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Chicano art champion Cheech Marin and the sublime pleasures of works on paper




Detail, Retold Story of La Llorona #4 (Shunned by her Pueblo), 2000. Mixed media on paper
Detail, Retold Story of La Llorona #4 (Shunned by her Pueblo), 2000. Mixed media on paper
Sonya Fe
Detail, Retold Story of La Llorona #4 (Shunned by her Pueblo), 2000. Mixed media on paper
Vincent Valdez, Stations IV-Keep Your Guard Up. Cheech Marin collection
Vincent Valdez
Detail, Retold Story of La Llorona #4 (Shunned by her Pueblo), 2000. Mixed media on paper
Sonya Fe, #5 Where Are My Babies. Cheech Marin collection
Sonya Fe
Detail, Retold Story of La Llorona #4 (Shunned by her Pueblo), 2000. Mixed media on paper
Sonia Romero, Awakening (middle). Cheech Marin collection
Sonia Romero
Detail, Retold Story of La Llorona #4 (Shunned by her Pueblo), 2000. Mixed media on paper
Detail, Awakening triptych, 2012. Acrylic and papercut on paper
Sonia Romero
Detail, Retold Story of La Llorona #4 (Shunned by her Pueblo), 2000. Mixed media on paper
Carlos Donjuan. Night Shift #3, 2010. Mixed media on paper. Collection of Cheech Marin.
© Carlos Donjuan


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"What I like about paper is that it's multi-facted in its absorption qualities. Watercolor absorbs differently on paper than printing does, or writing or drawing or acrylic. Especially watercolor. You can just hope. And I think the people that are most surprised are the artists themselves."

-- Cheech Marin on works on paper

This segment is really the latest installment of "Cheech Marin Saves Chicano Art." No, seriously.

Decades ago, the Anglo art world, on the whole, didn’t know or respect Chicano art. As Marin says, it said, "Chicano art isn't art. Chicanos don't make art, they make agitprop folk art, you know, blah blah blah." So he started collecting Chicano art, then sharing his collection in exhibits around the country, and "each succeeding show debunked that notion."

Chicano art hero Cheech Marin and Off-Ramp host John Rabe in the Off-Ramp Pavilion at KPCC, for Cheech's latest book,
Chicano art hero Cheech Marin and Off-Ramp host John Rabe in the Off-Ramp Pavilion at KPCC, for Cheech's latest book, "Papel Chicano Dos," the second volume of works on paper from Cheech's collection.
John Rabe

Now, Cheech says, LACMA director Michael Govan has asked him to help put together the Chicano collection for the museum, "and it's a big deal because LACMA is an encyclopedic museum; there's only five in the United States, and what it represents is the final imprimatur of the establishment."

Part of his work is raising money, and it's not easy. "Chicano philanthropy pretty much does not exist," he says, possibly throwing a bomb to shake loose some money. "I think the prevailing attitude is, 'Why do I have to contribute to museums? I already pay my taxes!' Well, so does everybody else."

Wait, I say, I can understand why working  class people would say that. But millionaires and billionaires? "Yeah," he says. So what's up, I ask. "I don't know." Maybe because Chicanos have always been "pushed in the shadows," so there isn't the tradition of philanthropy. "The people who build museums by and large get to determine what goes in them. We just have to use that same approach."

Detail, VIII A Fine Performance by our Winning Fighter Tonight, 2005. Lithograph
Detail, VIII A Fine Performance by our Winning Fighter Tonight, 2005. Lithograph
Vincent Valdez

Meantime, Cheech continues to tour his collection. The latest exhibit, now at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, and soon to come to Riverside Art Museum, is "Papel Chicano Dos," spotlighting works on paper by young Chicano artists.

There’s a book by the same name that accompanies the exhibit, and in the audio, you can hear Cheech telling us about some of the artists he picked for the exhibit, like Carlos Almaraz, Carlos Donjuan, Sonya Fe, and Sonia Romero.

Wenceslao Quiroz, Sears Scrapping on Soto, 2013, watercolor and ink on paper. Collection of Cheech Marin
Wenceslao Quiroz, Sears Scrapping on Soto, 2013, watercolor and ink on paper. Collection of Cheech Marin
© Wenceslao Quiroz 2013