The first seven years of my life were spent in a remote, rural region known as Tierra Caliente in Michoacan State, Mexico. I recall no running water nor electricity. Our immediate and extended family lived in Apatzingan, the nearest bona fide town. It was from here that my family and I emigrated to Los Angeles in 1975. It was, in many ways, akin to traveling from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, given the rudimentary conditions to which we were accustomed. This experience – of leaving one land for another, having to constantly redefine what it means to be a human being, a man, a part of a community – is a constant and central theme within my work. I am interested in narratives and vignettes about the seemingly discarded or unimportant moments that shape our culture. I believe that these discounted moments harbor importance and, in isolating these moments, I endeavor to stimulate reflection.
During my formative years our family lived in Wilmington, in an old Spanish-styled apartment building we nicknamed “The Standing Dead.” I consider Wilmington to be my hometown. Our small community comprised several cultures; some were welcoming, while others were indifferent or avowedly hostile to our presence. A nearby Boys Club of America afforded me a sanctuary wherein I could doodle, read, and play billiards. It was perhaps there that my creative path began. In time, my attraction to drawing became transformative.
As with other artists, my work contains autobiographical elements. In particular, I frequently explore the public and private spheres of masculinity. I’ve spent some time examining the concept of masculinity, manhood, and codes of conduct through the lives of men in my life. Often, I make use of the rooster as a metaphor and symbol for manhood, valor, machismo, and patriarchy. As I interpret this beautiful, regal (albeit common) creature, its aim is to convince an opponent of its wisdom and prescience. Yet it is a fierce animal, possessing the primal instinct to fight until its enemy is dispatched. Similarly, some men embody this quality, this sense of cunning, this unique nature, making them ideal subjects of inquiry. At this stage, I’ve come across no definitive answers, and seek only to record, to interpret, a lifetime of observation.
To my mind, an artist’s particular style – his mark – has more significance than her fingerprint or her signature. It is, in point of fact, one of the building blocks of the artist’s DNA. It must be etched with purpose, signifying commitment. It matters not if the mark is smudged or dragged or pushed or erased or redrawn. If that is the imprint, so be it. Think of the act as a tattoo that impregnates the surface. Should you attempt to remove it, it will resist. My marks are calculated to fuse certain images, anointed spaces.
I am a self-trained printmaker, and have worked with this medium for more than 20 years. Printmaking is an integral part of my work. When crafting a woodblock, my lines follow the contours of my subjects, paying homage to the traditions of master engravers. In doing so, I view my prints as my shouting voice, while the drawings – the templates – are my whispering voice. On occasion, I work on a monumental scale to present my narratives; some blocks are hand carved and may require months to complete. Once printed, each run yields a limited edition.
I work within other mediums, although most of my work consists of graphite on paper, canvas or wood. Creating a new piece is a labor- and time-intensive process, which might necessitate the expenditure of countless pencils and/or graphite leads, and up to hundreds of hours to bring to fruition.