By Dr. Ricardo Romo
Michael Menchaca’s evolution as an artist began with his enrollment at San Antonio Community College (SAC) where he majored in Graphic Design. Menchaca had enrolled at San Antonio College with the thought of a career in graphic marketing and advertising.
Mel Casas, the brilliant art professor at SAC, had passed away when Menchaca arrived on campus, but fortunately for the young artist, numerous art professors, including fine arts teacher Mark Pritchett, stepped up to help him expand his artistic range. Pritchett’s mentoring led Menchaca to explore creativity beyond graphic designing.
Upon receiving an Associate Degree from SAC, Menchaca enrolled at Texas State University with the intent of studying printmaking. At the San Marcos campus he also developed a greater interest in his Mexican American roots. Over time, he also developed an interest in pre-Colombian Mexican figures incorporated from the Aztec and Mayan codices.
Menchaca’s work celebrates his memories, his Latino heritage, and his vision of San Antonio. His art also connect us with history, folklore, and popular culture. Menchaca is a gifted graphic artist and printer and considers his work a reflection of his upbringing, his home, his city and his family. It is for him a personal story including nostalgic memories.
Menchaca’s artistic inspiration comes from many sources, but the visual narratives of artist Carmen Lomas Garza caught his eye early in his career. It should be noted that Garza also introduces folkloric interpretation in her work.
Menchaca’s signature motif is a mustachioed cat that represents the artist and his Latino community. He chose a cat icon for many reasons, but he was particularly influenced by popular culture.
Growing up with television cartoons and video games, cats named Sylvester, Heathcliff and Garfield entertained him. He believed that the cat motif “could open the doors,” in his words, for him to explore his cultural heritage, racial tensions, and stories of immigration. The cat motif would dominate most of his future printed visual interpretations.
Menchaca also seeks to bridge the modern with the ancient. Mass media and popular culture influenced his modern cat character, as did the real life cats that invaded his family backyard when he was growing up. With the addition in recent years of preColumbian images to his prints and collages, Menchaca pays tribute to his Mestizo heritage. Many of these figures, often featured with ancient masks, are an inspiration from Aztec and Mayan codices. These figures appear in all of Menchaca’s collage works.
In 2012, Menchaca was one of the youngest artists chosen for the McNay’s “Estampas de la Raza” exhibit. The following year, the “State of the Art” Exhibition at new Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas featured his work among 102 American artists giving him national recognition. Menchaca has matured as an artist in a relatively short time and his creativity adds an exciting component to Latino art.
He is currently participating in an exhibition with Lawndale Art Center in Houston called The Codex Silex Vallis (The Silicon Valley Codex). Menchaca visualizes how the growing tech industry—largely based out of Silicon Valley—is infiltrating traditional Latinx family customs in the United States. In large scale, Menchaca explores the imagery and themes from his eponymously-titled series through a variety of media, including a site-specific wallpaper installation, new paintings, drawings, screen and digital print, videos, and virtual reality.
This exhibition will be visiting San Antonio next year at North West Vista College. For more information please visit michaelmenchaca.com
From ‘City of Service’, an ex- hibit that brings to life the rich history of military activity in San Antonio – as well as its impact on the community. The piece was commissioned earlier this year in part by The City of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture, in conjunction with the City’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs. Menchaca was tasked with creating works that commemorate the legacy and assets of both Kelly and Brooks and how they are tied to the San Antonio community. Menchaca’s work illustrates the emergence of Port San Antonio as a large and dynamic technology and innovation campus.
“It was a huge honor to create works that commemorate both of the extraordinary legacies that Kelly and Brooks bases hold with- in the San Antonio community,” said Menchaca. “The challenge for me was in visualizing a simultaneous narrative that spoke to the history of service by, and for the community, while intermixing the culture of today.”Menchaca devel- oped original designs that describe the distinctive architecture of each military base, showcasing their unique features while also high- lighting their significant historic events. Reverential portrayals of service members, in the style of Menchaca’s unique digital codex characters, reflect the demographics of San Antonio’s military ser- vice members.