Source: Houston Chronicle | Sep. 13, 2012
Say “Cheech” and most people would think “Chong,” “comedy” and, perhaps, “pot.” “Fine art” likely wouldn’t come to mind, even though actor Cheech Marin has been acquiring Chicano art since the mid-1980s.
“I’ve been a collector of things all my life,” Marin says, “whether it was marbles or baseball cards.” Today he has close to 400 paintings, likely the largest private collection of Chicano art in the country.
“It seemed like a logical thing to collect,” he says. “I knew what the art was, I had an education in it, I knew what was good, and I had the money.” Marin sent his collection on a 12-city tour to major museums from 2001 to 2007. He’s also written three books on the subject.
Marin will speak at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Houston Fine Art Fair, where he’ll curate one of the galleries at Reliant Center, filling it with works of Texas artists. He recently took some time to talk about his collection.
Q: Do you recall when you began to appreciate art?
A: I was raised Catholic and went to Mass all the time. That stoked it. You’d go and look at church walls and think, “Why’s that guy in robes?” “Why does that angel’s wings look that way?” “What’s that devil doing there?” I’d do that instead of paying attention to the Mass. You know, “Why’s this guy getting grilled?” It took over. Liturgical art was art. So I studied that. I studied da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli.
Q: Are you a more cautious buyer now than when you started?
A: Maybe. Though I don’t know. It’s funny, when I started it was for my own purposes. I collected the art because I loved it, and I put it up around the house. But then the obsessive collector takes over, and you acquire and acquire, and pretty soon some things are in storage. It grew to such a volume that my friends knew about it and urged me to start showing it. It all worked out. I had the collection, and I had the celebrity to focus some light on (it).
Q: The subtitle for “Chicano Visions” – “American Painters on the Verge” – seemed efficiently and specifically chosen.
A: Yes, it was. It was saying, “There’s this school of art that exists that is not getting recognized.” It was good enough, I was sure of that. It was just a matter of visibility.
Q: The meaning of the phrase has changed a lot between 1985, when you started collecting, and now.
A: Absolutely. The difference is the large immigration wave in the nation now. The difference between this one and previous waves is that this one’s in every state simultaneously: Vermont, Montana, Alaska, Hawaii. … There’s an established larger base. It’s an integral part of American culture.
Q: Have you met much resistance over the years? Art can be a tough club to join.
A: Oh, sure, nobody wanted to recognize it as cool early on. It was all agitprop folk art. It just takes some time. It’s a long process getting culture recognized in the hierarchy of the museum world. But people are beginning to recognize it now. It’s like in-laws. (Gruff Archie Bunker-esque voice) “My daughter just married this guy … he’s coming to Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t know what they eat. Iguana?”
Q: Some of the artists you’ve collected – Carlos Almaraz, Chaz Bojorquez – have helped bring some credibility to street art.
A: Yeah, it’s funny, I was married to a street artist at one point. She was an air-brusher. Recognition for artists is always an ongoing thing. And I’ve been involved in that process for a long time. I think it’s played out perfectly for the Chicano school of art.
Q: Do you get a particular charge out of seeing some of these pieces in museums? Their lighting schemes can be a little more art friendly than a home.
A: That was the biggest pleasure when I took my Chicano show to different museums. I got to visit with the paintings, always, for a few moments alone in the gallery. Just me and them and lunch. I’d walk around and see how they fit in each of these beautiful museums. It was just beautiful and a thrill.
Q: Do you miss them when they’re off at a museum?
A: Nah, it’s like having children get a job. Fly, little birds, fly!
Q: Does your work in film afford you more opportunities to scout art in other places?
A: It does. It’s also easier now that the painters and artists know who I am because they find me, which is a good process. I want them to have the confidence to put their art out there and be accepted.
Q: Is there any sort of overarching theme for your appearance here?
A: No, this particular phase is more about recognizing emerging artists. They’re popping up everywhere, and they’re part of the American fabric, even more so today than when I started collecting. And it’s not outsider art. It’s insider art influenced by history and international art trends. This Chicano school is an American school of art as much as the Hudson River Valley or pop-art schools.
Source: Houston Chronicle | Sep. 13, 2012