Artist César Martinez



I’ve never considered myself a political artist but I am certainly a politically aware person. When I got to San Antonio in 1971 right after I got out of the army, I met a lot of artists who were doing art that would later become Chicano art. They were “Pintores de La Nueva Raza” and these groups morphed from one group to another. Eventually they became Con Safo, one of the most historically important groups. Mel Casas was the particular hip head of that group. I had these other acquaintances: Amado Pe ña Carmen Lomas Garza, Santa Barraza, Jorge Treviñ o, Felipe Reyes.

I was influenced by everything that I was seeing and all the artists who I was meeting, in particular Jose Montoya and his brother Malaquías. I was particularly struck by the work of Richard Avedon, the American photographer. He did a series of portraits of the people who were involved in the Vietnam War. Eventually I got the idea of doing a series on Batos and Pachucos like I use to see in my barrio, in Laredo, Texas. I wanted to present these characters in a way that effective, in a way that was confrontational. I felt confrontation was important because, of course, these characters had been reviled in their day, like they were hoodlums, but a lot of these guys turned out to be good hard working people, doctors, lawyers, what have you. I worked very hard at making these characters universal within the Chicano experience.

One thing I consciously do in the Pachuco series is present these characters in a dignified manner, if there humor, there is humor, but there is no condescension. When one of my works is successful it comes alive and that is when I feel that I have succeeded.

I’ve never really done art that I would say is political. But I think the kind of art that becomes politicized, as in my case and in many of my contemporaries, is simply because it had a Chicano perspective or Chicano imagery. The Chicano Movement was such an overpowering thing that I couldn’t help but become

César Martínez at work

San Antonio One Man Show

associated with it. The Chicano Movement was a renaissance in thinking about ourselves and in creating those institutions and images and writings that reflected who we are. They were non-existent at that time, we had nothing to relate to so we had to make it up as we went along. And we did. And that was the road to a deeper understanding of who we are.