Low Riders, pachucos, the gleam of gold, the blood of saints, vaqueros and mesquite, the shine of oiled straight black hair, the music called Tex-Mex.
The show is called "Tejano." It is varied, small, authentic. It is now at the Fondo del Sol, 2112 R St. NW. The finest thing about it is how sharply it evokes a people--the Chicanos--and a sense of place.
Its sun is Southwestern. Wandering among its paintings, prints and sculptures, one can almost hear the chrrrrrrrrrrrrr of hidden rattlesnakes, the drift of desert sand and the purring of shining, fur-lined cars.
Tejano means Texan. The three artists represented, one from San Antonio, two born in El Paso, use differing materials--poured plastic, sprinkled glitter, gold leaf, string and wood--and yet their show is unified. All its objects--its near-formal portraits, its open wooden landscapes and its swiftly drawn cartoons--are colorful and clear, and all of them illuminate the Mexico that's taken root on this side of the Rio Grande.
Faces are the subjects of Cesar Martinez. The props he paints are few--an enormous straw sombrero bought in Tijuana, a tiny golden crucifix, "La Parot Hi-Life Hair Dressing," a green shirt flecked with orange, a thin black leather belt--but his faces somehow bring a community to life. He says he copied most of them from San Antonio high school yearbooks of the '40s and the '50s. "These are people from my past, hoodlum types, pachucos. My mother used to tell me, 'Don't associate with them.' "
Their chiseled faces are at once serious, shy and proud. They almost never smile. Martinez paints them boldly in unexpected colors. Some are orange, some are green, yet none is a cartoon. Each is posed in silhouette against a landscape without features, a flat-yet-active plain. His underpainting lends each one a sort of colored shimmer, a kind of half-glimpsed halo. His portraits are unerring, compassionate and right.
Pedro Lujan sculpts not his people, but his land. It is difficult to carve an object that suggests a place, its wildlife, its openness, its history, its dryness, but Lujan does just that. He works with barkless branches and with narrow twisted trunks of walnut or pecan, some of which he uses whole, some of which he roughly shapes with an adze. The colors he applies, in lacquer on bare wood, are the colors of the midday sky, the sunset or the dawn. He also coats his branches with sheets of gold leaf.
His "Statue of Liberty with a Red Tongue" suggests at once a wind-bent tree and the traditional religious carved figures known as santos. She has no face, no figure, yet those twisting white oak branches look like drapery in wind. That red evokes a martyr's blood, those spikes are tipped with gold. His "Tyrant" stars a flycatcher. Nothing in his sculpture is as clearly stated as his wheeling birds.
Sculptor Luis Jimenez is the best-known artist here. His bright, larger-than-life "Vaquero" stood for months outside the National Museum of American Art. His "Progress II," a wrangler with a longhorn, is now on exhibit at the Library of Congress. Here he's represented by lithographs of honky-tonks. His line, like Oldenburg's, twists and curves and sweeps. His "Rodeo Queen," a redhead, wears a cowboy shirt and a cowboy hat with a feathered band; and there is a little butterfly tattooed on her breast. The exhibit's invitation shows his drawing of a Low Rider, a Chicano Chevy hot rod, that unlike those of the Anglos rides low instead of high, and is not fast, but slow. In Texas and California such machines cruise the streets in processions that resemble mechanical paseos. The one seen in his drawing has a small Christ on the dashboard and a skull hung from the mirror. Its name is "Corazon." It is lined with artifical fur.
"Tejano: Three Artists From Texas" will remain on view, Wednesday through Saturday, 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., through April 29.