Actor and comedian Cheech Marin discovered early in life that artists who expressed and preserved the cultural identity to which he related were overlooked and underrepresented. His collection of more than 700 pieces of Chicano art aims to change that. Part of that collection representing Chicano artists living or born in Texas can be seen at the Art Museum of South Texas through April 29.
Los Tejanos: Chicano Art from the Cheech Marin Collection” includes 39 pieces by 14 Texas artists. Several of those artists are from Corpus Christi, a number that grew when Marin visited the Coastal Bend for the exhibit’s opening Jan. 12.
“He went to local studios while he was here and bought more art from our artists who live here,” said Deborah Fullterton, curator of Exhibitions at AMST. “He wants to bring to the forefront this whole genre of art with a rich history from the 1950s forward, telling the stories of these people who grew up here with roots in Mexico.”
Chicano art straddles multiple cultural borders, Fullerton continued. The word is a unique description that doesn’t have a real definition. It is more of an experience: what Americans of Mexican decent have experienced in their lives, which border two cultures, two identities. The artists in Marin’s collection define their Chicano experience and identities through their work.
“Chicanos are living in a world where their roots are something they are valuing and embracing, but they are also living in a world of McDonald’s and Cheerios — commercialization,” she said. “Their work is really rich in storytelling tradition.”
Some of the work of Ricardo Ruiz, who grew up in Corpus Christi, reflects his childhood memories of watching his cousin Esmerelda getting ready in the evenings to go on a date. One such portrait depicts a woman ready for a night on the town with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both whispering in her ears. Dangling from those ears are sharp, sword-shaped rhinestone earrings that reach to her shoulders. No matter whose voice to which she ultimately turns, she is prepared.
Jacinto Guevara has five works in the exhibit, each addressing the presence of human life in the midst of an architectural moment. One depicts Sam’s Burgers near the Alamo Quarry Market in San Antonio, a compelling scene of light, color, shadow and diminishing perspective.
Each piece tells a story. Gaspar Enrìquez, who is an art educator in San Antonio, uses an air brush to paint student portraits. Several are young women whose boyfriends are in jail. They are depicted in their boyfriend’s clothes, which they wear to feel closer to them. Positioned centrally in the small gallery at AMST, one black and white portrait is set against a school bus yellow background reflected subtly in the young girl’s eyes. Around her neck is one half of a “Best Friends Forever” heart pendant.
A piece by another Corpus Christi native, Benito Huerta, reflects the cubism of Picasso in two figures perched on a ledge in El Paso, overlooking the lights of Juarez, Mexico. One of the figures is masked; the other is a winged angel.
“He’s taking that influence of Picasso, that otherworldliness of the angel figure, fractionated by the cubist breaking up of space and placing that in a scene you could be in: overlooking Juarez,” Fullerton explained. “This is a place that, in terms of borders and inner conflict, is really evident in our contemporary world today.”
Los Tejanos is the third exhibition of Marin’s ever-growing collection at the Art Museum of South Texas. In 2001, “Chicano Vision” broke attendance records in the 15 cities it visited.
“We believe this exhibit is a viable and important aspect of American art,” Fullerton said. “We want to further those efforts to show that. There is so much to be celebrated here.”
Marin’s art collection soon will have a permanent home in Riverside, California. He has donated the works to the Riverside Art Museum, which has partnered with the city of Riverside to build the 61,420-square-foot Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry — or, in brief, The Cheech. Expected to open in 2020, The Cheech already has a website at
“Art is the only thing we leave behind as a culture,” Marin writes in an introduction to a book about the exhibit. “Art says who we are, what we believe in, what is most sacred to us. Art is the truest expression of our souls. It connects us with all humanity, and, in times like these, we need art more than ever.”
The Art Museum of South Texas is located at 1902 N. Shoreline Blvd. in Corpus Christi. Visit for times and admission prices. “Los Tejanos: Chicano Art from the Cheech Marin Collection” will be on exhibit through April 29.

“Los Tejanos: Chicano Art from the Cheech Marin Collection”

Jari “Werc” Alvarez
Melesio “Mel” Casas
Carlos Donjuàn
Gaspar Enrìquez
Jacinto Guevara
Adàn Hernandez
Benito Huerta
Cèsar A. Martìnez
Joe Peña
Alex Rubio
Ricardo Ruiz
Marta Sànchez
Vincent Valdez
Andy A. Villarreal