Artpace Teen Council: Jose Esquivel: Perpetuating the Chicano Legacy by Ernesto Gomez
THE ARTPACE TEEN COUNCIL IS A NINE-MONTH, PAID PROGRAM DESIGNED FOR SAN ANTONIO AREA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS (15–18 YEARS OLD) TO BECOME ADVOCATES FOR CONTEMPORARY ART AND YOUNG LEADERS IN THEIR COMMUNITY. TEEN COUNCIL MEMBERS WORK WITH ARTPACE STAFF AND ARTISTS TO DEVELOP TEEN PROGRAMS, SUPPORT ARTPACE EVENTS, AND CREATE COMMUNITY-BASED PROJECTS THROUGHOUT THE SCHOOL YEAR.
THIS YEAR, TEEN COUNCIL MEMBERS WILL RESEARCH AND WRITE AN ARTPACE BLOG ENTRY ABOUT THE INNOVATIVE ART AND ARTISTS THAT MAKE UP THE THRIVING SAN ANTONIO COMMUNITY.
Jose Esquivel, a distinguished Chicano artist in graphic and fine arts, has been involved in the San Antonio art community since the 1960s. Influenced by the Chicano Socio-Political Movement, the collective voice of Latino equality and inclusion provided direction for much of his work. Esquivel notes influence from Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, and Francisco de Goya. He is fascinated with their abilities to tell a story, express sociopolitical themes, and skillfully render compositions. According to Esquivel, “My work is based on different themes and symbolism based on real experiences in my life. They are of familiar places, neighborhood memories, and the sociopolitical impact of the community where I grew up in, the west side of San Antonio.” To Esquivel, his main objective is to “articulate visually our cultural realities and social concerns.” His paintings depict “some of our cultural beliefs and also the condition and struggles of a people steeped in the culture of poverty.” The Artpace Teen Council was fortunate enough to get to learn more about the life of such an accomplished artist from Esquivel himself.
Attending San Antonio public schools, Esquivel took commercial art under the direction of artist educator Katherine Alsup. According to Esquivel, Alsup recognized his natural artistic abilities and encouraged him to pursue a career in the arts. Local art competitions provided Esquivel with confidence in his abilities and motivated him to further pursue art. He later was awarded a scholarship and attended Warren Hunter School of Art in 1954, graduating in 1958 with a Certificate of Completion in Commercial Arts.
After graduating from Warren Hunter School of Art, Esquivel began a career in commercial work for several companies, specializing in hand-lettering, poster design, and in-store displays. In 1957, Esquivel was hired full-time as a commercial artist at City Public Service, giving creative direction for corporate and consumer printed materials. Retiring after 29 years as the Supervisor of the Art Department at City Public Service, Esquivel left corporate life to devote his creative energies and passion to being a fine artist.
Committing full-time to his artistry, Esquivel has since perpetuated the legacy of the Chicano Movement. In 1967–68, a group of friends met to discuss the forming of a Chicano art group known as El Grupo. The group came together to discuss the Chicano Movement artistically. El Grupo was nationally recognized as one of the first Chicano artist collectives in the country. With the addition of new members and a new mission, El Grupo transitioned their name to Con-Safo. The group maintained a Chicano philosophy and approach to their work. Con-Safo sought out inclusion in the arts community, looking for venues to showcase their art and promote their cause.
In 1975, Esquivel left Con-Safo to pursue the exploration of southwestern themes, wildlife, and landscape. At the time, Esquivel’s “decorative art” was more of a commercial nature. Although Esquivel says that he enjoyed that time, he was more enthusiastic and excited to create an emerging series of “social-realism” work.
In 1991, he returned artistically to complete and interpret social and political themes. Esquivel states, “The social-realism series takes root of my experiences and view of issues that relate to the neighborhood where I grew up.” The series included topics of immigration, economic impact, and environmental conditions as a part of his community.
Esquivel said his favorite works include El Mundo de Elenita Cruz which was a portrait of his grandmother; “Elenita left the town of Bustamante, Mexico with my father, who was 9 years old at the time, to the United States. They came here legally to seek a better life, first settling in Laredo, Texas, and finally moving to San Antonio. She was a spiritual warrior who believed that bad spirits could be overcome through prayer and positive thinking. The composition portrays symbolic elements of her world and pays homage to the strong woman she was in spirit and inspiration.” The original piece is now at the National Museum of Mexican Art Collection in Chicago, Illinois.
Another proclaimed favorite work of Esquivel is The Dreamers, completed in 2014 and inspired by the DACA act; “The painting depicts Dreamers suspended in outer space not knowing where they belong or where their future lies in our society.”
Today, Esquivel works on a variety of projects and spends his time at his westside studio. Currently, he has several works at varying stages of completion. “As far as hobbies and interests; I like watching documentaries of different cultures and I enjoy reading, yes actually holding a book. My reading interest vary from Pre-Colombian culture to Western/Eastern philosophy. The last book I read was The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle. I seek and enjoy collecting African carvings, ancient Mexican indian figuras de barro, and vintage metal toys. I like objects that are handmade.”.
Regarding the daily life of such a skillful artist, Esquivel states, “Day-to-day there is no norm, I approach each day ready to produce, create, or accomplish. Always new goals to reach. I also have an exhibition in Canada this year that I am looking forward to.”
Throughout his life, Jose Esquivel has maintained the legacy and preserved the philosophy of the Chicano Movement through his skillful expression of the socio-political issues both past and present within the community.
“I am a student of the world, enjoying life with all its possibilities. Thank you for your time, I enjoyed the chat. My website is joseesquivel.com. and everyone reading this is welcome to visit. Send me your comments; I would love to hear from you.” —Jose Esquivel
To read more about Jose Esquivel, please visit joseesquivel.com.
Ernesto Gomez is a junior at Central Catholic High School. This is Ernesto’s first year participating in the Artpace Teen Council.