Raul Guerrero, Mexican-American (1945 - )

Raul Guerrero was born in 1945 in Brawley, California, a small town located near Mexicali, Mexico. He studied at the Chouinard Art School (now Cal Arts) in Los Angeles, California, where he obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1969.

Guerrero has been influenced by the works of French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp. Through Duchamp's works, Guerrero felt a need to become more conscious of his art and approach the work deductively rather than expressionistically. His works include Molino Rojo and Club Coco Tijuana. Guerrero's work has been exhibited in various cities across the nation, including Santa Fe, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and New York City.

Raul Guerrero has been an important presence on the Southern California art scene-particularly in the San Diego/Tijuana region-- for more than twenty years. Making paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and videotapes, he has forged an expansive, ever-evolving vision-one that combines technical innovation with symbolic power. Although his style ranges from early conceptually based abstraction to recent narrative realism, Guerrero’s self-described “search for the poetry of life” is a constant in all of this work. Traveling and reading voraciously, Guerrero continually engages the histories of culture in the United States, Latin America, and Europe, culling images and ideas for his art.

Guerrero’s earliest work reflects his experience at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts) in Los Angeles, a dynamic school that encouraged diverse perspectives. At Chouinard, inspired by socially engaged Pop Art and movements emphasizing language and the unconscious such as Dada, Surrealism, and California Funk Art, Guerrero used photography and unconventional sculptural materials to explore the boundaries of art and his own identity. Rotating Yaqui Mask (1973), a mask made by Yaqui Indians native to northern Mexico attached to an electric motor, reflect the freewheeling, hybrid spirit defining Guerrero’s work in the 1970’s. the artist, who is Mexican-American and part Tarahumara and Yaqui Indian, uses contemporary electrical machinery to reanimate the mask, which he imagines was once worn in a ritual dance.

In the 1980’s, Guerrero shifted his focus from intellectual experimentation to a more emotional, allegorical style, creating numerous paintings incorporating text and found objects, as well as prints and artist’s books, many containing his own writings. In 1984, the artist, always an accomplished draftsman, decide to master a traditional, representational mode and spent six months in Oaxaca, Mexico, teaching himself the principles of oil painting. Through this medium, Guerrero expanded his ability to communicate his views of the world and to create complex symbolic images.

The extended series, “Aspectos de la vida nocturna de Tijuana, B.C./ Aspects of the Nightlife of Tijuana, Baja California,” begun in 1989, best represents the documentary strain in Guerrero’s work. Aware that Tijuana’s La Coahuila red light district would likely change dramatically as the city grew more prosperous, the artist set out to depict whet he calls “the unique history, textures, and colors” of its bars and dnace halls. Like a modern-day Toulouse Lautrec, Guerrero roamed La Coahuila capturing the drinkers, dancers, johns, and prostitutes in quick sketches that he later transformed into paintings celebrating the district’s lurid excitement.

By the early 1990’s, Guerrero had moved to blending observed and invented imager, creating allegories of the history of the Americas. The Black Hills of Dakota (1992), an image of one car jump-starting another in a desolate landscape underneath a cloud formation resembling a her os stampeding buffalo, commemorates a chance meeting with two Native American women and their children near the site of the Wounded Knee massacre on a driving trip through South Dakota. The 1995 series “The Conquest of the Americas,” recounts the six major Spanish expeditions in the America in the 16th century by overlaying an image of Spanish painter Diego Velasquez’s famous Venus of the Mirror (1649-51)--a female nude that Guerrero believes symbolizes the hubris of the Spanish empire at its apex- with the maps and traveling impressions of the colonizers as well as imagery of indigenous peoples.

Other recent works use imagery drawn from cinema to comment on society. Petroleo en Nica/Oil in Nicaragua (1993) conceives of the dramatic 1990 election in Nicaragua-- which Guerrero observed with a group of actors and musician from the United States--as a B-movie, complete with a “grand constellation of stars.” including Daniel Ortega, Violeta Chamorro, Bianca Jagger, and Jackson Brown. And Poco a poquito/Little by Little (1993) reenvisions a well-known 1940 painting of a romantic couple by Mexican painter Jesus Helguera as the closing credits for an imaginary film, creating a sentimental memorial for an idea of Mexican culture, which--if it ever really existed-- is being eroded by the inexorable Americanization of the country.

Most recently, the 12 painting work Calles de Mexico/streets of Mexico City (1993-1998) places Guerrero’s experiences and acquaintances in the metropolis within a grand history., Each given a different volume or tomo number, the individual images represent location along the city’s main street, the Paseo de la Reforma. In the series, historic figures such as as photographer Tina Modotti and comic actor Cantinflas coexist with U.S. tourist and cab drivers to create a dreamlike vision of the life of the second largest city in the world.

Guerrero’s search for images, ideas , and experiences has taken him to among countless other places, Managua, Madrid, Berlin, Tangiers, and an Iowa farmstead, An unreformed romantic, he instinctively seeks out the beautiful, the dramatic, and the tragic, stating, “Hatred, passion, love a city, a continent- these may all be seen as iconic art objects.” Like the 15th century Spanish explorer, Juan de Cardenas, Guerrero is an explorer. But the territory he explores is largely intangible. It is the tumult of history and culture clashes that have shaped the Americas and the globe during the 500 years since Columbus. The problems and marvelous secrets Guerrero reveals to us are our own.

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