Fighting Malibu's scoundrels and land-grabbers - Off-Ramp for June 1, 2013

PHOTOS: Pioneering Chicano artist Frank Romero now spends half the year in the South of France

From this covered terrace on the fourth floor of his home in the South of France, Chicano artist Frank Romero can see much of the valley of the Ardèche.

John Rabe

From this covered terrace on the fourth floor of his home in the South of France, Chicano artist Frank Romero can see much of the valley of the Ardèche.

John Rabe

The inspiring view from Frank Romero's fourth story studio in the South of France.

John Rabe

Frank Romero and his painting of a local French waiter. He works his brushes on the canvas on the left, then uses it for the base of a new painting.

Lester Soo

Sharon and Frank Romero's paintings in their atelier in the South of France.

John Rabe

The mantle in Frank Romero's home in the South of France.

The storage room in Frank Romero's atelier in the South of France. The stove dates to the 1880s.

Lester Soo

The storage room in Frank Romero's atelier in the South of France. The stove dates to the 1880s.

John Rabe

The raw materials in Frank Romero's studio in the South of France. Frank says he buys the cheapest paints he can find.

Frank Romero with one of his French paintings, in his home in the South of France.

John Rabe

Frank Romero with one of his French paintings, in his home in the South of France.

John Rabe

In LA, Frank Romero paints low riders and other quintessential LA cars; in France, he turns to the famous French models, and collects photos, ads, and models of cars, like this one.

John Rabe

The son of a former Paris city official, part of a set of portraits the Romero's bought as "their instant French family." Frank remembers he had a uniform like this when he was a kid in East LA.

Frank Romero with one of his French paintings, in his home in the South of France.

John Rabe

Frank Romero with one of his French paintings, in his home in the South of France.

John Rabe

The ancient garden in the Romero's home in the South of France.

John Rabe

Sharon and Frank Romero after a long and delicious lunch on the patio of their home in the South of France.


Almost 40 years ago, with his compatriots in the art collective Los Four, Frank Romero became the first Chicano artist to show at LACMA. In fact, it was the first Chicano art show in any  big American museum. With his broad brush strokes and bright colors, Romero has continued to document life in LA  -- the cars, the freeways, the tragedies -- on murals and smaller canvases.

For years, Romero lived and worked in the working-class Frogtown neighborhood by the LA River, but for the past eight years now, he's been spending more and more time in France, inspired by Diego Rivera's autobiography, other painters' works, and his French-speaking wife Sharon.

For seven months of the year, they live in a narrow but spacious home in the hilltop village of Mirmande in Southeastern France - population 486 - with a breathtaking view of the Rhone and the Valley of the Ardeche.

Here, instead of low-riders, he paints Citroen cars. He paints the horses in the fields. The flowers and the fruit. The light, he says, is very much like Northern California, and, he says, once the sun starts coming out (it's been a gray spring), he feels a rebirth coming on.

"It's a new opportunity to express myself," he says. "And yeah, I've spent my life developing a Chicano sensibility, with Los Four, and developed a style you could call Chicano. I thought I'd take that to a different environment."

Has his painting changed, I ask?

"In subtle ways," he says, but can't give me an example. "No, because I just started painting again. I'm experiencing a lot of things I enjoyed doing in the past, but they're put together in a new way, and what happens this summer when the sun comes out ... I think you'll see a whole new aspect of my work."

By the way, Frank, now in his 70s and battling the diabetes that runs in his family, says the combination of the walking required in a hillside village,  the good food and wine, and a new drug, is keeping the disease in check, and his blood sugar levels are almost normal.


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