Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this profile of the Chicago artist Marcos Raya, Jeff Huebner describes the people, places, and situations that have shaped Raya’s life and influenced his work, as well as the trajectory by which he gained national recognition. Extensively quoting Raya’s descriptions of his own memories and experiences, Huebner writes that the artist was born in [Irapuato, Guanajuato] Mexico and moved to Chicago at age 16 in 1964 to live with his mother. He adds that his œuvre has been shaped by childhood encounters with [the works of] muralists and Mexican art traditions. A high school art teacher introduced Raya to the Art Institute of Chicago, and Upward Bound programs took him to the Windsor Mountain School in Massachusetts where he studied drawing and painting with Allen Thiekler. Evading the draft, Raya moved to Mexico City in 1968, being at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) during the momentous student protests. By 1970, he returned to Chicago by way of New Mexico, and got involved with the Chicano political movement, political art groups, and mural painting. Raya and his companion at that time, Rosa Maria Salazar, discuss his hard street life and long history of alcohol abuse and the impact on his work. Huebner concludes by stressing how Raya continues to work in Pilsen, living in the same studio and producing paintings, installations, and other works of art infused with political and social consciousness.

Annotations

This text was published as the lead story in the weekly newspaper the Chicago Reader on February 2, 1996. In the course of recounting Marcos Raya’s development as an artist during the late 1960s and early 1970s, reporter and critic Jeff Huebner emphasized the importance of his contact with Ray Patlan during the early 1970s (when Patlan was the director of the community center Casa Aztlán in Pilsen), and the experience of working in Chicago when it was radicalized by the civil rights movement and Chicano activism. This text contains long quotes from Huebner’s conversations with the artist, in which Raya tells in detail the process of creating murals in collaboration with community members and youth (as well as the iconographic content, much of it based on Mexican murals) in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago at that time. This document addresses the topics Issues of Race, Class, and Gender in the Visual Arts of Latino-America and Art, Activism, and Social Change because it details how Raya’s life and work reflected the difficulties of being a lower-class Latino in the United States, and because both his individually executed artworks and his mural work demonstrated his commitment to social and political change through art.

Researcher
Victor Alejandro Sorell, Gabrielle Toth; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
Team
Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, USA
Credit
Courtesy of Jeff Huebner, Chicago, IL