Cheech Marin (left) with Off-Ramp host John Rabe, talking about Chicano art at Marin's Malibu Cheech house.
I've just released a special podcast of my interview with Cheech Marin. It's almost 50-minutes long, and contains most of what we talked about as he gave Off-Ramp an exclusive tour of the art at his beach house in Malibu, where he's lived for 30+ years.
This weekend, the comedian, actor and director gets the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair's 2012 Arts Patron of the Year Award. The event runs Feb. 16-19.
Nobody has done as much in recent years to promote the status of Chicano art as Marin, who started collecting Chicano art years ago because it was cool and affordable, then became an advocate when he realized it wasn't being treated as great art by the establishment. Since then, he's published books and staged nationwide tours of Chicano art, much of it from his personal collection, which may be the best in the world.
Marin loves the way Chicano art mirrors the Chicano experience, blending the naive and the sophisticated, the collision of classical and pop. As he took us around his house, he was delighted to show us details in this painting and that sculpture, things he loved about it at first, stuff he only noticed after owning it for a year or more. Having good artwork, Marin says, is like watching your kids grow. You watch it change year after year, and find new things to love in it.
The centerpiece of the collection might be in the most intimate space. It's a huge Carlos Almaraz painting of Echo Park Lake. "It's the boating party, the Chicano take on Seurat," Marin said. "A riot of paint, every square inch of this canvas is covered in paint and it's all in motion. It's the most dynamic and mystical thing. It keeps giving. I lay in bed and stare at this painting every day."
His first art show was in San Antonio, and he says it took forever to set up. If I could just get all this work in one room so people could see it, they'd have to agree it was great art, he thought. Sure enough, the art arrived and the museum workers started unpacking the crates.
"And all of a sudden you start to see people coming from all parts of the museum," Marin said. "And at the end of the day the whole museum staff was there, watching the uncrating of these things." From all these people, who had never really understood the breadth and depth of Chicano art, he says there was a collective "Wow."