Valley artwork among 500 pieces on display at Cheech Marin’s exhibit in California

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This June as the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in Riverside, California celebrates its first anniversary with a new exhibit of “Cheech Collects,” Rio Grande Valley artists continue to claim their place at the table.

“Las Varatas” by Cande Aguilar. (Courtesy of Melissa Richardson Banks)

The museum, also known as “The Cheech,” opened in June 2022 as part of a partnership between actor and avid Chicano art collector Cheech Marin, Riverside Art Museum and the city of Riverside to highlight and promote better understanding and appreciation for Chicano art. The initial collection of more than 500 works for the museum was gifted by Marin.

“Cheech Collects” is a rotating exhibition that showcases work from the permanent collection, new acquisitions and works on loan from Marin’s private collection. The 2023 edition of “Cheech Collects” features 35 artists across over 90 works — including that of Valley artists Paul Valadez and Candelario “Cande” Aguilar Jr.

Valadez is an assistant professor of art at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and lives in Edinburg and was born in San Francisco.

He uses multiple materials, from mixed media to acrylics, to create works that explore identity and the perception of what Mexican-American art can be.

“A lot of the work I make deals with my identity and what I deal with, especially as a Hispanic, Chicano, Latino, Mexican-American, Tejano, Californio, xchicanx and Latinx person,” he said.

A big part of that exploration of identity is seen through the idea of Mexican food stemming from Valadez finding a throughline in his own experiences he could use to articulate this complex layering of identities in his art.

Valadez has three 28-by-22-inch pieces currently on display, titled “Mangonada,” Fresonada” and “Raptilia” that use acrylic paint on paper with a special thickening agent — menudo spice — to create these brightly colored and almost gestural depictions of food.

He uses the menudo spice partially because of its thickening prowess for his paint. It also, he feels, adds another layer of material to the finished piece since it is a culturally specific food element.

For the exhibition reception on June 17, Valadez also showcased his performance art, as he did the year prior. It is part of his potlatch series that involves creating and giving away sketches he makes in leftover books.

The name potlatch refers to the tradition of indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest to give away all their possessions to raise their status in their social circle and as a display of wealth.

In addition to Valadez, for the second year in a row, Brownsville native and artist, Candelario “Cande” Aguilar Jr., is displayed as part of the exhibition.

Artist Candelario “Cande” Aguilar Jr. is pictured Thursday, June 22, 2023, outside Lopez Supermarket No. 1 on McDavitt Boulevard in Brownsville. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Aguilar creates paintings, found-object assemblages, sculptures and video pieces to depict life along the U.S.-Mexico border through a colorful abstract style that he calls barrioPOP. The artist often uses hand-painted signage, image transfers and other found materials to assemble a regional visual language colored by his first experiences with art through local advertising signage.

This year, the piece “Las Varatas” is on display at The Cheech. The 116.75-by-147.5-inch work incorporates 30 laminated handwritten grocery store specials signs, which Aguilar Jr. received from the now-closed Lopez Supermarket No. 1 at McDavitt Boulevard and Roosevelt Street.

To Aguilar, the piece is quintessential barrioPOP with its bright colors, repetition of form and instant signifier as uniquely South Texas.

The artist was surprised to learn that he was in this exhibit. Aguilar says that with the number of works in the permanent collection, he expected to wait years, not months until his work went up again at The Cheech.

“What are the odds of one of your pieces being shown twice,” he said.

“Cheech Collects” will be on display at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture until May 12, 2024.