You may know Cheech Marin simply as the other half of Chong. Or, perhaps, as the shotgun-wielding priest in 2010’s “Machete.” Since the 1960s, he’s been a comedian, actor, director, writer, musician and art collector.
No joke — art collector. Marin owns an impressive collection of Chicano art — about 400 pieces, he estimates.
Here, he tells more about the diminutive paintings he’s loaned to a Mesa museum for “Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection (Size Doesn’t Matter).”
Comprised of 65 works measuring no more than 16 inches by 16 inches, the show opens alongside two other new exhibitions (“Vermilion Remains” and “Wood & Stone, Substance & Spirit”) with a free reception at 7 p.m. Friday at Mesa Contemporary Arts.
Q: Tell us about the paintings in “Chicanitas.”
A: It was really fun, collecting the small pieces. They’re kind of perfect. A small format makes the artist really concentrate on what he’s saying and how he’s saying it. On large canvases, it’s like doing an album; these are like singles. You have to say it and get out. I really dig them.
Q: Have any of these pieces ever hung on your walls, and do you have any favorites?
A: Not all of them, but most of them.
Some by Ana Fernández, the ones of the girl ironing her hair — that just struck me. That killed me when I first saw it. I’d never seen that in a painting before. I know girls iron their hair, but it said so much about a woman on her own in her own place. And it was so well painted. I love the meat paintings (by Joe Peña); they look like Rembrandts.
Q: How did you get into collecting art?
A: I’ve always been a collector, my whole life, of something, whether it was marbles or baseball cards or matchbook covers. I like classifying things and putting them in order and seeing them all together. That was fascinating to me at a very early age.
When I got some money, I started collecting other stuff before paintings — Art Deco and Art Nouveau. That got to be too expensive.
Q: You write, act, direct, make music. Do you paint?
A: Not at all. I was stabbed in the heart by a teacher early in my schooling who looked at my picture and said, “You’ll never be an artist.” It hurt me so bad, I never tried again. But I appreciate art. There’s room in the world for appreciators, connoisseurs. The audience sometimes needs a spokesman or a guide, and I’m happy to do that, especially with these Chicano paintings that have been systematically ignored for such a long time.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a steward of Chicano art?
A: To bring to the forefront the realization that Chicano art is American art. It’s not some subset. We contribute and have contributed long before the country was even founded. It’s the process of stepping up and asserting what our history has been and will be. Most of all, I want to encourage people to participate in the system and be a part of it — no more hiding in the shadows.
Also, (I want) to engender a sense of philanthropy. Hereuntofore, we have not had a Latino philanthropic sense. I try to go around and encourage the local Latino benefactors to contribute to museums. We don’t have a history of that, but we’re going to.
There’s a saying (that) you can’t love or hate Chicano are unless you see it. My goal is to let people see it as much as they can.
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