When one thinks of Latino artists in Austin who emerged in the 1970s as a result of the Chicano movement, names like Raúl Valdez, Santa Barraza, and Amado Peña are some of the first that may come to mind. According to the Texas State Historical Association, Chicano art networks established in Texas during the mid-1960s as “independent coalitions aligned philosophically with the Chicano movement, which emphasized cultural identity and political activism.”
In Texas, the networks were formed as a response to an Anglo-dominated environment, which didn’t always offer opportunities for people of color to exhibit their work. This resulted in the formation of groups and venues to give Chicano and Latino artists an opportunity to express their historical and cultural experiences. Austin art groups included El Grupo (active ca. 1967), Chicano Artistas Sirviendo a Aztlán (active ca. 1977), the League of United Chicano Artists (middle to late 1970s), and the Mujeres Artistas del Suroeste (1977 to the mid-1980s). There were also several venues such as La Peña (founded 1982), Mexic-Arte Museum (1984), and Galería sin Fronteras (1986).
Fidencio Duran came to Austin in the early 1980s for his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas. The Chicano art movement was still predominant in Austin during that time, particularly with the murals depicting migrant workers. Although Duran could personally relate to the movement, and his experiences were still anchored in the Mexican American experience, his approach to art came from a more personal perspective.
“It wasn›t specifically about political developments, and it didn›t have an overtly political statement---it was more auto-biographical,” says Duran. “The images that I developed had more to do with my family›s experiences, not as migrant workers, but as tenant farmers.”
When he was a junior at UT, Duran received the Clara Driscoll Arts Award from the Austin Museum of Art for the autobiographical series of paintings he had started a few years earlier. Receiving this award opened up a lot of doors for Duran early on, giving him the opportunity to show in mainstream museums and galleries, as well as Latino art centers, throughout the country.
“There›s a wider audience for my work, and it doesn›t pigeon hole me---I feel comfortable doing a variety of things,” explains Duran. “My work has developed from [the series I started in college]. The mural at the Austin airport is a culmination of that.”
Funded through the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places Program, The Visit, was installed at the Austin–Bergstrom International Airport in 1999. Unlike Duran’s other murals that depict the history and contributions of their respective East Austin neighborhoods, this airport mural is the only one that is directly tied to his personal body of work. The images are based on a Sunday afternoon at his grandmother’s house.
Duran’s most recent exhibit, Tree of Life: Drawings and Paintings, at the Gay Fay Kelly gallery in East Austin, is his most personal work yet, while incorporating universal themes that almost anyone can relate to. He refers to these works as his “birdhouse series,” which began from memories of his father’s ability to create a useful object out of found materials and his mother’s talent for gardening and love of birds.
“I started by including regional landscapes [and birds] that later expanded to include views from travel photos,” says Duran. “These works that started during a period of loss and tragedy have transcended from still lifes and narratives to celebrations of life and nature in the whimsical narratives of the birdhouse series.”
Many of the exhibits shown by Gay Fay Kelly are artists whom she has worked with since the 1980s. Both Kelly and Duran agree that while there aren’t enough gallery spaces in Austin (although that may change as the city continues to grow), there is now a wider and more varied representation of Latino artists.
“It was a real celebration of Fidencio’s work in the Austin community at large, as well as the Mexican American community,” says Kelly.