Frank Romero remembers watching stylish lowrider cars cruising the streets of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, and seeing the vivid imagery inside a small Catholic church where he attended mass as a boy.
“It was filled, not only with statues, but oil paintings and all kinds of religious art and flowers; and of course what I saw on the streets was just so colorful," recalls Romero, who is an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles and grew up in communities near the University.
The images and experiences of Romero’s youth influenced his art in a profound way. His paintings, many of which depict the unique cultural and social underpinnings of Mexican American life, have been displayed around the world and have earned Romero widespread acclaim.
Now Romero’s work is on display through March 10 at the Cal State LA Fine Arts Gallery. Frank Romero: Soñando En East Los features five decades of the legendary artist's work. A Feb. 18 reception is expected to draw hundreds of people. The exhibit was curated by Romero and fellow alumni Bridgette Candice and Roxy Gonzalez. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"We are excited and honored to feature the works of one of our most distinguished graduates, Mr. Frank Romero. He helped introduce Chicano art to the world and influenced generations of artists," said Professor Mika Cho, chair of the Cal State LA Art Department.
Romero enrolled at Cal State LA in 1959 and took art courses in the space that now houses the Fine Arts Gallery. He pursued his studies intermittently, juggling coursework and a successful career as an artist. In 2009, 50 years after he first walked into class, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in art. Two years later, he was honored by the University as the distinguished Alumnus of the Year.
"Frank Romero embodies the determination, work ethic and success of our students and alumni,” said Cal State LA President William A. Covino. “It’s fitting that his works are exhibited at Cal State LA.”
Some of Romero’s works have highlighted political unrest and the struggle for equality during the Chicano civil rights movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The exhibit includes colorful oil paintings, neon art and ceramics. Among the pieces is the Death of Rubén Salazar. (The original is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum). In vivid colors, the painting depicts deputies at the Silver Dollar Café on Whittier Boulevard, where one of them fired a projectile that killed Salazar, a pioneering Chicano journalist who was a Los Angeles Times columnist and news director at KMEX TV.
Romero was a member of Los Four, an influential Chicano art collective. The group’s 1974 exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art marked the first time Chicano artists were featured at a major U.S. art institution. Romero has painted more than a dozen murals across Los Angeles, including one of the city’s most iconic murals: Going to the Olympics. The mural, with bright images of cars and palm trees, was painted on the wall of the 101 Freeway and commissioned to commemorate the 1984 Summer Olympics.
The Cal State LA exhibit is held in collaboration with the Museum of Latin American Art's Dreamland: A Frank Romero Retrospective, which is currently on display.
“Frank Romero is an inspiration for our community, and his distinguished career is a testament to the power of art and its ability to help people understand the world," said Cal State LA Vice President Jose A. Gomez.
Photo: Frank Romero at the installation of his exhibition Frank Romero: Soñando en East Los. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)
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