The Minnesota artist has deep roots in the Chicano art movement
Sitting on the porch of his home in Oak Park Heights, his dog Ruby napping nearby, Jimmy Longoria recalls the time he had a chance encounter with famed Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo.
Longoria was 16 and had been invited by a mentor to attend a party in the Hollywood Hills, a party hosted by a Mexican actress. Tamayo was a guest.
Longoria went to where Tamayo was painting in the garden. He spoke to the maestro in Spanish.
“He says, ‘By the way, when you become an artist…’
I said, ‘I have no interest in being an artist. I will be governor.
He said, ‘Well, if you can do this, you must understand that you must have a Mrs. Tamayo [his wife] because Ms. Tamayo takes care of everything I do and allows me to just paint.
Longoria didn’t know it at the time, but Tamayo’s words would be prophetic. Four years later, Longoria made a decision that would change her life. And his artistic career began when, while attending Pitzer College in Claremont, California, he changed his curriculum to art.
His day job took him to Minnesota in 1988, where, like so many others, he thought he would only stay a few years.
“My first year, I walked my dog in the middle of the night in the middle of a blizzard, in my slippers, my boxers and my parka. And I went, ‘Ah, I’m going to stay’ and then I stayed,” he said.
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Longoria calls herself The Chicano artist from Minnesota.
He chose to be a Chicano artist in 1974, he said. Longoria chose to identify as a Chicano artist based on his experiences in Texas where he was born.
“All over Texas the signs are going up: no dogs, no niggers, no Mexicans. My family’s cultural history, the oral history was, you’re not Mexican, you’re not from Mexico, you’re from here from this area, you’re Tejano. But when it comes to the sheriff, when it comes to the people who controlled all the social and political structures in South Texas, I’m Mexican, there’s no difference,” Longoria said.
The definition of Chicano varies depending on who you ask. And Chicano art is no exception.
Chicano art originated from the Movimiento – the 1960s chicano movement who fought for social justice.
Longoria has its own definition of Chicano.
“It’s an exploratory culture. In other words, instead of looking back for justification and foundations, I’m not looking for the base of a pyramid. I’m looking at what a pyramid looks like in Minnesota. What is the future of this pyramid? And what is the function of a pyramid? An artist has a different way of seeing things now,” he said.
In June, Chicano art is in the spotlight with the opening of The Cheech Marin Center for Art and Culture in Riverside, California.
And because of that, Longoria said many collectors will want to add Chicano art to their collections.
His art hangs all over his house. And more art is stacked in a room he calls the Vault, which is next to his downstairs studio.
But his works are also in the office of United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; the private collection of Cheech Marin; and even in the bathrooms of the Bush Foundation offices.
If you look closely at his paintings, none of the canvases bears a signature. In fact, none of his original pieces bear a signature. A signature only appears on reproductions, Longoria said.
Baseball fans attending Tuesday’s game will have the opportunity to own a t-shirt featuring a reproduction of Longoria’s artwork.
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He was approached in February by the Minnesota Twins who requested some of his artwork.
“It’s funny, because they said ‘we (want) anything that has your art,’ I said, ‘That’s not my way of working. So I created five different designs’ , Longoria said.
Longoria said the Twins chose the “tamer” of the shirt designs. And they also insisted on a signing.
Jerseys will be given to the first 5,000 fans entering the gate. And are offered just in time to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month which begins September 15th.
Vicki Adame covers Latino communities in Minnesota for MPR News via Report for Americaa national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on under-reported issues and communities.