Mexican-American L.A. neighborhood inspires artist's exhibit at Cal Poly

Ana Serrano's 'Pretty Monumental' show runs through Nov. 2

Special to The TribuneOctober 8, 2012 

“Chico and the Man” made its TV debut in 1974, the year I turned 8. My favorites, “The Partridge Family” and “The Brady Bunch,” had just gone off the air and while I looked like the white kids on those two ABC shows, I lived in East Los Angeles, same as Freddie Prinze Jr’s character, Chico.

I remember being jazzed every time I saw a mural (“The Wall That Crack'd Open”) from my City Terrace neighborhood in the “Chico and the Man” credits.

All these years later, Chicano-themed murals, little shops painted aqua blue or Pepto pink (or both) and Day of the Dead decor are just a few of my favorite things.

The main art endeavor I recall from grades 1-3 at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary was an astronomy diorama housed in a shoebox painted black. I’d classify it as a dud.

As a girl, Los Angeles artist Ana Serrano took the diorama idea and created stages for Barbie beauty pageants. She laughed as she talked to a group of Cal Poly art students and community members as she remembered filming the pageants on VHS. She shared slides and stories about her work before her artist reception earlier this month. See “Pretty Monumental” at the gallery in the Dexter Building at Cal Poly through Nov. 2.

Serrano photographs Mexican-American neighborhood buildings and then takes bits and pieces for inspiration to create sculptures with cardboard, paint and hot glue – “a lot of it.”

While studying at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, she was drawn to working with cardboard and became inspired by Los Angeles buildings. Not the historical Victorians in Boyle Heights but the corner key shops, bakeries and shoe repair places — utilitarian buildings.

“I don’t even know what the building is going to be,” she said explaining that she lets the creative process dictate whether she will create a liquor store, ice cream parlor (neveria) or church (iglesia).

While she usually creates small pieces, Rice University Art Gallery in Houston asked her to create large-scale works for an installation last year. Take a look at

Mary C. Barnhill is another artist inspired by Mexican culture and her October exhibit of hand-built ceramic skull masks at the Vault Gallery, 2289 Main St., in Cambria is just in time for Day of the Dead.

“I love Dia de los Muertos!” Barnhill said in press materials. “People often confuse it with Halloween – which I also love – but it’s very, very different. It’s a joyous and respectful celebration. It’s a remembrance of our dearly departed, not about ghosts and goblins.”

The Nov. 1 holiday is Barnhill’s and my favorite and it coincides with Catholicism’s All Souls Day. “Skulls and skeletons remind us that death is a natural part of the cycle of life and that it is not to be feared,” she said.

Expect to see representations of Picasso, Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and other historically significant figures. Call the Vault Gallery at 927-0300 for more details.

If you go

What: Ana Serrano, “Pretty Monumental”

Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Show runs through Nov. 2

Where: Cal Poly University Art Gallery, Dexter Building

Contact: 756-1571


Contact freelance writer Monica Fiscalini at Monica_

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