My name is Ignacio Gomez. I am a Chicano artist. Benjamin F. Hernandez of Lowrider Arte Magazine asked me to share my thoughts about Chicano Art and Raza Pride. Lowrider Arte Magazine reaches many new artists. I love to go out to schools and talk to the youth. I tell them that if they have the ability and love of art then they should go to art school. I hope that they go back to school and get a degree. It’s hard to make a living doing murals. I encourage young artists to take some computer classes. Computer art classes will open up doors to the animation studios. There’s so much talent in our Latino American youth and yet the studios like Disney and Dreamworks are going to England to recruit artists. We should be training our Raza to fill these jobs!
I want to do this interview for Lowrider Arte Magazine because I want to share my passion for art with others. There are many ways to make connections and network in the art industry. It starts by going back to school and setting attainable goals. It may require leaving the barrio.
At the Edward James Olmos Family Book Fair, Eddie introduced me to a couple and showed me this awesome portfolio of artwork. The drawings were just unbelievable! I asked them, “Where is this guy? I want to meet the artist.” They said, “He’s in jail.” I responded, “Oh my God, when’s he getting out?” They said, “He’s not.” At that point my whole body wanted to give out. My knees went weak and the blood left my brain. Oh my God, I thought that if only someone could have gotten to him before he got into trouble. Today he could be an art director or a movie producer or a film producer or an automobile designer. He could have designed buildings or furniture or any of a number of things that need to be designed. But he’s one that got away!
Sometimes young artists ask me about my life. They are curious to know if my life is similar or different from their own. I think that my life has many similarities to other Chicano artists. My mother and father were born in Zacatecas, Mexico. I was born in 1941 at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights, California. My uncle and my older brother were painters. I was fortunate to have them as my art mentors. They showed me different murals of Diego Rivera and paintings of El Greco from Spain, and Norman Rockwell art.
I attended Roosevelt High School. I graduated with the winter class of 1959. At that time, a lot of Latino kids were dropping out of school. I was involved in glee club, baseball, basketball and dance committees. I was involved in the committees because of my art. I helped promote events by designing posters and announcements for events. I was basically low key and shy. I found that through my art I was good at something.
In high school I was lucky to have a Latina art teacher named Carmen Perrazan. She reviewed my grades and test results and told me that East Los Angeles College might be a little hard for me because of my grades. She advised me to go to Trade Tech. At 17, just out of high school, my brother got me a job as a technical illustrator at Trent Engineering. I started making $1.75 an hour. As soon as I turned 18, I started working overtime like crazy! I was clearing about $250 a week in 1960. I was working every night. We were doing the manuals for the textbooks to the new aircraft. I worked overtime seven days a week. When I went to cash my check I had four paychecks to cash. They didn’t believe me and so they had to call the company. Besides, at that time I didn’t have time for a haircut and my hair was growing long.
There was an African American who worked beside me and he said, “Gomez, you’re starting to like the money. You don’t belong here, this isn’t for you. You belong in art school.” He got me back on track. I attended Los Angeles Technical College in 1962 and majored in Commercial Art. I also picked up catalog work on my own. One of the people whom I worked for was named Mr. Grossman and another was an Arab American. Mr. Grossman would give me consejos (“suggestions”). He pulled me aside and showed me the door to his business. It was filled with Mexican laborers. He said, “It’s so easy for me to hire Mexicans but it shouldn’t be that way. They should be doctors and lawyers and businessmen and educators.” The Arab American client and Mr. Grossman were both very receptive to my ideas and my art. I had a hard time with the Latino businessmen in the area because they didn’t like to spend money to advertise or upgrade.
I met my wife Imelda in 1963 and we were married in 1967. My wife is from Aguascalientes, Mexico. She came to California when she was only two years old. I saved money to go back to school. In 1968, I was married and supporting my mom. It was difficult to save enough money for art school. So when I was drafted during the Vietnam War, I got a one-year deferment. I wanted to get into art school and join the Army Reserves. I scored real low on the tests. I scored low on the Marines enlistment test too. I took a class in vocabulary building. I studied suffixes, prefixes, Greek and Latin roots to try and improve my vocabulary. I studied to memorize new English vocabulary. When I took my next test I scored well in clerical because of that vocabulary development class.
In basic training they were going to have a division party and the company commander asked me to design some murals. I painted four murals. My basic training was minimal because I was excused a few hours every day to do the murals for the event. I was constantly painting and I didn’t have as much combat training. At the company party, I met the various officers and generals. I was encouraged to learn how to type. I was then sent to do clerical work in Texas. I was one of only three Latinos there. It was intimidating.
The unfortunate thing was that they would choose the misfits to send to Vietnam combat. They’d go through their lists and then send them first. I would paint at night the Virgen de Guadalupe on the helmets of a lot of guys who were headed for Vietnam. The strange thing was that on the weekends I was painting pinup sketches for the “gabachos” on butcher paper. I was already married and I was supposed to go to Vietnam. About two months later, Saigon was attacked. I was supposed to go there but miraculously my orders were changed. I was never sent overseas. I don’t know how many of the Chicano veterans sent to Vietnam returned. I just remember that they wanted the Virgen de Guadalupe with them on their military helmets as spiritual protection. I think of them and hope and pray that they returned safely.
When I was back in school at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, I entered a contest. Two of my entries were printed in the New York Times. An art agent saw my illustrations and later represented my work in New York. I completed my studies and earned a B.A. in 1970. I won two gold medals from Los Angeles Art Directors Club. I have since gone on to teach at the Art Center College of Design and Otis Parsons School of Fine Arts.
I’ve also lectured for various groups that promote Raza and Latino organizations. I was invited to speak at a conference at Harvard University and several other schools and colleges. I’ve done work to upgrade Latino organizations’ image because advertising has been one of my talents. I’ve worked with Telacu, Mexican American Opportunity Organization, MALDEF and East Los Angeles youth groups.
I’ve always tried to inspire Latino pride and hope for future generations. I tell married Latinos to support each other in their goals to further their education. I try to portray Latinos in heroic images because I want to make each painting count. I portray the women as strong. I paint them as professionals, high-level businesswomen in business attire. I’m always trying to promote a strong, contemporary image of our people.
There have been times in my life that have inspired me and enhanced my passion for life and my art. A good memory was when the astronauts landed on the moon because it represented attainable goals. My memory of Cesar Chavez and the work of the United Farm Workers Union also moved me to become involved in Raza issues. My wife, Imelda, and I worked to register voters for the U.F.W. after we met Cesar Chavez in the 1980s. My wife and our children have tried to become involved in community issues.
I hope that you get a positive image and motivation from my artwork. I’m just one Chicano who has been able to do something that I love to do. At times my life has been difficult. It wasn’t easy. It was hard. It was a sacrifice. I’ve had to do commercial artwork in between the community artwork that I love.
In some ways it’s like living two lives. I’ve done paintings of John Paul Jones and Steven Spielberg. I’ve done Chicano posters and murals or artwork that reflects the Latino heroes and community leaders. I’m proud of the talents of our people. I painted a mural for the Hispanic actors and writer’s association in Hollywood at their Nosotros Theater. I designed a program cover for the Mariachi USA Festival. I did a poster for a Chicano play called Veteranos. I did the poster for the play written by Luis Valdez called Zootsuit staring Edward James Olmos.
I recently completed the 2001 Portraits of Success calendar. This calendar includes 12 oil portraits of Latino personalities. Miller Brewing Company funded the project. The calendar proceeds will generate funds to benefit the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Education Policy Projects. The personalities are Luis Avalos, Nestor Carbonell, Nancy Alicia De Los Santos, Gregory Nava, Rachel Ortiz, Tony Plano, Evelina Fernandez, Pepe Serna, Jimmy Smits, Ray Suarez, David Valdes and Jeff Valdez. This is my third Latino Pride calendar.
I’ve always tried to reflect the pride of our Raza. I am currently working on a large angel sculpture for the Los Angeles Angel Project. I’m painting a Chicano boy and a girl on the front of her wings. They are dancing, dressed in traditional Mexican folklorico attire. They represent the past, present and future of our Mexican American pride and culture. On the backside of her wings I painted them on their way to school. I want Mexican American and Latino kids to continue the journey of learning throughout their lives. We are a people who love life, art, music, our families and our cultural identity. This is what my angel represents. My next project will be a Memorial for Cesar Chavez. I’m eager to give tribute to Cesar Chavez, the great Chicano advocate for La Causa de los campesinos.
Of all my paintings, my favorite is the one that I did of our four kids: Greg, Deanna, Dario and Elysa. It’s called “Adelante.” It portrays them when they were children showing their dreams for the future. My wife and I are so proud of the fact that all four of our children are college grads.
My art passion started because I had many negative experiences growing up. A chip on the shoulder can become fuel to go the extra mile. When our first son was born, I began to channel my energy towards the educational art posters for bilingual educators. When I was growing up there wasn’t much literature or contemporary art images that reflected us. I hope that other Chicanos and Latinos surround themselves with a positive circle of friends and associates. Our peers can help us succeed in life. Education mentors, family and friends who care about you will help you keep up your spirit and positive energy throughout life. It’s never too late. The first goal is to at least graduate from high school. Every small goal achieved gets you closer to your dream. If your dream is art, I wish you success.