About Luis Guerra's
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and
activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was
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,
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
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,
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
"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
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
© 2001 Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University. All