Oscar Magallanes was born in Duarte, CA and was raised a few miles away in the Azusa Barrio. Growing up in this area, Magallanes became heavily influenced by the cultural and social elements of his upbringing. Despite his limited interaction with art, save for a few public art pieces around the neighborhood, Magallanes always knew he wanted to be an artist.
The first art I saw were murals of Zapata and Mexica glyphs from the Chicano movement. These were juxtaposed next to homeboy role calls and Old English writing. I didn’t see a gallery or museum until I was 15 – Magallanes
Magallanes’ hometown neighborhood was saturated with violence, gangs, drugs, prejudice, etc…, which led to his growing up as a troubled youth and his being expelled from high school at the age of 15. After his expulsion, the young Magallanes came to the realization that the choices he was making were affecting his life negatively. He understood that he needed to take responsibility for his owns actions if he ever wanted something greater for himself, and that the environment he grew up in was not to blame. With the help of a dear friend, he was accepted into the Ryman Arts program where 15 students (200 in most recent years) are given the opportunity to take university-level art programs at no cost to them. It was here that he was encouraged and inspired to pursue a career in art. Later in life he would serve 3 years as the Chair of the Ryman Arts Alumni Association and Alumni Representative on the Board of Directors. Since then, Magallanes has dedicated much of his time to help various creative organizations. He served for 4 years as a board member for Self Help Graphics & Art, an internationally recognized center for Chicana/o and Latina/o arts that develops and nurtures artists and printmaking. Magallanes is also a member of the Inner-City Arts Young Professionals advisory board. Inner-City Arts is considered one of the finest arts education programs in the nation, providing elementary, middle, and high school students (many living in Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods) with tools and skills that help them achieve academically. These programs are just a portion of the amount of the organizations and projects that Magallanes has been involved in.
Flores Para Juarez
Flores Para Juarez pays homage to the women in Juarez, Mexico. The female figure in the image is a friend of Magallanes who had witnessed a lot of abuse growing up in Juarez, and emerged from her experience a very strong woman. Magallanes believes that happiness is not about denying one’s own struggles in one’s pursuit of it; happiness is about embracing that struggle, finding beauty in it, and emerging from that struggle as a strong individual. In his eyes, this friend of his proved resilient in the face of her struggles, and he wanted to display the result of her experience, a very strong female figure. The halo behind the woman reads, “Have you grown weary of your servants? Are you angry with your servants, o giver of life?” The quote is a poem taken from The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico. When the city of Tenochtitlan was destroyed, the Aztecs begged that question of their gods; what have we done to deserve this, are you angry with us? In Juarez, many women work at the maquiladoras, or factories, on the border. These multinational companies run the world and possess the power to change laws and constitutions. In a way, they act like corporate gods themselves, and the women are serving them. In their environment, the women are brutalized, intimidated, and sometimes even murdered. Magallanes imagines that these women must be asking questions similar to those of the Aztecs, of the corporate entities that control them, ‘why are we meeting the ends that we are meeting, why do you treat us this way?’ Magallanes made Flores Para Juarez to pay tribute to the hardships that these women endure.
Magallanes primarily uses reclaimed wood in his pieces, he likes the warmth and distressed look that the surface provides, and only works on canvas out of necessity. His strong background in graphic design prompts his paintings, prints, and sculptures to appear graphic in nature, and his work is heavily influenced by the cultural and social elements of his upbringing:
By introducing paintings with pre-Columbian imagery that often mirror Western iconography the viewer is visually confronted with facing the dominance of western culture over indigenous cultures allowing for conversation of the subtle injustices and micro-aggressions which are prevalent on a daily basis – taken from oscarmagallanes.com
Magallanes uses struggle as his drive. Recently, he found himself very happy with the success of his work and comfortable in his life, and this unnerved him. Happiness breeds complacency, and Magallanes did not want to feel that he was at an end. He wants to always be striving for something greater by questioning life to find out what he doesn’t know. For this reason, he applied and was accepted to the University of California arts program which he sees as the next challenge to overcome. Since childhood, Magallanes has been influenced by the inevitability of death. When he was young, the thought of one day passing away and leaving this world forever crossed his mind. He grew up in a world immersed in violence, where one never knew how long he/she would be on this earth, and Magallanes used this as a drive forward. He declares that he will strive to create as much as he can before he passes. This philosophy is not a sad one, it is just a fact of life, and he plans to live life to its fullest.Written by: Natalie Villarreal April 9th, 2014
For more information on Oscar Magallanes, visit oscarmagallanes.com or watch him speak of his life and work through Serie Project Artist in Residence interview:
This project is funded and supported in part by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts and in part by the City of Austin Economic Development Department/Cultural Arts Division believing an investment in the Arts is an investment in Austin’s future.