A detail from Longoria's painting "Se Comen los Corazones"
Jimmy Longoria's art work is equally at home on the street, or in an art gallery. Longoria, who currently has a show of his paintings up at Hopkins Center for the Arts, proudly describes himself as a Chicano street artist:
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Chicano artists work in the community - so you're multi-faceted by nature. If the community wants you to paint a fence, you paint a fence. If they want a mosaic mural, you make a mosaic mural.
Longoria is originally from Texas, but worked for many years in both Los Angeles and in Chicago before moving to Minnesota. Along with his wife, Longoria runs the organization "Mentoring Peace Through Art." He spends his summers working with youth to paint murals on buildings in troubled parts of Minneapolis, in an attempt to prevent graffiti tags and create an inhospitable environment for gangs. And over the years he's developed a very thoughtful approach to his work:
In a gallery you're up for 30 days and then you're gone. On a street mural you're up for years, and thousands of people see your work. I want to create a narrative that continues to unfold over time. The average museum visitor spends just over three seconds in front of a work of art - I've got a captive audience that will be living with a work for years, generations even.
The works on the wall at Hopkins Center for the Arts are in a sense Longoria's drafts for future murals - he regularly tests out ideas and images on canvas in his studio before taking them out to a city street.
Longoria runs his hands over the canvas of a work at Hopkins Center for the Arts
Longoria paints with an eye to how his work appear viewed from different angles, at different speeds (i.e. in a car versus walking), and from different vistas. He purposely paints images down low on the mural that will catch the eyes of toddlers, who may be looking at the wall more closely than their parents.
"I don't paint for my contemporaries - I paint for today's youth," says Longoria. "Murals are primal - they go back to cave paintings. Today's cave is the laptop computer."
That's why, Longoria says, he often uses bold bright colors that are more likely to be found in the digital world than the natural one.
"Trabajador y Nino"
While Longoria paints for future audiences, he draws inspiration from his past. Many of his works refer to his youth working on his grandfather's Texas farm. A series of painted shovels adorn the walls, referring to a system his grandfather started with neighboring farmers to brand their shovels so that farm hands wouldn't walk off with them.
Upon remarking that his works reminded me of some of Picasso's early line drawings, Longoria points to the shared history of Spain with Mexico
Picasso's own evolution stylistically beginning with naturalistic painting and rendering, moving through abstraction and re-interpretation of naturalism, ultimately brings Picasso back to himself as an Iberian. My connection comes through the Longorias settling in northern Mexico/southern Texas in 1593, and enjoying constant trade and importation of culture up until 1850, when the stage is set for Texas separating from Mexico, after already having separated from Spain.
Longoria bemoans the lack of real attention paid to Chicano artists, or recognition for Chicano art as its own distinct tradition. But there are signs, at least locally, that this might be changing. Longoria recently received a "Fine Arts" fellowship from the Bush Foundation. He had been a candidate in both the fine arts and native/traditional arts categories. His wife Connie Longoria Fullmer says they couldn't be happier with the category he ended up in, stating "in the Fine Art category they're not looking at the color of his skin, just the quality of his work."
Longoria's paintings are up at the Hopkins Center for the Arts through February 27. The exhibition includes work by two of his Chicago colleagues, Roberto Valdez and Salvador Vega. You can see images of Longoria's murals here.