Hispanic art has a special place in Denver. The city was the birthplace of the “Crusaders for Justice” who launched a civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s. Many of Denver’s most prominent artists and historical figures came out of that era. Today, we look at three of those artists.
Carlos Frésquez, Artist
Carlos was a punk. That was how the Denver native Carlos Frésquez described his origins into the art world in the late-70s.
“Music and the Chicano experience,” Frésquez said of what he saw as the primary inspirations for his art. “These were the late 70s, very early 80s. Punk had just come out in the mid-70s and by the early-80s we had New Wave and the early Hip-Hop.”
It was those rhythms along with politically discourse that led Frésquez to create early works that he described as a “cross between spray paint and graffiti, a punk or ransom-note type collage along with cultural and political work.”
Though it was the cultural work that began to garner attention for Frésquez early on, he doesn’t see any particular piece as being better than others. He focuses more on the time period in which the pieces were created.
“There are more time periods than pieces,” Frésquez said. “When my children were younger, they had a happy and fun kind of experience and that reflected in my work. I was much more joyous and playful with my work.”
Since he has been exhibiting for decades throughout Denver and across the nation, Frésquez said there is no shortage of places that people can go to see his art on display. One exhibit in particular is the ‘Pachucos y Sirenas’ exhibit at Museo de Las Americas in Denver. The exhibit features both old and new school artists delivering insight into the Pachuco era of the late 30s and 40s.
“I have an older piece that I did in 1984 and exhibited at the Smithsonian in the early 90s called ‘Zoot Suit en los Rockies’,” Frésquez said of one of the five pieces he has in the exhibit.
At 61, Frésquez said he does not find it difficult to continue painting and plans to do so for several years to come.
“I can easily handle it,” Frésquez said of the physical requirements to be a successful muralist. “I stay fit, eat healthy, live well, live simply and stay in shape. I feel like I did when I was in my 20s.”
As a professor at Metro State University of Denver, Frésquez added that he has earned the respect of his students as an artist who continues to exhibit.
“I teach a mural class and I’m up on the scaffolding with the students,” he said laughing. “I just ignore the idea of age.”
Carlos Santistevan, Santero
When santero Carlos Santistevan received a lifetime achievement award from the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council that he helped establish, he wasn’t sure how to take the news.
“Does a lifetime achievement award mean I have to die tomorrow?” joked the Denver native. “I hope not.”
Two years removed from receiving the award, Santistevan continues to be a cherished figure in the art community both in Colorado and around the world. His works are on display around the world including in places as illustrious as the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and the Vatican.
His crowning legacy, however, is seeing his passion for art reflected in the works of his children Brigida and Carlos Jr.
Emanuel Martinez, Artist
As a muralist, painter and sculptor, Emanuel Martinez said that he enjoys leaving his works open to interpretation.
“My responsibility, as an artist, is simply to say more with whatever medium I choose to work with,” he said in a statement. “As for the finished artwork, I’ll leave that up to the viewer to interpret.”
Born in Denver in 1947, Martinez began his career at 13 when he painted his first mural. Since that time he has gone on to create paintings, murals and sculptures that have found their way into museums and expositions worldwide including the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art.
A book on his career title “Emanuel Martinez: A Retrospective” is available in both hardcover and paperback.