About Luis Guerra's

Texas Farmworker



INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTWORK

REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different from the original artwork?

This digitized image is limited to the size of the computer monitor. The original painting is 30" high and 24" wide. It has a narrow wooden frame. The original painting is currently in a private collection in Houston.

CONDITION: What can I learn about the condition of the artwork?

The Texas Farmworker is in good condition.

SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts, if anything?

The painting depicts a dark-skinned man with long black hair standing among rows of onions in a field. In the distance are low mountains and trees. The words to a song by Martín Delgado appear in the upper right corner:

I am a union farmworker
Laborer of the nation
I will struggle with the poor
We've had enough of the landowner
We want liberation.

An eagle soars in the upper right portion of the sky. The man wears a blue work shirt and brown, belted pants. His large hands are raised above his waist with palms facing the viewer.

The main image is surrounded by a border of triangles with squares in each corner. The squares contain a tree within a circle, the symbol of the Texas Farmworkers Union. This same symbol appears over a three dimensional map of the state of Texas in the upper right corner. A stepped pyramid appears at the bottom center of the border and a simplified eagle, the symbol of César Chávez's United Farmworkers Union, appears in the top center of the border.

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork was made?

The artwork was painted with oils on a stretched canvas surface. Brushstrokes are evident throughout the painting. The underpainting was done in complementary colors. The unical typeface for the song verse was created by Guerra; it was developed from two other typefaces. Sketches by the artist of farmworkers were used as studies for the painting.


Sensory Lesson Index

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do I see?

Luis Guerra used gradual changes from light to dark in many areas of the painting. He used both bright and dull colors. Most areas within the painting are broken up with small patterns, lines, or brushstrokes.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?

Naturalistic shapes in the center of the painting are balanced by geometric shapes in the border. Luis Guerra's use of modeling (gradual changes from light to dark) creates an illusion of solid, three-dimensional mass. The figure dominates the composition by its placement, scale, facial expression and stance. The figure's slight positioning to the right is balanced by the text and map on the right. The border is formal and symmetrical.


INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTMAKER

Luis Guerra has lived within the cultures of Northern Mexico and Texas. He is a member of artistic, political, and academic communities. Guerra was born in the Northern Mexican state of Coahuila. He moved to Texas as a small boy. As a conscientious objector in the sixties, Guerra refused to take part in the war in Vietnam. He lived, worked, and taught in Austin in the seventies and eighties. He has been an activist artist in the Chicano Movement. He designed campaign posters for Ramsey Muñiz in his Texas gubernatorial campaign. Guerra participated in and visually documented the 1977 Texas Farmworker's Union march on Washington.

Guerra lived in Austin, Texas for many years. He now spends half of each year in a small mountain town in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, where he dedicates himself to painting, sculpture, and writing. He has stated that he moved to this village in Mexico to find a quiet place in which to work, a place more conducive to contemplation and introspection. Also, he wanted to be where he could learn ancient Mexican traditions from those people still firmly connected to the earth: the campesinos and the Indians. He is also a commentator on National Public Radio's weekly journal called Latino USA.


CONTEXTUAL INFORMATION

NATURAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about the natural environment where the artwork was made?

The Texas Farmworkers Union was based in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, on the Mexican border. The Valley is a fertile area where many crops are grown. The artist visited the Valley and depicts it in the painting (although the mountains that are to the south of the Valley, in Mexico, can rarely be seen with the naked eye from the Valley).

FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?

This painting was originally intended to be used as a political poster. It was never made into a poster, but it was exhibited in Texas, and published in an art book. In 1989, the painting was purchased by a collector who appreciates the painting's political message.

Luis Guerra has used his art to serve other functions as well. For example, he once made Christmas cards to raise money for a political cause.

CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?

The the mid and late 1970s were a critically important time for Chicana/o agricultural workers and their supporters, including students. This is the period that the United Farmworkers, under the leadership of César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and others, became nationally prominent and politically and economically influential, especially in California. In these years, the Farmworkers Union also began strong initiatives to organize the migrant workers in the state of Texas. From a cultural point of view, the period is marked by close cooperation and a sense of solidarity between the agricultural workers, students, and highly supportive artists, including Luis Valdez, the founder of El Teatro Campesino [the Farmworkers Theater].

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Art has been an important part of Luis Guerra's life ever since he was a child. As a youngster he made his own toys with anything he could find. According to Amelia Malagamba (The Texas Observer, October, 27, 1995) "the process of transforming materials fascinated the child."

As a child Guerra was exposed to the work of the Mexican muralists, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco. He stated "I was impressed with the vibrant color and dynamic forms of their work." (Arriba, March, 1983)

Guerra graduated from the School of Fine Arts at the University of Texas. He taught at Austin Community College from 1974-1985, where he created courses in commercial art history and in mural making. He has said that as an artist he does not make a distinction between fine arts and graphic arts. (Arriba, March, 1983) He explains that this meant this in the sense of remaining true to his principles regardless of what kind of work he is doing. However, Guerra has not done graphic art for almost two decades now.

Guerra rejects the notion of art for art's sake.


VIEWPOINTS FOR INTERPRETATION

MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork to look the way it does?

Guerra generally understands art as serving a broad function. He wrote that "the idea that one can make a contribution to improve humanity with art will always be a goal of mine." (Arriba, March, 1983) The fact that he painted into the borders of Texas Farmworker the symbols of two farmworkers unions, which did not always agree, is consistent with that broad intention.




Viewer Lesson Index
ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the viewer, patron, or user understood the artwork?

A seventies campaign worker said "Ramsey [Muñiz] may not win, but he's got the best-looking posters." (La Peña, October/November, 1989)

A reviewer writing about Luis Guerra's Texas Farmworker called it "an archtypical rendering of monumental dignity and strength." (La Peña, October/November, 1989)

CULTURAL IMPACT: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood within culture in which it was made?

According to Elena de la Garza writing in Arriba (March, 1983) the large callused hands in Texas Farmworker are a symbol of the difficult working conditions endured by farmworkers. Farmworkers in Texas are likely to associate more closely with the message of Luis Guerra's painting than other viewers. They are more likely to read the symbols of two farmworkers Unions and may see the stepped pyramid shape in the lower border as a reference to ancient Mexican culture. Because Spanish-speaking viewers can read the poem that appears on the painting, they will be able to use those words as they interpret the significance of the image.

Because of its easily identified subject matter, a broader viewership is likely to interpret the painting as a message about the dignify and strength of those who labor physically.


CONNECTIONS AMONG ARTWORKS

STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

The Texas Farmworker shares characteristics with many posters, such as easily read subject matter, a framing border, symbols, and text. Texas Farmworker also shares characteristics with the Mexican murals. Some of these characteristics are social purpose and content, boldness and exaggerated proportions of the human figure, and the use of perspective and illusion to thrust parts of the painting (in this case, the Texas map) in front of the picture plane.

Luis Guerra has worked in various styles. Texas Farmworker is an example of his figurative work, in this case an explicit social message or purpose. Guerra also makes artwork of a subtle, transcendent nature. His two styles, figurative and symbolic, sometimes merge. Guerra's work with an explicit social and political message belongs to the period of the seventies. Today, the artist is involved with concerns of a more spiritual nature, universal yet deeply personal.

Speaking to a writer for the Austin-American Statesman (September 6, 1995) "Guerra said that he believes that the artist's role should be similar to a shaman's, that artists should be using their work to heal the spirit of the world and of all its inhabitants."

INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?

Speaking to Elena Garza (Arriba, March, 1983) Luis Guerra stated that

"Some artists influence me by their philosophies. Other artists influence me by their way of life. And still other artists influence me by the ways their art looks; the kinds of images they produced."

Among the artists whom Guerra says influenced him are Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keefe, Alberto Giacometti, and Ben Shahn.

Guerra also believes he may have been influenced by a collective unconscious when he painted the Texas Farmworker. After the painting was completed, in the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, Guerra saw an ancient statue of Coatlicue, the goddess of agriculture, in exactly the same stance.

THEMES: What general ideas connect this artwork to other artworks?

The theme of "work" can be used as a basis for comparing Luis Guerra's Texas Farmworker with early European paintings of laborers by artists such as the Limbourg brothers or Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The theme of "human relationships with nature" can stimulate comparisons between Guerra's painting and the country landscapes of Grant Wood or Thomas Hart Benton, or even with paintings of tiny people lost in huge Chinese landscapes. Anne Coe and Nicario Jiménez Quispe are two of many contemporary artists whose work also addresses the theme of human relationships with nature.




© 2001 Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University. All Rights Reserved.