Was Eduardo Carrillo a founding patriarch of the Chicano Art movement? "Yes" is the answer based on an early introduction to "Testament of the Spirit: Paintings by Eduardo Carrillo" that opens in January at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Born in Santa Monica in 1937, the late Carrillo graduated from UCLA with a BA and MA, studied in Europe, and taught crafts in Baja California before returning to the States and embedding himself in art academia — first in Southern California, then migrating north. A revered spiritual leader of Chicano art and muralism, Carrillo passed away in 1997.
The exhibition isn't part of the canon of the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, but it is another example of revisiting Latino/a artists with social importance, adding gravitas of Chicano Art through new exhibitions and scholarship, and clarifying the bloodline throughout all of California. "He was an interesting player in this," says curator Susan Leask, "He may have done his best work in Northern California."
"Testament of the Spirit" will be 60 paintings and watercolors by Carrillo, spanning from the late 1950s through the late 1990s, that show his range from Renaissance and Baroque art to pre-Conquest sculpture, which often merged with the craft culture of Baja California, Mexico. "His social activism was shaped by the 1960s," says Leask, adding that Carrillo's work grounded two schools of Chicano Art: works that affect change and the action of artist participating in mainstream events.
"He was an inspirational leader who was a visionary. Bringing people together in a collaborative way. Ways making sure there was a window open when talking to people," says Leask. "With gentleness he could approach hard topics."
Carrillo also fit mystic realism within an art movement that was first inspired by social realism, bringing it closer to indigenous culture, all while becoming known as a philosopher with a brush. "[He] created a platform for giving all kinds of people an awareness of Chicano Art and Latin American culture; that was one of his greatest gifts," says Leask.
Carrillo's career as an educator was mostly up North, though his mural presence has been in Los Angeles for decades. El Grito (The Cry) is the ceramic tile work created from 1977 to 1979 at Placita de Dolores, where it now sits in quiet contemplation. Another important piece is "Chicano History," a mural he worked on with artists Sergio Hernandez, Saul Solache, and Ramses Noriega at the request of UCLA's MEChA, for the third floor of then Campbell Hall. It was completed in 1970, two weeks before the Chicano Moratorium, and considered the earliest Chicano history mural painted on a university campus in the U.S. It was taken down in the early 1990s. The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, working in collaboration with PCMA and Leask, are hoping to reassemble it as a temporary installation during the Pasadena run of "Testament of the Spirit," logistics permitting. If not, there will be an essay on the mural by Tim Drescher for the exhibition catalog.
While Carrillo did murals, a staple of Chicano Art, he moved away from the usual visual references in smaller works and used his own personal experiences, and "Testament of the Spirit" offers this artist as a person, not just a patriarch of a broader movement. "I see him more as an individual," says Leask. "He was wise."
Testament of the Spirit: Paintings by Eduardo Carrillo
January 21, 2018-June 3, 2018
Pasadena Museum of California Art