So, I’ve traced the roots of community muralism back to William Walker and other African-American artists who created the Wall of Respect in 1967. And I found the work of John Pitman Weber, a white artist, who founded the multiracial Chicago Mural Group (CMG) with Walker in 1970. But I still want to know when and how Mexican American artists in Chicago fit into this early history.
Enter Ray Patlán.
In 1970, Pilsen residents founded the Casa Aztlán community center with Ray Patlán as the center’s first artist-in-residence. He created murals at the center and around Pilsen and was a very influential early member of the CMG. In 1971 he painted Reforma y Libertad/Reform and Liberty at Cullerton and Blue Island in Pilsen.
On the right side (above) we see Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla who kicked off the Mexican War of Independence with the Grito de Dolores in 1810. On the left we see Benito Juárez, the great Mexican reformer and 5 term president.
The mural also includes the Mexican flag and eagle, as well as symbols of ancient Mexico.
It seems to me that Patlán’s work links the community muralism in 1960s-1970s US and the Mexican muralism that preceded and informed it.
But can anybody tell me why this mural (painted in 1971, touched up in 1974, restored in 1985) looks so much more weathered than this one (painted in 1971 and never touched again)? I might need to learn something about technique and materials and weather.
After that trip to Mexico City, I started spending time in Pilsen hunting for murals. I had lived in Chicago for about a year at that point and had stumbled across a few. But in 2006 I began to actively explore the tradition of murals in Pilsen (and neighboring Little Village) which had arisen directly from Mexican muralism.
One of the big names that bridges mural work in Mexico and Chicago is Hector Duarte. You can’t miss his studio at Cullerton and Wolcott:
The 2005 mural is entitled “Gulliver en el pais de las Maravillas” / “Gulliver in Wonderland” and shows a giant human figure stretched out (across the border?) and tied down with barbed wire a la Jonathan Swift.
Duarte was born in Michoacán in 1952 and studied mural painting at David Alfaro Siqueiros’ workshop in 1977. He moved to Chicago in 1985. He has painted more than 50 murals around Chicagoland, including commissions for the Chicago Transit Authority and work at the Ashland Swap-O-Rama that stretches more than 400 feet in length. From Duarte’s artist statement on the Chicago Public Art Group website: “I prefer murals because more people are able to enjoy my work; I am not painting for the privileged or for museums.”
I also really like what’s left of “Alto al desplazamiento urbano en Pilsen” / “Stop the gentrification of Pilsen” at 18th and Bishop:
Duarte teamed up with other members of Taller Mestizarte to created this mural in 1997. Photos of the intact mural show people organizing and marching to protect their neighborhood, with a huge United Farm Workers eagle behind them. The face that still peers out of the crumbling piece is Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary.