The Pachuco Series
“I know him!….”
I was a teenager during the 1950s and 60s. Pachucos, Chucos (zoot-suiter types), batos (guys, “dudes”) were part of my everyday life in my home town of Laredo, Texas. For emphasis, I prefer to spell “bato” with a “b” as in “barrio” though vato might be correct. In Contemporary Chicano culture, the pachuco is an endless source of curiosity and fascination. This interest, not always informed, has succeeded in mythologizing the pachuco and elevating him to cultural, even political, hero status and has inevitably ushered in glorification and stereotyping.
It is unclear where the term “pachuco” originated though we refer to El Paso as “El Chuco”. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it….I simply don’t know. No se….
Actually, pachucos were generally seen as nothing more than hoodlums during their time, but that was a generalized, distorted generational view. Not all pachucos were hoods and indeed, many of these young men merely went along with that manner of dress and lifestyle of the times because it was the social orientation available to them and a special kind of hipsterism figured in that choice.
My first drawings of chucos were idle doodles done when I was in grade school. The idea emerged when my friend Memo and I would sit around doodling, a staple of which was a sort of Dick Tracy-type head in profile, wearing a snap-brim hat, sporting a scar on the cheek and smoking a cigarette. We got a real kick out of that.
In this series of work, pachucos and batos are treated as both particular individuals and as a social phenomenon with its own style. My chosen format suggests portraiture, although that is not entirely the case. More accurately, these “portraits” are pachuco or bato characters. Frequently, they are composites of very recognizable physiological types. Though based on real individuals, calculated liberties are taken with visual fact to “universalize” a character and make him so readily recognizable as to elicit an “I know him!” response from the viewer. Through this approach, I can explore a range of human attitudes within a somewhat clinical context and perhaps give a more accurate visual portrayal than what popular culture can provide. I often say that the real thing is never “real” enough; I have to tamper with reality for emphasis. I know I am done with a particular piece when I sense that the character has taken on a life of its own. Like Dr. Victor Frankenstein, I am known to rave “it’s alive!….” Particularity keeps these characters from becoming stereotypes, though types they definitely are and I do allow myself to explore this at many levels, even superficially when it fits my aims.
By isolating the personages in an abstract color field, I can make them very specific and unavoidable. Through selective use of color, the color field serves to enhance the mood or attitude that I want to convey….color choice can be ironic. I was very much influenced by color-field painting during my formative college years. I was particularly taken by the nuanced work of Mark Rothko, Jules Olitski and Kenneth Noland. Fair to say they influenced those fields of color in my work. I’ve referred to this field of color as an abstract landscape, the usual band of color at the top suggesting a horizon line. Rarely are my characters done in naturalistic skin color; this is my way of addressing discrimination of that sort and thus neutralizing it. Regardless of color, I still manage to make them look Chicano.
My source of visual information comes from personal snapshots, high school annual pictures, the media and obituary pictures from the local paper, this last source being particularly productive.
It should be noted that I have merely described my general approach; there are variations and inclusions that don’t necessarily fit the Pachuco Series idea. It has been very vexing to come up with good material sources on the feminine side of all this. I’m not even sure there was such a thing as a “pachuca” though I remember the young women hanging out in that milieu being referred to as “pachucas” if only for lack of a better word. And I don’t remember them wearing anything distinctively “pachuca”; they wore what was popular with girls in general. My search for visual material on which to base women characters has drawn me into a more “period” tangent, an interest in the 1930s and 40s. These visuals have come mostly from obituary pictures thus leading to titles such as “La Señora Fulanita During the 1930s or 40s.”
Then there’s the ubiquitous “Bato Con Sunglasses” character which has become a staple, almost like a genre, within the series. I guess this character epitomized my idea of ultra-cool when I was a teenager. During my senior year in high school I affected sunglasses to hide behind and buttoned up my shirt at the collar for effect. This cool bato con sunglasses character is very generic, mysterious and idealized, but in spite of all the ones I’ve done, this character remains an enigma, challenging and elusive.
acrylic on canvas
40” x 30”
collection of Sandra Cisneros,
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Hombre Que Le Gustan Las Mujeres
acrylic on canvas
50” X 44”
collection of Lewis Dickson III
Cruz de Comal Winery
Comal County, Texas
Bato con High School Jacket
acrylic on canvas
64” x 54”
collection of the San Antonio Museum of Art
San Antonio, Texas
Bato Con Sunglasses
acrylic on canvas
50” x 50”
collection of the Museum of