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Benavides' car sculpture uses the cultural phenomena of the lowrider car and fervent religious devotion to the Virgin Mary, as well as all those nameless ex-license-plate owners, to make a potent metaphorical statement about the culture to which he's both physically and psychically linked. Each one of those strategically placed plates, like every lovingly customized lowrider car, represents unique personal visions and memories, the unremarkable, everyday stuff from which life and art is most often forged.
But Benavides, the son of migrant farmworkers who moved to Arvin, California, to harvest grapes when he was a child, is insistent that his work rises above stock religious stereotypes. "This is not intended to be a piece about religion or Christianity," he says, "even though the images do come from there. This work is about art and culture, even though the images are 'religious.'"
Nor does the sculptor want to be seen solely as a Hispanic or Chicano artist: "I don't particularly care to be pigeonholed as a Chicano artist because that tends to be limiting; yes, I'm Chicano, but I'm getting information from the Anglo community, the black community, from the [East] Indian community. All that information goes into making my art, not just my Chicano background."
At this point, Benavides hasn't started worrying about where he's going to store his movable shrine, which is now parked on campus, after he graduates. That's because "Madonna" has been invited to make a cameo appearance at Phoenix Center Visual Arts Gallery's May 3 opening of "Arte Latino en la Ciudad (Latino Art in the City)," where Benavides will have other work on display. She'll also appear at the opening of an exhibition in June at the Children's Art Museum in Mesa. After that, Benavides may have to clean out his garage.
Benavides continues to work with discarded materials, like the tires he's just used in making an interpretation of "The Last Supper." "I like to reuse things that have served people, such as tires, which are very valuable when you first buy them and then take on a negative value. What do you do with them? I like taking something that's been discarded and giving it new value by putting it in a new situation," the artist says. "It's like grabbing something that's going down the drain and saying, 'Hey, there's beauty to this.'"
Interested in buying Benavides' righteous conveyance for your own collection? "I'm really not interested in selling it right at the moment," the artist claims. "For now I want to get as much mileage out of it as I can. Though I may consider swapping it for an entry-level BMW. A new one."
Jose Benavides' "Madonna" can be viewed in the "Arte Latino en la Ciudad (Latino Art in the City)" exhibit, which opens on Friday, May 3, and continues through Friday, May 24, at Phoenix Center Visual Arts Gallery, 214 East Moreland, Room 203.