MCASD Sits Down With Cheech (à la Cheech and Chong)


Learn what makes this collector’s clock tick.

MCASD: You have long been a collector of Chicano art and have served as an outspoken advocate for artists practicing in that context. Tell us about your larger interest in Chicano art and your motivations for this particular exhibition.
CHEECH: I’ve always been interested in art ever since I can remember. I was an autodidact and treated myself to an education in art by going to the public library and taking all the art books and looking at the pictures. When the time came that I could afford to buy art, I started going around to galleries on the Westside of L.A....and as I did I discovered the Chicano artists. There was an immediate connection with them, not only because [I am] Chicano. As I started collecting, a story started -emerging—this was about something. This was telling a story about the Chicano people and their myriad viewpoints—humorous, or historical, or -gender-based, or abstract, even. My motivation right now is to see how the story is emerging and changing for this generation of Chicano artists, and to see how they interpret what “Chicano” means.
MCASD: Chicanitas features works of a variety of subjects and in numerous styles, from photorealistic portraits to painterly, abstracted landscapes, and everything in between. What do you think this wide range of methods reveals to the viewer?
CHEECH: That characterizes Chicano art—a wide variety of painting styles. That’s because it’s not a school based upon style, it’s a school based upon Chicano experience. That’s the commonality between all the artists. The understanding of [the connection between school and identity], especially on my part, has evolved. I see really what it is every time I do a new show. I’ve come to the conclusion that identity is probably the most important reason to have a school, and it has been through time immemorial. The patina of time makes us interpret it differently from the actual time in which it occurred. I don’t think you could have a higher reason for making a school than identity.
MCASD: The exhibition’s tag line is {size doesn’t matter}, which refers to the small -format of the works in Chicanitas. If size doesn’t matter, what kind of power do these small paintings hold?
CHEECH: They hold a very unique power—the power of intimacy. Small paintings whisper to you. You have to get up close to them and pay attention because they’re [communicating] a message that is told at a very low volume, in a specific space. [As an artist], you have to say everything you were going to say in a larger context, but concisely, and the clarity of vision has to come in this space. From making movies, you find out that when you don’t have a lot of money or time, you get very inventive as to how to represent something in that kind of space. That’s what these paintings do.
To learn more about the diverse practices and historical legacy of Chicano artists, check out Assistant Curator Elizabeth Rooklidge’s recommended reading picks. These books, which you can find at MCASD Downtown, feature many of the artists in Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection, including Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, John Valadez, and Patssi Valdez.
> L.A. Xicano 
> Pintores de Aztlan/Painters of Aztlan 
> Asco: Elite of the Obscure: A Retrospective, 1972–1987 
> Santa Ana Condition: John Valadez