Chicano arts pioneer Casas flouts tradition

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Mel Casas’ “Humanscape No. 224 (Starving Artist Mirage)” acrylic on canvas is one of the paintings on display in visual arts Feb. 28-April 2. Courtesy

Mel Casas’ “Humanscape No. 224 (Starving Artist Mirage)” acrylic on canvas is one of the paintings on display in visual arts Feb. 28-April 2. Courtesy

76 paintings on display in visual arts center.

By Ansley Lewis

The visual arts program will sponsor an art exhibit featuring Latino/Chicano Arts Movement Pioneer, Melesio “Mel” Casas.

A book signing and reception will be 6 p.m-8 p.m. Feb. 28 in the visual arts center gallery. Seventy-six paintings, produced between 1965 and 2012, were chosen from more than 750 pieces of Casas’ Humanscape Series and will be on display in the gallery through April 2.

Guests will have the opportunity to meet Casas, professor emeritus of art and former chair of the art department, as well as Nancy Kelker, author of “Mel Casas: Artists As Cultural Adjuster.”

Casas is considered by many to be a leading artist in the Chicano Arts Movement and has artwork in the Smithsonian Institution collection in Washington, D.C.

Kelker describes his work as subtle, outrageous, witty, confrontational, controversial, innovative, provocative, erotic and even X-rated.

“Humanscape 77 (Temporary Loss of Image)” acrylic on canvas Courtesy

“Humanscape 77 (Temporary Loss of Image)” acrylic on canvas Courtesy

Kelker writes in her book Casas is settling into retirement and still continues to paint with as much passion as he did 50 years ago.

Because of a slow recovery from oral surgery, Casas was unavailable for an interview. Kelker, serving as Casas’ spokesperson, agreed to a phone interview with The Ranger.

Kelker is a professor of art history at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Kelker met Casas while working as an adjunct at this college in the 1970s. She has worked at the San Antonio Museum of Art, where she was the associate curator of Latin American art and project director for several exhibitions of Hispanic/Latino art.

“I’ve always been intrigued by his intelligence and his wit,” Kelker said about Casas’ work. “Art history is like a giant puzzle. … Mel’s work, for me, has always presented an intriguing intellectual challenge trying to figure out where he came up with the things he (did) and enjoying the puns and witticisms in his work. For me, it was like being in a candy store.”

Kelker said the piece she feels the strongest connection to is Casas’ “Humanscape 79: X-rated Painting,” which serves as the cover art to her book.

“I start my day — every day — looking at his X-rated painting,” Kelker said. “When I was in Houston many years ago, I bought that painting because it spoke to me about censorship and the way society tries to limit sometimes what we can say and what we can do and how we think.

“The reason he did the painting with the big whitewashed X was to combine the idea of X-rated and whitewashing and censorship of things deemed, by some elements in society, to be offensive.”

In her book, Kelker said Casas is not concerned with making works that are pleasing in the traditional sense.

His paintings explode deeply rooted cultural myths and stereotypes that foment societal ills, bring political and media fallacies into the bright light of scrutiny, and challenge the viewer to think and to act, Kelker said.

“He has been a good friend and adviser. He has provided intellectual challenge through his work constantly. If you’re someone who enjoys the life of the mind, then Mel Casas is a good companion and a good friend,” Kelker said.

The exhibit will be open to the public 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday. It will be closed Saturday, Sunday and spring break March 10-16.

For more information, call art Professor Thomas Willome at 210–486–1043.


Leave A Reply