Ghosts of Mars

The movement that Phoenix's Chicano artists began 25 years ago is far from dead. But the gallery that was their headquarters soon will be.

He also paints murals anywhere people will let him. It's a passion for him, and he hopes someday his ticket to better things. Nuñez is 24 years old and moved to Phoenix six years ago. He admits he's been in trouble in the past, when he got too far into street life. He says he shot four people while being carjacked, and did a year in jail. Now Nuñez says he realizes "my life is valuable. I have a talent and I gotta use it. I'm really good, I know I am, and I'm trying to do something with this art."

Not long ago, he had what he thought was a serendipitous moment. "I was looking at some artwork at Arrowhead mall and I just said, 'I know I can do so much better than that and look how much it's selling for.' I said excuse me to this old man [in the mall], is there a place where someone can go and show artwork without having to be a professional or have a degree or be established? Somewhere that helps young artists get their work out there?"

Nuñez explained that all he was looking for was a mentor, someone to take him under his wing and give him a chance. Someplace that wasn't afraid of working with an unknown artist, or of subject matter that was powerful and controversial — reflections of personal experiences as a Hispanic in prison, on the street, political views, references to indigenous ancestors. "I don't care about money. I just want a chance to learn and get my name out there."

Las Peleoneras, Carmen Lomas Garza's 1988 lithograph, was part of MARS' Mexican American Print Series, which the gallery began in 1985. MARS discontinued the series in 2000 because of lack of funds.
Las Peleoneras, Carmen Lomas Garza's 1988 lithograph, was part of MARS' Mexican American Print Series, which the gallery began in 1985. MARS discontinued the series in 2000 because of lack of funds.
Fanfare for the Common Trabajador by Frank Ybarra. After leaving MARS, Ybarra began working with another group, Mesa's Xicanindio, and showing his work in Scottsdale.
Fanfare for the Common Trabajador by Frank Ybarra. After leaving MARS, Ybarra began working with another group, Mesa's Xicanindio, and showing his work in Scottsdale.

The man at the mall sent him to MARS.

Annie Lopez would have sent him to San Antonio, San Francisco, maybe back to L.A. When asked what advice she would give to young Chicano artists in Phoenix, she answers quickly. "Run, run, run. Run far away."

MARS' mission, Lopez says, "to provide a venue for Chicano art, to educate, to take it to the schools and the community," still applies. But with no movement to support that mission, prospects are bleak for young artists like Nuñez. "There are kids coming up that need that opportunity, that need a place to show, and they won't have one."

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