Raisin d'arte

Imagine this: El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, in town September 5 to launch his fall tour, stops by the Orme Lewis Gallery at the Phoenix Art Museum. He's got a guitar and he's taking requests. If walls could shout -- and with the current La Gráfica Chicana exhibit, these gallery walls do -- the one song in his repertoire El Vez would have to sing is "I'm Not Hispanic."

That's because the 25 prints in this exhibit aren't the work of Hispanic artists, or even Latino artists. They're the work of Chicano artists -- brown and proud and sometimes loud.

Printmaking has a long tradition in both the Mexican and Chicano cultures, and many of the pieces in this 30-year retrospective come from two prominent California printmaking communities -- East L.A.'s Self-Help Graphics and Sacramento's Royal Chicano Air Force. The images range from the serious to the humorous, from the cultural to the political to the iconographic -- sometimes all at once.

Take Ester Hernández's Sun Mad (1982). Angry that her hometown's water supply had been contaminated by agricultural pesticides, Hernández didn't just get mad, she got even, using a calaca (skeleton) to tweak the familiar Sun Maid Raisins logo into a potent political message.

Mining a similar vein is Yolanda López's 1978 lithograph of an Aztec warrior striking an Uncle Sam "I Want You" pose. The text reads: "Who's the Illegal Alien, PILGRIM?" Makes you smile. . . . Makes you think.

Other works are higher on the just-plain-fun quotient. Look long enough at Alex Rubio's El Diablito (1999), and you'll see that if the devil is in the details, the details are definitely in this devil, who engages you in a game of "I Spy" -- as in, "I spy a naked woman," and, "Hey, the devil's long, pointy chin looks like a . . ." Well, you've really got to see that one for yourself.