Joe Lopez says he used to have an inferiority complex. That's hard to believe when you consider that the now outspoken San Antonio-based artist took on the Gallo wine company -- and won! Gallo in English is a family surname. Gallo is Spanish means rooster. Lopez found the rooster image a strong cultural symbol. His painting Puro Gallo, a slang term meaning pure blood Mexican, led to a legal fight with the Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery.
Lopez, who will be appearing at Casa Ramirez on Saturday for White Linen Night, says, "I was always shy and timid. When we were sued, it made me do things that I had never done before. I had to talk to people, talk to groups and lawyers. It used to be that they couldn't get me to talk. Since the lawsuit, they can't shut me up."
Lopez's early career was affected by his barrio background. "When I was young, I was a vato loco. I was crazy growing up, hanging out with a lot crazy guys, we all got in trouble. At first, I was painting in oils, but then my friends would come over and we'd go out. I'd come back two or three days later and my oils were all dried out. So I switched to watercolors. That way when I came back, I could just re-wet my brush and start over."
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When an art teacher prompted him to paint about Chicano culture, Lopez balked at first. But after a visit to Mexico to visit family, he realized that what he saw as everyday was, in fact, an expression of a rich cultural heritage. And the ordinary people and images around him became his subjects.
"The ladies hanging the laundry, the kids playing ball with no shoes on, I started painting them and I haven't stopped."
Now Lopez is known as one of the leading Chicano artists, his work as a curator almost as important as his painting. "I have an art gallery," he says with pride. The Gallista Art Gallery (the name probably still pisses off the Gallo Winery) is recognized as a breeding ground for young Hispanic artists. Lopez also often mainstreams older artists who have been working for years, without showing their art.
During his Houston visit he'll be signing a series of coffee table books from the University of Arizona which feature his works, as well as the artists he promotes. (The books are Chicano/Chicana Contemporary Art Book, Chicano Art for the New Milienum, and Triumph of Our Communities.) Saturday, 4 to 7 p.m. 241 West 19th Street, 713-880-2420.