Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings
What work is a crowd pleaser whenever it is out on view in the Print & Drawing Study Center? Denver-based Carlos Frésquez’s 2006 screenprint, A Fairy Tale.
Frésquez is part of a distinguished family lineage: he is a descendant of the religious painter Pedro Antonio Fresquís (1741-1831). Throughout the US in the 1960s, El Movimiento, the Chicano civil rights movement, fought for reform in a variety of areas ranging from education and voting to land grants and labor. At age 13, Frésquez participated in a demonstration and march; in retrospect, he saw how the experience helped him recognize the importance of his heritage and culture.
In 1980, Frésquez received his B.A. in Fine Arts from Metropolitan Sate College of Denver, followed by his M.F.A. from University of Colorado, Boulder in 1995. He continues to be an important presence in his hometown of Denver as a painter, muralist, and professor of painting at Metropolitan State University.
A hallmark of the artist’s work is how he conflates various images, mined from all types of sources, and puts them in new contexts. He recalls how this idea came out of conversations with his daughter about sampling in rap music. He thought, why not do it in his art?
Psychedelic posters, Mad Magazine, and Zapp comics all made an impact on him growing up in the 1960s through the early 1970s. An apparent art historical influence is Andy Warhol tapping pop culture for imagery, especially borrowing the graphics from commercial products. Frésquez even painted an homage to Warhol by swapping classic Campbell’s Soup varieties seen in Warhol’s paintings and prints for Mexican food, like posole.
The first time the Fort Wayne Museum of Art brought Frésquez’s work to the community was in the exhibition ¡Arte Caliente! Selections from the Joe A. Diaz Collection in 2006. The artist infused humor in the work Tiempo Trippin’ #2, a hybrid of pop culture images–past and present. He painted the ubiquitous yellow smiley face, one of the hottest commodities of the 1970s, over a mass-produced version of the Aztec calendar. The artist stated, “People have complained that I have desecrated the Aztec calendar, but it’s already been desecrated by being turned into cheap tourist junk sold on the border.”i
After the exhibition closed, Díaz donated A Fairy Tale. In the screenprint, Frésquez drew from the animated TV show The Jetsons. Its popularity has continued in reruns in the US and Mexico where the show is called Los Supersónicos. It is interesting to note that back in 1999, Frésquez and fellow artist Frank Zamora formed a collective with the same name. Like the futuristic show, they hoped to bring Chicano art into the 21st century. Ironically, although The Jetsons was set in the future, the sitcom was made in the early 1960s.
In A Fairy Tale, Frésquez brings together cultural images from his ancestral past and from Latin American folk art. The card in the upper right is reminiscent of Mexican lotería cards, a game of chance akin to bingo. Pictured is card number 37, El Mundo, the strong man carrying a burden, the figurative and literal weight of the world. In the upper left is an Aztec symbol, possibly a god.
In the background is a world map with all the land masses colored in green regardless of the country, however, there are lines delineating political borders and he inscribes the words: The World Political.
The use of language is important in this work. George and Jane communicate with speech balloons—George speaks in Spanish and Jane in English. A pink banner with Chinese writing says superhero. Even the Aztec head expels a curl of air, like breath or speech. As George and Jane embrace, he exclaims, “¡Sin fronteras!” (without borders) and she remarks, “Yeah! We live in a wonderful world!” The title, A Fairy Tale, begs the question: is this a hopeful dream? Or is the message cynical since both have their eyes shut? Are they simply oblivious to the borders illustrated on the map? Frésquez says, “I will sometimes decide to make a work that comments on a current event or a social issue. I then look at it from many angles and strive to make works that will either sucker punch you or make you think or laugh.”ii
Frésquez’s works have been included in many landmark exhibitions, including The Chicano Codices: Encountering Art of the Americas, Rasquachismo: Chicano Aesthetics, and Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation CARA.
i Michael Paglia, “Crossed Borders,” Westword, May 13, 1999, https://www.westword.com/arts/crossed-borders-5059882.
ii Laura Thompson, “Q&A with Paint Studio Demo Artist Carlos Frésquez,” Denver Art Museum, September 6, 2019, https://www.denverartmuseum.org/en/blog/qa-paint-studio-demo-artist-carlos-fresquez.