He’s a movie star with acting roles and animation character voices in nearly 70 movies, and he’s a television star with credits in more than 30 shows and series. He’s a comedian who recorded eight albums with comedy partner Tommy Chong, and he’s a musician who’s released two bilingual children’s albums. Cheech Marin is also the author of seven books; he was an English major at Cal State-Northridge.
But for the last 30 years or so, he’s taken on what may be his most influential role yet as a leading supporter and collector of Chicano art. Many sources point to Marin’s holdings as the largest or finest collection of Chicano art in the world. He takes his collecting seriously – and joyously. Marin takes special joy in sharing the art, through travelling exhibitions and colorful catalogs of selected works from his collections.
Marin returns to El Paso this week to speak at the El Paso Museum of Art Thursday, Feb. 27, in a program entitled “An Afternoon with Cheech Marin and Gaspar Enriquez.” Their talk complements the museum’s major retrospective of local artist Enriquez’s work, “Gaspar Enriquez: Metaphors of El Barrio.”
What’s Up spoke with Marin ahead of the event, and learned not only of his love of art, but also about his affection for El Paso.
Q. You’ve spoken at the El Paso Museum of Art before. What do you think of El Paso from your previous visits?
I love El Paso. I’ve been coming to El Paso since I was a young kid. We had relatives there, so I always used to go – not every summer, but quite a few. And I think it’s hot.
Q. Hot, as in trendy?
No – it’s more ‘Dear God, this can’t be planet Earth – it’s too hot!’ (Laughs.) I’ve always loved El Paso. I love the local art that’s being done, I love the people there, the community. I love the place a lot.
Q. On Thursday afternoon, you will be at the museum with an old friend of yours, Gaspar Enriquez. You have several of his works in your collection – and you’ve loaned three paintings to the current exhibit here. What will you be discussing?
I think we’re just going to present the art and take questions from the audience, kind of fill them in. We’ll be able together to “elucidate the art.” We’ll just relate to the people of El Paso.
They know Gaspar’s art very well.
Q. Then that night you’re speaking at a private event hosted by Community en Accion to raise money to purchase Chicano art for the museum’s permanent collection.
El Paso is one of the only museums in the U.S. that has a Chicano collection, and they are to be commended for that.
Q. That audience will include some of our leading citizens, people who are very charitable. What might you say to them?
Give more money to the museum! God will shine down upon you! (Laughs.)
Q. You’ve studied art and European painting since you were a kid. What made you interested in art?
Part of it was being raised Catholic. When you go to church, all you see is art – on the walls, on the ceilings, on the altars. I was always intrigued by it, and I started studying it from a historical perspective. I wanted to find out who these painters were. Art kind of had religious overtones for me, so I’ve always kept a sort of religious zeal in my appreciation of art – that’s what prompts me on to do what we’re doing.
Q. What got you started in specializing in Chicano art?
I had educated myself on art, but the gap in my knowledge was contemporary art. So in the mid-1980s, I started going around to contemporary art galleries on the West Side of Los Angeles, and that’s when I first encountered some of these artists. I was going “Whoa!”
I not only related to it Chicano-wise, but I also related to it painter-wise, because I knew what good paintings were, because I had seen them all my life. I realized that these were really good painters. It was like hearing someone who can really play music. You say, “Wow – that’s a great guitarist, I don’t care where they’re from, they just really play great guitar.”
I found out that there was a whole school of Chicano artists; they just hadn’t been given any “shelf space.” That became my joy to see what I could do about that. As soon as you know one artist, you know 20, because they talk to each other and the word spreads: “Hey, someone’s buying art!”
The bottom line, at the end of the day, I collect Chicano art because I enjoy it so much. It gives me so much joy to discover new artists, to see their work, to pass that on to other people and have them see the artwork. The joy is sharing it and seeing everyone relate to the art.
Q. What do you look for in your own collecting?
A painting has to haunt me. I have to see it and then all of the sudden it reappears again in my thoughts. Once that haunting process starts, I know I’m a goner.
Q. What drew you to Gaspar Enriquez’s work?
I saw his paintings and right away, I really knew what they were, especially his airbrushing technique, because at the time I was married to a painter who did airbrushing and I knew that technique. This guy is really good. And he’s painting the people from his neighborhood – that’s one of the most important aspects.
Q. What question have I not asked you?
‘What’s my favorite restaurant in El Paso?’
Q. Oh, what it is it?
I don’t know yet – the last one where I’ve eaten. I like the food at El Paso Country Club, where I play golf when I’m there. They have great food there.
An Afternoon with Cheech Marin and Gaspar Enriquez
El Paso Museum of Art, 1 Arts Festival Plaza
Thursday, Feb. 27 1:30 p.m.
Free, limited to first 220 attendees
For more info: 915-532-1707 or elpasoartmuseum.org