The National Museum of Mexican Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Sonia Romero is based in Northeast LA and works out of her studio called She Rides the Lion. She’s worked extensively with various communities, collaborating with the surrounding environment and culture to produce art that is truly representative. Her artistic vision is flexible, which allows her art works to be a service to many communities. Romero has been commissioned for large public projects through the Community Redevelopment Agency, including an installation at the Westlake/MacArthur Park Metro Station. She has also taught printmaking and public art courses at LA County High School for the Arts and worked with youth from L.A. Commons, Heart Project, and Plaza de la Raza.
Shizu Saldamando has contributed experimental art works to the LA art scene. Best known for her pen drawings and non-traditional canvasses like bed sheets and handkerchiefs, she’s had her work featured in experimental media exhibitions and at both LACMA and the Smithsonian. Her pieces are inspired by the photographs that she takes of her family and close friends. Saldamando is the daughter of a Japanese-American mother and a Mexican-American father, though her work is not all defined by her bi-cultural identity. She is a co-founder of Monte Vista Projects, a self-determining space for experimental art and conversation in LA. Recently, she has expanded into the field of tattooing.