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Carlos Fresquez art highlighted in gallery show on Santa Fe Drive

Look back over decades offers sweeping view of change, insights

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“Sangre Colorado: Carlos Fresquez Mid-Career Survey,” open through March 24 at Metropolitan State University’s Center for Visual Art, (a must-see for those interested in area art) is not only a portrait of a distinguished Denver artist and scholar, who brought Chicano culture into the classroom, but is also a picture of his art world during whirlwind decades of change, introspection, activism, experimentation and observation.

Influences in the more than 100 images (paintings, prints, drawings and three-dimensional images) reflect scenes from recent decades in America and Europe, from the artist’s early years in the barrio near St. Cajetan Church where Metro State now stands — and from more than two centuries of family heritage, including santeros and spiritual traditions.

The extensive exhibit records impressions through the explosive La Raza Chicano movement and intellectual explorations of 20th/21st-century national and international art trends. Included in his symbolism: frequent referral to the Sacred Heart and Guadalupe, mission churches, low riders, roses, skulls and skeletons, brightly costumed characters staged against blue Western skies and traditional Southwestern architecture — plus an occasional pop culture figure that may be inserted in the scene.

Curator/CVA Managing Director Cecily Cullen suggests that the title — translated to “blood” and “red” — plays with the colloquialism “red-blooded American,” referring to the family’s long history in the country. Sly political comment surfaces throughout the exhibit — political junkies will enjoy that aspect as well.

The visitor feels as though she has stepped into a sunny, swirling fiesta scene, filled with color — with the sound of Latino music supplied through imagination.

Then, there is a “Cubist Chollo,” per Picasso — a tough young character from a nearby street corner challenging the newcomer to his territory …

Fresquez has built numerous theater sets and the drapes that set off many paintings would seem to reflect that stage interest and sense of the dramatic.

Hispanic religious figures — santos, bultos and retablos, which are part of his family tradition — also frequently include draped fabrics. Brilliant color costumes traditional figures, with religious, literary and social references, as well as images of today’s city residents — sometimes in the same painting.

One gallery contains two walls of murals painted by Fresquez before the exhibit opened that includes a handsome historic royal couple — he with the heart in his hand, plus a dragon, birds and architectural features. The other wall depicts that same couple in the city today, with a train, car, telephone poles, Mickey Mouse and that heart released, bleeding …

The front window gallery presents the artist’s early work, as a student and beyond. Fresquez studied at Metro and received an MFA from CU-Boulder, returning some years later to teach. From the start, international, neo-impressionist style, executed with solid painting technique, presents Chicano subjects, including two zoot-suit portraits of himself and his father. On a side wall the visitor must stop to explore “Para Mi Esposa,” a larger-than-life-sized three-dimensional depiction of Freida Kahlo and Diego Rivera that spins off a famous earlier European work.

“Los Supersonicos,” a collective started with artist Frank Zamora in the late 1990s, resulted in works that include multi-layered paintings and a collection of bright banners with grommets in the unframed canvas. They command one to look up — away from the walls filled with images large and small. (The name is a Spanish version of “The Jetsons.”)

Pop art influences tucked throughout include assorted Campbell soup-type cans of “Posole” per Andy Warhol and some playing around with American painter Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased De Kooning.” Kids may have fun looking for them — or for Day of the Dead skeletal figures. In fact the whole visual effect should delight even a toddler — or a skeptical teen!

A walk on back to the Extra Credit Gallery presents a wall of works created by past students, including south metro area residents Laura Beacom, Centennial; Kellen Niemeier, Centennial; Christine Gish, Highlands Ranch; and David Reed, Highlands Ranch, according to the gallery (although there was a question about whether Reed’s large work could be exhibited).

CVA has published a catalog of the exhibit, for sale at the front desk.

Additional views of the prolific Fresquez’s work will be exhibited at the Chicano Arts Council Gallery, 772 Santa Fe Drive, in a show called “One of Our Own,” with a book signing and reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 16; at the neighboring Museo de las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Drive; and at the Arvada Center, concurrent with the CVA exhibition.

A Carlos Fresquez Artist Talk is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. March 7 at the CVA and a closing reception and poetry reading from 4 to 6 p.m. March 24. (Join Fresquez in a ceremonial repainting of the walls, erasing the temporary murals while reflecting on their content.)

The Young Artist Studio: Mural Painting is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. for ages 11-21 (open workshops).

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