Master printer Richard Duardo was for several decades one of the most influential Latino print makers and artists in the country. Upon Duardo’s death in 2014 at age 62, David Colker of the Los Angeles Times commented: “A gregarious, prominent figure in the downtown arts scene, he worked as a printer with numerous world-famous artists, including David Hockney, Keith Haring and Banksy.“ Duardo also worked closely with Shepard Fairy, famed creator of the “Hope” posters promoting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.
I met Duardo in 1969 when I taught at Franklin High School in a Latino residential community adjacent to East Los Angeles. I met him through my involvement as the faculty advisor for several school organizations, including United Mexican American Students and M.E.C.H.A. He also enrolled in my Mexican American history class. Duardo was an excellent student and I recommended him for the Upward Bound Program at Occidental College where I taught for several summers. This program encourages and prepares bright high school students from low-income neighborhoods to attend college.
Following high school graduation, Duardo studied art at Pasadena City College and enrolled at UCLA in 1973. I had left Franklin H.S. in 1970 to enroll in the PhD program at UCLA, so Duardo and I overlapped on the Westwood campus. Duardo was one of the first Latinos to be admitted to UCLA’s Art department, and he once told me that he was the sole Latino out of 2,000 art students.
I lost touch with Duardo after I left Los Angeles in the mid 1970s. Duardo was artistically gifted and an art entrepreneur. Following his graduation from UCLA, he completed an internship with famed printer Jeff Wasserman in 1978. Duardo ventured into the art business when he founded the first Chicano owned serigraphic print studio in Los Angeles, Hecho en Aztlan, which he later renamed Aztlan Multiples, then Multiples Fine Art, Future Perfect, and finally settled on Modern Multiples.
Duardo credits his early association with Sister Karen Boccalero, head of Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles, as part of his fine arts learning process. In the late 1970s Duardo co-founded the Centro de Arte Público, a highly political arts collective in Highland Park. It was through this art collective that Duardo established strong working relations and friendships with two of the great Latino artists of California–Carlos Almaraz and Frank Romero. Over a twenty-five year period, Duardo published the work of over 300 artists, including works by Almaraz and Romero.
Never satisfied with just printing and creating art, Duardo’s side ventures included an independent record label company and a furniture design business. On one occasion he mentioned to me that he shipped some lowrider cars to Japan where he found eager buyers and profitable returns. For a time, Duardo had two studios, one in West Los Angeles and another in the heart of East Los Angeles near his old home.
Montana Mills, Duardo’s niece, recently told a story to 1xRUN print sales company about her uncle Richard Duardo meeting with Andy Warhol at The Factory in the late 1970s. Warhol offered Duardo a job printing fine art at The Factory, but Duardo had bigger plans and offered Warhol an opportunity to print in Los Angeles at Modern Multiples. The collaboration never worked out, but Duardo made many other connections, notably with the world famous street artists Banksy and famed Chicano collector Cheech Marin.
When I reconnected with Duardo in 1988, he had just returned from an exhibit titled “First American Pop Art Show” at the La Foret Museum in Tokyo, Japan. In the 1990s Duardo produced several large prints of Sumo wrestlers and began a series of large prints portraying Hollywood stars and favorite artists. In 1988 Duardo received the California Arts Commission award for Artist of the Year.
In the 20 years before his untimely passing in 2014, my wife Harriett and I visited Duardo at his studios every few years. On one of our visits to his East Los Angeles studios, we were introduced to the work of several graffiti artists whom Duardo had discovered. These artists included Speedy Graphito, Futura, Saber, Revok, Mear One, and Retna. These artists and others printed with Duardo, and their works are now collected by numerous California Museums and universities. Retna did several prints with Duardo, but he found more lucrative work doing television commercials and advertising work for brands such as VistaJet, Louis Vuitton, and Nike.
Among the prints that my wife and I bought from him were the graffiti artists mentioned above and Duardo’s own large prints portraying Marlon Brando, James Dean, Marylyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Jane Russell, Miley Cyrus, Jimi Hendrix, and Billie Holiday. Nearly all of these prints of Hollywood stars and famous music personalities are currently on display in the Duardo exhibit at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio titled “Andy Warhol and Richard Duardo: Pop Portraits.”
Duardo’s death seven years ago left a large void in the Latino art world. His sister Lisa and her daughter, Montana Mills, now manage the Modern Multiple studios that he founded. The high quality printing of Latino artists continues with the help of Ivan Alpuche, a master printer that Duardo helped to train. In his lifetime Duardo connected with the rich and famous as well as with struggling unknown artists. He made no distinction between them and enjoyed every moment that centered on art and creativity. He was a talented artist and printer and a special friend.