Getting the Big Picture: Mel Casas
Opening Reception: Getting the Big Picture: Mel Casas and the Politics of the 1960s and 1970s
Friday, June 5, 2015
Curated by Dr. Ruben C. Cordova
Lecture: Crossing the Snake (Culebra Street) in the 1960s
Corresponding Lecture and Book Signing by author and historian David Montejano
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Montejano will have his trilogy on hand for signing: Anglos & Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986; Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1981; and Sancho’s Journal: Exploring the Political Edge with the Brown Berets.
Getting the Big Picture: Mel Casas and the Politics of the 1960s and 1970s, an exhibition of 21 large-scale acrylic paintings organized by guest curator Ruben C. Cordova, opens Friday, June 5, 2015 at the Museo Guadalupe in San Antonio, and runs through October 24, 2015.
Mel Casas (1929-2014) was an artist of national and international renown, as well as an important leader, theoretician, teacher, mentor, and administrator. He served as the first president and leading spokesperson for the San Antonio-based Con Safo art group, considered by many to be one of the most significant Chicano art groups in the 70s. Casas also taught at San Antonio College for 29 years and was the chair of the visual arts department for 12 of those years. Casas was born and raised in El Paso. He received his his BA from Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) in 1956 and his MFA from the University of the Americas in 1958.
“Mel Casas was truly a seminal artist and an important part of the Chicano movement,” said Guadalupe executive director Jerry Ruiz. “Our community mourns his recent passing. The Guadalupe wanted to honor his memory by highlighting his achievements and showing his art at its political, compelling best. We’re proud to showcase his works and share them with the public. He’s an artist who really embodies our mission.”
Casas is best known for a series of 6’ x 8’ paintings he called Humanscapes. A number of these paintings appeared in notable exhibitions, including Casas’ major solo exhibitions, the 1975 Whitney Biennial, and DaleGas in 1978. They have also been featured in important group exhibitions that toured nationally and internationally, including “Ancient Roots, New Visions” (1977-1978), “The Latin American Spirit” (1988-1990), “Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985” (1991-1993), “La Frontera/The Border” (1993-1994), and “Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge,” (2001-2007).
“This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the core group of politically themed Humanscapes that Casas painted in the tumultuous decade between February 1968 and May 1977,” said guest curator Ruben C. Cordova.
The Humanscape series had its origin in 1965 when Casas drove past the San Pedro drive-in cinema in San Antonio. As he glimpsed up at the screen, he beheld a close-up shot of a woman speaking. From his distant perspective, her giant head appeared to be “munching” on trees in the adjacent landscape. This experience of divergent realities inspired 150 numbered Humanscapes that were painted between 1965 and 1989.
The Vietnam War and the policies of President Richard Nixon were primary catalysts for the social unrest of the 1960s and 1970s. Casas was a disabled Korean War veteran who was vehemently anti-war and anti-Nixon, and these antipathies served as inspiration for several paintings. While many of the paintings in this exhibition deal primarily with national issues including militarism and war, the United Farm Workers movement, and the assassination of political leaders, they also touch on local traditions, such as Fiesta in San Antonio, and international issues, such as the policy of apartheid in South Africa.
All events are free and open to the public.
Special thanks to the Casas Family and to Ann and Jim Harithas for lending these works to the Museo Guadalupe.
About the Curator
Ruben C. Cordova is an art historian, curator, and photographer. He holds a BA from Brown University (Semiotics) and a PhD from UC Berkeley (History of Art). He has taught at UC Berkeley, UT Pan American, UT San Antonio, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Houston.