The art of Juan Fuentes

2005-12-12T00:00:00Z The art of Juan FuentesBy SASHA PAULSEN, Register Features Editor Napa Valley Register
December 12, 2005 12:00 am  • 

Juan Fuentes calls himself a Chicano, a term not heard as often now as in the 70s when pride in one's Mexican origins was growing into a powerful movement.

"I don't consider myself Hispanic," the San Francisco artist explained. "I don't have ties to Spain. Maybe far, far back, but that is not what matters to me."

Fuentes was guest of honor last week when guests gathered in the offices of Teresa Foster for the annual Posadas celebration she hosts, along with her husband Sean and her children Carlos and Amanda.

This party, which she first organized 12 years ago to keep alive a tradition she enjoyed as a child growing up in Mexico City, has continued to grow, drawing in members of the local Hispanic community as well as Anglos, who socialize, sing traditional songs and dine on tamales, Mexican hot chocolate and buenelos, a Mexican sweet.

This year Foster, an immigration consultant in the valley, wanted her guests to meet Fuentes, the artist whose vivid red and black poster he'd created to honor the late Cesar Chavez, was being raffled off at the party. The proceeds will go to support another artist's project, that of Victoria Alvarado, a Berkeley photographer, who is compiling a book of her studies of Latino women.

The bond between Fuentes and Chavez runs deep. Fuentes was one of 11 children born to farmworkers in the Central Valley. In 1969, he received an opportunity to study at San Francisco State University, and there he discovered art.

"I had never thought of it at all," he said. He studied fine arts, and went on to specialize in printmaking, both linoleum cuts and silkscreening. He has made his home in San Francisco ever since.

In the 70s, Fuentes said, posters emerged as a powerful tool for the Chicano movement, and the ones he designed have been exhibited around the country. One is in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and others are part of a new exhibition opening in Santa Fe next year.

In addition to the poster of Chavez, Fuentes brought other works in black and white, bold and striking portraits of Latino men and women, including a second poster depicting Chavez, rich with symbolism.

Fuentes noted that he rediscovered the art of making linoleum prints when he volunteered to teach art at jails in San Francisco and San Bruno.

"We asked if it was OK to bring in knives (used to cut the linoleum blocks)," he said with a smile. "They said it was, as long as I accounted for every knife when I left."

Currently, Fuentes is a director at Mission Graphica in San Francisco, where he oversees production of posters and teaches classes to young people and adults — and continues to create posters that speak to his pride in his heritage.

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