Art reunions can be problematic. They can be especially difficult and challenging if the artists are asked to create new works. In any art reunion, timing and reliable associations are everything. Latino artists are part of a very mobile sector and are known to relocate to other communities which can make reunification improbable. There is also the factor of age. As artists age, they often have less time for creative work or lose touch with important friends and connections as technology changes and lives become more complicated.
Dock Space Gallery founder Bill Fitzgibbons, a highly successful sculptor in his own right, knew there were risks in attempting a Gallista reunion, but he proposed the idea anyway to Joe Lopez, his artist friend and the preeminent
cultural instigator of Gallista Gallery. Lopez and his Gallista friends delivered in a splashing and profound way.
Over nearly two decades, the Gallista Gallery artists were a formidable group in San Antonio and, with this reunion, they seized upon the opportunity to radiate again–or in the Chicano locution, Dale Shine.
Joe Lopez significantly lifted the Latino art scene profile in San Antonio. Many Latino artists had their first exhibits at the Gallista Gallery in Southtown. My wife Harriett and I, for example, collected artwork by Larry Portillo when we visited the Gallista Gallery [Portillo credits Lopez with giving him his first exhibit]. We recently donated a Portillo art piece to St. Phillips’ College when the college honored him with a solo show. We also collected works by most of the Gallista artists over our dozens of visits there during the period 2000-2016. Harriett was also fond of the gift store that featured folk art by local artists, and she bought embroidery art with images of the Virgin Guadalupe created by Frances Chavez and ceramic figures created by women participating in a Westside art cooperative.
During the period I served as President of the
University of Texas at San Antonio [1999-2017], I bought art for the campus. Lopez recently reminded me that Harriett and I bought paintings by nearly all of the Gallista Gallery reunion artists, including Cris Escobar, Larry Portillo, Angelica Mayorga, Abel Perna Ebaben, Xavier Garza, L.A. Vatocosmico, Victor Tello, Mary Agnes Rodriguez, Juan Farias, Paul Karam, Luis Valderas, and Luis”Chispas” Guerrero.
Each of these artists merits a full discussion, but given my two-page limitation at La Prensa, I chose to
highlight the work of Joe Lopez and Mary Agnes Rodriguez, both artists I have written about before.
The idea for the Gallista Gallery emerged out of Joe Lopez’s search for adequate studio space for his artwork. During the 1980s and 1990s, Lopez relocated his studio numerous times, and all the moves taxed his creativity and artistic production. His luck turned for the better when he
found a studio on Alamo Street alongside that of his good friend Andy Benavides. When Benavides bought a small warehouse on South Flores Street, he noticed a For Sale
sign across the street. He called Lopez and the rest was history.
The warehouse Lopez bought had an abundance of space, far more than he needed. Lopez operated the Gallista Gallery and art studios by renting out spaces to local artists and organizing events that allowed artists to show and sell their work over nearly twenty years. Over this period Gallista Gallery hosted monthly art exhibitions and also featured altars during the Day of the Dead celebration.
Joe Lopez grew up wanting to be an artist, but the path to success had many obstacles. He grew up in one of the smallest and most isolated Mexican barrios in San Antonio. The neighborhood “Barrio Escondido” was next to the famous “Cementville,” where Mexican workers employed by the giant Alamo Cement factory lived with their families.
After high school, Lopez took art classes at La Villita School of Art and San Antonio School of Art. In the mid-1990s, he continued painting and earned extra money
selling tee shirts and caps embossed with his favorite phrase, “Puro Gallo,” which means “pure rooster” in English.
In his modest sales and use of the word Gallo, however, Lopez crossed the world’s largest winery. The winery demanded that Lopez cease using the word “Gallo” in any shape or form claiming copyright infringement on the “Gallo” name. Lopez claimed that a company could not copyright the Spanish word for rooster.
Lopez’s attorney met with representatives of the wine company and they settled out of court. Lopez continued to produce “Puro Gallo” hats and soon decided to open a Latino gallery and studios in Southtown. With the help of his wife Frances, Gallista Gallery was born.
Although Lopez’s style and techniques have evolved, he continues to paint mostly about his Mexican-American culture and heritage. In the attractive Gallista Gallery Reunion Show brochure, Joe Lopez tells Dock Space Gallery readers that his paintings reflect his “childhood, cultural foundations, family ties, religious influences, and social upbringing.”
The Gallista Reunion at Dock Space Gallery features sixteen artists. The Southtown Gallery has two large
display rooms. Lopez asked each artist to bring new works for the show. Joe Lopez, curator of the exhibit, presented his works in the gallery entry room. Luis “Chispa” Guerrero’s metal sculptures are also featured in the center of the second room on pedestals.
Another esteemed San Antonio artist in the show, Mary Agnes Rodriguez, arrived at Gallista Gallery soon after the artists’ studios opened. In her early years as a cultural worker, Rodriguez was known for her murals and paintings. As she labored alongside other Latino artists at the Gallista studio gallery, she acquired new art ideas, painting techniques, and creative insights.
Rodriguez grew up in the Westside of San Antonio and excelled at art in high school. In 1978, she enrolled in the art department at San Antonio College [SAC]. At SAC she took classes with Mel Casas, one of the nation’s best-known Chicano artists and a highly regarded art educator.
Early in her career, Rodriguez worked with the San Anto Cultural Arts organization located in the heart of the city’s Westside. At the San Anto Art Center, Rodriguez met Rubio, an acclaimed mural artist. With Rubio’s encouragement, Rodriguez completed her first solo mural, a painting of the Virgin Guadalupe, with a three-dimensional design.
Rodriguez is proud of her indigenous ancestry and often incorporates themes and images that reflect the lives of Indian women of Aztec Mexico. The West Commerce Street mural at La India Store, La Herbolaria, represents an ambitious art project associated with her indigenous past. Her work, “La Curandera,” at the Gallista Reunion show depicts an elder curandera or faith healer with a young Latina whose long hair flows next to a cactus plant.
Today Rodriguez has channeled much of her artistic energy to smaller ceramic and clay pottery pieces. She works in an adobe studio at the Mujer Arte Cooperative de Esperanza on Colorado Street with eight other women creating and discussing art. Rodriguez is also a long-time community activist committed to projects that beautify the Westside as well as works that give needed visibility to her Mexican-American culture.
The Gallista Reunion show can be seen Tuesday, November 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Wednesday, November 29 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Dock Space Gallery located at 107 Lone Star Blvd., San Antonio, Texas, 78204.