BOOK EXCERPT: Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art

As a child growing up in South Texas, Roberto Munguia developed an early interest in art. His parents encouraged his creative pursuits, and he received support and encouragement from other family members and acquaintances. Later in life he would single many of them out for credit in furthering his artistic development, among them Carmen Lomas Garza and, in the Texas A&M University art department, Bill Renfrow, to whom the young artist was introduced while still a high school student. Munguia studied at the University of Texas, Austin, where he received his B.F.A. in 1976. This was followed by graduate study at the University of Dallas, Irving, where he earned an M.A. in 1978 and an M.F.A in 1979. In the course of his ensuing career, Munguia has experienced with a variety of media, most recently encaustic painting, a method dating back to ancient Greece.

Munguia’s evolution as an artist has been a dynamic process, informed by the thriving Chicano art scene of South Texas in the late sixties and early seventies. The atmosphere of experimentation and political expression, particularly vibrant at Texas A&I University, provided an important environment for the young Munguia to become adept at a number of diverse production techniques. Though he always returns faithfully to painting, Munguia has worked extensively in paper, collage, and mixed media. The production of compelling and exuberant works is a never frivolous exercise in the hands of this artist. The themes of spiritual awareness and universal insights have been present at every stage of his career.

Currently working with the ancient medium of encaustic painting, Munguia has developed a new body of work that ventures into abstract discourse on color and form, reflecting a sophisticated understanding of color theory and composition. With the exception of Jasper Johns, modern artists have rarely employed encaustic paints. This process involves suspending color pigments in a damar crystal and molten beeswax mixture. The application is then made with a heating implement such as an electric brush or heat gun. Munguia produces all of the paints he uses, giving him exact control over his images, which often carry a distinct texture. It is important to note the use of this technique in a series of painting that very much recalls the mosaic designs of Islamic and Byzantine architecture. Kyat is exemplary of these works. The overwhelming colors that saturate a layered grid suggest an agitated, almost uncontrolled tension. To one side a leaf-shaped form, cast in a deep, tactile red, hovers above its shadow. This exploration of chaos and doubling of forms suggests a search for order that struggles to emerge in the painting. Munguia, undeterred by the chaos, maintains a meditative control of the canvas in the revelatory violations of the surface that he imposes through a process of gouging, melting, and scratching.

Amantes/Jardin 3 is a serigraph that Munguia produced at Coronado Studio in Austin, Texas. Hand colored with gouache and pencils and using a three-color silkscreen, the work is a consideration of balance and formal structure that produces an inverted pairing of shapes bordered by an ornate pattern. The border is an adaptation of a mosaic the artist encountered while in Venice, Italy. This work includes elements of abstraction in the subjects it explores while simultaneously sharing a kinship with the sensibilities of decorative art. These relationships allow Munguia to develop a visual language that is expansive and invigorating.