The Art of Brownsville Blog Interview
TAOB: Adan, first of all tell us about your childhood, what do you most remember about being a kid and what was it like growing up?
Adan:I grew up in Robstown Texas, close to Corpus in the fifties. We used to call my town- ''Robestan''. We were cotton pickers and migrant workers who followed the crops all the way up to Colorado. In Robestan, both my grandfathers were ''trokeros'', men with their own big canvas covered trokas that took the gente to the fields or carried them to other towns for work in the fields. It was a simple and brutal life, but we all helped each other out and had many laughs in spite of it all.
TAOB: How did you get interested in producing art? What can you tell us about your first paintings (what type of imagery and or style ). What or whom was the firsts inspirations ?
Adan:I first started drawing at an early age, 7 or 8 yrs. old. My first inspiration were the Mayan and Aztec calendars my parents had in our home. Later, I would draw Batman or Superman on the notebooks for the chavalos in elementary school where I went. I went to San Antonio College on a scholarship when I was 18, but didn't learn anything because all they had us doing was drawing the model for months on end. I didn't want to be an artist if all I could paint were images glorifying European thought or cowboy art, so I dropped out and worked construction or painted houses. It wasn't till I was 30 yrs. old that I realized I could do Chicano art and make a living at it.
TAOB: Can you tell us a little about how you got chosen to produce the artwork for the movie "Blood in Blood Out" , perhaps tell us what you were doing before and any stories of how the deal came about ?
Adan:Before my art was discovered for Blood In Blood Out, I was at one of the lowest points of my life. Other older Chicano artists that I looked up to, didn't want me showing with them and shunned me completely. That Friday, the gallery where I was exhibiting, told me I had been cut from the artshow with my peers because I didn't qualify to show with them. That Sunday, I got a call from the gallery that there was a man there from Hollywood who wanted to include my arte in this feature film about Chicanos in LA. I was so brainwashed from all the bullshit handed to me lately that I hung up on them. The phone rang again and it was Bruno Rubeo, Production Designer for the film and he told me that this was very important and that the director of the film, Taylor Hackford, was flying in the next day to talk to me. I told Bruno that I wasn't gonna set foot in that gallery unless it was to pick up my artwork.
I had 20 or more paintings in there and while they were moving artwork around for the artshow I wasn't going to be in, they placed two of my pieces in the gallery's downtown window where Bruno saw them. Bruno told me to meet him in a hotel across the street, He said that it was very important and to come now. We met and the next day the director flew in and told me the whole story of Blood In Blood Out. I was excited but told him I didn't do any commercial work, only my vision. He said I didn't have to even change my style and that I would have a say so in every piece I did. I had to create over thirty pieces of artwork.
The gallery didn't have a contract with me and now they were shitting in their pants. The director told me he had heard what they had done to me and told me I didn't need them and they could go to hell. But I reminded him that my work had been discovered at the gallery and that it wouldn't be right to exclude them from this lucrative deal. I signed a very simple contract with them.
Soon, my artwork that had been kicked around from one prospective buyer to another in San Anto, was selling like crazy in LA to Hollywood insiders. Paintings which were priced at $4500. were now selling for $25,000, thanx to the gallery. When ten years of my work had been sold in LA in a matter of months, the gallery told me that my peers, who had shunned me, wanted to know if I could take their portfolios to LA to see if someone would buy something. I did, but everyone I showed the portfolios to, told me that they had heard how they had treated me and that they could go to hell.
TAOB: You have had tremendous success since the film " Blood in Blood Out", you have done shows in different countries, your work is collected by many famouse people and museums, you have had your first novel published, perhaps everything an artist can hope for as a Chicano Artist, do you still or have ever felt there was limitations for being Chicano Artist ?
Adan: There is tremendous racism against Chicano art with museums across the board, though the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired two of my pieces for their Permanent Collection. Blue Chip galleries are also in cahoots with this mainstream idealogy as well as Universities which don't recognize Chicano art in scholarly terms. After the film wrapped, I was invited by the MET in New York and the Smithsonian in Washington, to have an exhibit and talk to college professors about Chicano art. When I asked the how many other Chicno/a artists were in their collection, they told me I was the only at the MET. When you collect our arte with the same zeal as you collect white art, I'll be more than happy to have an exhibit, I told them. I never heard back from them again. Artist Jesse Trevino went in my place because the museums were getting hassled by Latino organizations for totally overlooking our contributions to art history. The Smithsonian wouldn't even buy one of his pieces. Businessmen here in San Anto had to put money together to donate one of his paintings to the museum.
TAOB: Tell us about your painting habbits, do you produce work everyday, how do you go about producing a painting, do you spend alot of time in the studio ?
Adan: I practically live in my studio which is located in my backyard. When I'm not producing art, I'm always thinking about it. This is all I do. I don;t have a 8 to 5, but somehow I survive and even thrive because collectors around the world, find me and buy my work.
TAOB: Tell us about being part of Cheech Marin - Collection and "Chicano Vision" , which also include younger artists, Alex Rubio, and Vincent Valdez both also of San Antonio, are you in contact with them and is there ideas of producing more future shows?
Adan:Cheech is a big collector of my work and he did everything he could to get our art into museums and their permanent collections and into blue chip galleries, but it was a complete failure. I know Rubio and Vincent and we have remained friends. Currently, there are no plans for future shows.
TAOB: Other than art what else is important to you?
Adan: That my RAZA realize that we are talented in any field and no matter how the mainstream tries to ignore us or belittle our accomplishments, we have the survival skills to overcome any adversity. Our elders did it with far less and they went through hell to get us where we are today. We should not react by getting into gangs or going to jail, but rise above our meager beginnings.
TAOB:Do you think the idea, and or style of Chicano Art differs by region in Texas, California, Chicago and New York? Has the idea of producing Chicano Art changed throughout time and what do you think has caused it ?
Adan: Todos semos del mismo rancho'', as my abuelito used to say. No matter where we end up, this pride and resistance against oppression runs deep because we get treated the same. Chicano art started with the civil rights movement of the sixties as political art, but has matured into high art with the political aspect still strong as far as my art is concerned.
There are many Hispanic artists today who have been brainwashed by the educational system into believing that they can be ''so much more'' than a Chicano artist. But, as Cheech once told an auditorium in the San Diego Museum filled with stiff suits from the artworld, ''Chicano art stands for something and it is about deep meaning and oppression. It is a symbol of survival and it nurtures the soul. These artists were not even supposed to be artists because of you and instead were meant to be your slaves! The art in your collections now, stands for nothing and it is about nothing!'' You could hear the jaws drop.
TAOB: Tell us what advise do you have for young artists, can you give advise perhaps what paints, brands, you use, do your prefer oils to acrylics?
Adan: I started out with pencil drawings because I was afraid of color. I am self taught, really, so I would spend hours at the library studying the colors used by the masters, especially the Impressonists. I started with acrylic paints but now I work with oils and pastels. with oils, I use Windsor and Newton because they are the best quality. With pastels, I use the most expensive brands.
TAOB: Indulge us for a second: Have you ever been to Brownsville, Texas and or anywhere to the Rio Grande Valley for an Art Show ? Or perhaps heard of a any artists and or heard of any notable exhibit, venue in the growing art community here in the south Texas ?
Adan: Sadly, I haven't but have known many gente from there. Some scholar from there was trying to get me some money to go down there and do a slide show and lecture for his college, but it never happened. I know Grace Vega and I lectured at her school last November, thanx to her efforts to get me there.
TAOB: Describe one of your most recent paintings , tell us about the title, style and imagery?
Adan: I just did a 57''x85'' oil painting for a good friend from LA. the piece is titled: ''Diez Y Ocho ''Ilegales'' Pressure Cook in a Boxcar #2''. I'll send you a picture with this E-mail. This actually happened in 1987 in the middle of summer in Arizona. They were trapped in a boxcar and the heat was so great that their stomachs exploded. The newspaper article was aboutfive lines long and i didn't find out till ten years later that there were two women in the boxcar with them. Only a sixteen year old boy survived because he found a spike and scratched a small sliver of a hole only big enough to stick his nose through and breathe air. These are the kinds of things in our culture that inspire me. I didn't use any models for this piece or most of my pieces, but make them up in my head.
TAOB: Adan many thanks for your time and response to this interview...last question, what advise do you give artists about pricing there artwork? Is producing art as important selling art?
Adan: If being an artist is all you do, you have to sell artwork to keep going. Most of us don't have rich grandmothers or aunts to keep us going. but, like anything you dedicate yourself to, you have to live your dream everyday and everyday you have to do something about it. As far as pricing, that all depends on the demand for your work and your status as an artist. But, you must put a price on yourself on your own or others will do it for you and most of the time, it will be a disappointment. Also, give thanx everyday no matter how bad things may be and think of yourself as the luckiest person in the world and life will give you many more things to be grateful for. Try to love everybody, even your enemies and you will receive love back from life and nature.
I would like to plug my graphic novel: ''Los Vrysoso ( the Radiant Ones) -A Tale From the Varrio'' published in 2006. www.starquestbooks.com. I recommend all my Raza read it so they will be proud of who they are and will give them the power to excell in life. thank you, for letting me share with my Raza my love and commitment to them. Adan