Our gallery will be open February 3rd till April 5th:
- Tuesday-Thursdays: 9 am – 6 pm
- Fridays: 9 am – 4 pm
- Saturdays 11 am – 4 pm
Homenaje al maestro Juan Fuentes: An Exchange
Juan Fuentes: First I want to thank the staff and volunteers at TANA for giving me the opportunity to exhibit my work here in Woodland, it is an honor.
TANA: The honor is ours, Juan. TANA wanted to pay homage to your work because your creative philosophy reflects our own mission as artists, teachers, and community activists. When did you first begin to see the connection between the arts and political activism? How did it shape your trajectory as an artist?
Juan Fuentes: While a student at SF State in the 1970’s I was exposed to the struggle for an Ethnic Studies department and the mass mobilizations against the war in Vietnam. I supported both struggles mainly by marching with other students. These were my first expressions of resistance, later during my studies I was introduced to Chicano artists Rupert Garcia and Malaquias Montoya. Both played a major role in developing my consciousness as a Chicano, but in particular it was their approach to making art that inspired and pushed me to be an artist/activist. It did not take much effort on my part to connect, coming from a farmworker family. The hardships and injustices that I saw first hand growing up in the farmworker fields of Monterey County immediately gave me an understanding of the struggle of the United Farmworkers and why it was important to support their efforts for better working conditions.
TANA: TANA works with a lot of young people and they’re always curious how one becomes an artist. How did you first start drawing and painting? What were some of your earliest creative influences?
Juan Fuentes: I guess I was lucky to have accidently come upon the Art Department at SF State. One day while walking back to the dorms I noticed and heard lots of banging going on and so I investigated the noise. It was a class of sculpture students in front of the Art Department, this prompted me to investigate further and I entered the building. As I made my way through every department I came out and new that this was where I wanted to study. It just felt like I was finally connected to the school. I took my first introductory art class with professor Ralph Putzker and he was the single most important influence on how I would begin to see the world through art. My degree is in painting and drawing but I’m mostly known as a printmaker. My earliest influences were my grandmother and mother. They were always making quilts, knitting and making various other objects to be used around the home.
Having had no experience in art prior to SF State meant that I had to work really hard to catch up. My love for drawing is what challenges and inspires me print and thus to create a new work.
TANA: The figures in your work are from different cultural backgrounds. Often people assume that Chicano Art is just about the Mexican American community, but you represent people from all around the world, from the Americas to the Middle East. What influences your subject matter?
Juan Fuentes: In 1974 I got the chance to go to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade and we helped build homes just outside of Habana. The work by Cuban artists on billboards and posters that reflected and supported the Cuban Revolution inspired me and helped raise my international consciousness. I have always seen myself as a Chicano artist but I have strived to include the struggles of Native Americans, Asians, African and African Americans, Latin Americans and in particular the struggles in Palestine. As artists we need to include and connect with all peoples of the world that are fighting injustices. If we see ourselves as part of a global community we will have a better chance to resist what the corporate world would have us believe. To be honest the people of the world who are mostly people of color are the most beautiful and interesting for me to use as subjects for my work. If I create a work of art as a Chicano it is “Chicano Art” without having to make any references to my cultural identity.
TANA: Your work has a political message but it’s also focused on the craft of printmaking. You’re incredibly skilled and clearly your work takes hours upon hours to complete. With technology today, there are many platforms for sharing political messages and distributing political imagery. What do you feel is different about the engagement of making and viewing political posters such as yours? What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
Juan Fuentes: When I began making posters in the 1970’s they functioned as posters to be placed on walls, store front windows and people put them up in their homes. They were used to inform and to resist. With our current technology the need for these posters has diminished in some cases, but at the same time we can distribute a poster around the world electronically. Thus the poster has taken on a new role, I’m not opposed to technology if it advances our people’s struggles. I have been able to send my posters to the Middle East, Europe and Latin America by the use of the internet and they have reproduced them for use there. In this way it has given my posters and prints a new function and I hope that in some ways people will be able to react to them and thus create a critical conversation in regards to issues regardless of whether they agree with them or not.
TANA: And lastly, as we enter the era of Trump, what advice do you have for young artists and activists?
Juan Fuentes: As an artist and activist I made a commitment many years ago to fight the system until it is removed and replaced with something that really represents working people of all races. So until this happens we will continue to resist the powers that exploit us as they continue to attack our cultural institutions. I have lived through the Nixon and two Bush administrations so a Trump one just gives me more “Ganas” to fight back.