Frank Ybarra grew up in a family that was proud of its Mexican roots but was fully assimilated into U.S. culture, encouraging him to speak English so that he would fit easily into society. Ybarra himself always aspired to be a fine artist but enrolled at Arizona State University in the graphic arts program. In 1982, although he had completed the credit requirements for a B.F.A. in graphic design, he left school to accept a job as a graphic designer for Samaritan Health System in Phoenix, AZ, a position he held for the next twelve years. At the same time he started doing freelance projects and continued to produce studio works. By 1994 he had gained a sufficient number of clients for his freelance illustration business to permit him to work completely on his own, dividing his time between commercial and fine art. The two pursuits made a fortuitous combination. "Luckily, I get to use my natural style not only in my personal art, but also in my commercial work," he explained. "Clients who like my work ask for it when they hire me."
Ybarra's colorful neo-Cubist works are cartographic icons of the U.S. Southwest, indicators of place and vehicles of memory. Having grown up on the east side of Phoenix, Ybarra frequently uses physical landmarks that were parts of his childhood experience in his work. He draws inspiration from familiar themes in the Southwest, as well as "American" family life, infusing his subjects with whimsy, vibrancy, and symbolism. Both Ybarra's Mexican American cultural heritage and the desert environment inspire him. His work resides in the space between the tightness of line typical of Cubism and the conceptually and iconographically familiar images favored by pop artists-a graphic quality that recalls Uruguayan painter and sculptor Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874-1949) but without the blurred edges. Ybarra's work has much in common with the early abstract still lifes of Cuban artist Amelia Palaez (1896-1968), whose figuratively abstract paintings emphasized a tight use of line as well as saturated, vibrant color.
Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art, Bilingual Press, Tempe, AZ