“Los Four” and Self Help Graphics & Art
By Tyler Noland, SOU ’21
Represented among the works of Self Help Graphics & Art (SHGA), in the Schneider’s Treehaven Gallery, are “Los Four” members Judithe Hernandez and Frank Romero. “Los Four” was an artist collective founded in the early 1970s whose members included Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, Robert de la Rocha, Gilbert Lujan, and Judithe Hernandez. These five Latinx artists were making art at the start of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement and have been credited with bringing Chicano art to the attention of mainstream art institutions. After Judithe Hernandez joined the collective they did not change their name from “Los Four” because at the time they wanted to leave the group open for more members to join. Together the group had a show at Self Help Graphics & Art in 1974, and that relationship with SHGA has stayed strong into today.
Judithe Hernandez was the fifth and only female member of “Los Four”, officially brought into the group in 1974 by Carlos Almaraz. In the past, as one of the heads of the artistic Latinx Civil Rights Movement of the 70s and 80s the focus of her work had a greater emphasis on racial identity and injustice. In more recent years, she has expanded her focus to embrace several types of activism. In one of her latest series entitled “Luchadoras”, she takes the masks inherent of traditional male Mexican wrestlers and puts them onto women. One of these prints, “Eve Awakening” is featured in the current exhibition; it displays a woman in a Luchador mask with buck horns laying in a sea of koi fish. This series brings items associated with the inherently masculine and puts them in female settings. Hernandez is arming women with the tools of men, simultaneously creating images that are both incredibly tender but undeniably strong. The anonymity and intention behind the masks gives these women a power beyond their looks and takes back the faceless strength and respect that men are afforded. Hernandez is putting her experiences as a female artist of color into her work, and the results are striking. The single piece on display with Self Help Graphics & Art illustrates the strength and beauty of her artwork.
The works of Frank Romero take on a different aspect of Latinx identity that holds a special connection to Southern California. Raised in East Los Angeles, Romero was also brought into “Los Four” by Carlos Almaraz. Over the course of his career his artwork has been heavily influenced by the experiences and landmarks inherent to Southern California. Cars, architecture, freeways, and ugly palm trees have populated his paintings and been the backdrop for his Latinx experiences. He grew up seeing Los Angeles from the back of his father’s car and that imagery has stuck with him. The print featured in the Fall Exhibitions “Untitled (Cityscape)” illustrates a Los Angeles freeway scene in Romero’s signature step back from reality. The bright vibrant orange and blues that accompany the freeway overpass show Romero’s unique perspective on the place he grew up. Romero’s artwork makes a statement about how the Latinx community shaped Los Angeles and continues to make their mark. He sees driving as an elementary part of L.A., this is shown by the way the freeway overpass towers over the rest of the print. Part of what his pieces do so well is documenting someone’s sense of home, Romero captures his version of Los Angeles and reflects his experiences back at the viewer. The use of color and large brushstrokes leaves realism behind, viewers enter a world in which history is shown in vibrant colors and one is asked to consider what it means to belong to a place.
Prints from Self Help Graphics & Art will be on display in the Treehaven Gallery at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, OR from October 24th to December 14th, 2019.
Tyler Noland is a junior Creative Writing major at Southern Oregon University. She is originally from the Bay Area, and this is her second year at the Schneider Museum of Art. While not working on her writing she enjoys thrifting for her newest funky outfit.