My work reflects a politically changed lifestyle that passes from one generation to the next—el Pachuco, el Tirilón y el Cholo—surviving poverty, wars, prisons and internal strife. The men and women who populate my paintings reflect the paradoxes that arise in the barrio—pride in place and language, a search for self-esteem and meaning in a landscape of poverty, and the fragility that comes with learning too much about life too soon.
Whenever I come across the artwork of Gaspar Enriquez (both in TX and here in AZ) I find myself approaching it in different ways depending on its scale and its placement on the wall. The small and sometimes brightly colored portraits that hang slightly above eye level are easy to engage with, I walk right up and look. The grounded, monochromatic, full-size figures, I’ve found I keep distance, until I’m ready to approach.
Below is a larger than life mural of his work at the Convention Center in San Antonio, TX.
I recall walking into the El Paso Art Museum some years back, and experiencing a wall of somewhat isolated, realistic, life-size and standing at my level Cholas and Cholos. A gang of them. They stood to the left of the entrance. Caught off guard, I felt both a hesitancy and a curiosity. Apropos feelings to an encounter with [some] contemporary art and maybe to the subject at hand, for that matter. Subtle emotions stirred as I passed the line-up of figures. I moved to view other art work without really stopping.
Eventually I returned to the installation. I went up to each figure, and took a long look. I stared closely at them as they stared at me. I was uneasy and I was amused (at my uneasiness)…valuable insights by the way.
I love museums because if you’re paying attention, a visit to one may pull up stuff that greatly informs your empathy, or lack of it. The dialogue Gaspar Enriquez generated then still continues, and it has been informative of what I am and what I am not.
I appreciate the skill (airbrush), the provocative compositions and again their varying sizes and colors, and the fact that this is absolutely Gaspar’s truth. His work reveals something about who he is and where he’s from.
He’s a native El Pasoan, like I am. Enriquez obtained a fine arts degree from the University of Texas at El Paso and a master’s degree from New Mexico State University, so did I. Enriquez grew up in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of the Segundo Barrio. I did not. I find the work powerful because I recognize the subject-matter and yet I am not familiar with it really. I don’t know it like he does.
Gaspar exposes an attitude of pride and arrogance (his words) and a life-style, he clarifies, that is so necessary for survival in the barrio. We are observer, one can look and one may learn.
Enriquez speaks about the body of work…it is a record of experiences, ideas and feelings about a subculture that has endured in the Mexican-American life since World War II, a lifestyle that has been passed from generation to generation, survived wars, prisons and other elements- Los Pachucos (1940s and ’50s)’ Los Tirilones (’50s and ’60s); Los Cholos (’70s and 80s); and Los Gangsters (’90s up to now).
Enriquez attended Bowie high school, in South El Paso. After receiving his masters he moved to Los Angeles. Eventually he returns to teach art in the same high school.
He continues … it deals with individuals whose lives have been a part of my environment. They are indivduals who remind me of friends and acquaintances I grew up with.
…The work is not a crusade to change lives nor is it an effort to pass judgement. These images invite the viewer to come into contact with some of those who populate the Chicano world.
…as long as there is poverty en ‘El Barrio’ (in the neighborhood) this life style will endure my generation and generations to come. An identity is important to all of us. This life style reflects the avenue some individuals take, searching for an identity and self-esteem.
Gaspar Enriquez now retired from teaching, lives and works in San Eli, Texas.
His work is currently showing in a group exhibition called Interlopers, Works on Paper, at Evoke Contemporary in Santa Fé, NM.
Click → Interlopers for more about the show.
For more about the artist and his work visit his → website.