Born in Mexico, a Professor of Art at Stanford University, and living in San Francisco, Enrique Chagoya makes paintings and prints related to the changing nature of culture. My artwork is a conceptual fusion of opposite cultural realities that I have experienced in my lifetime. I integrate diverse elements: from pre-Columbian mythology, western religious iconography and American popular culture.
Drawing from his experiences living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border in the late 70’s, and also in Europe in the late 90’s, Enrique Chagoya juxtaposes secular, popular, and religious symbols in order to address the ongoing cultural clash between the United States, Latin America and the world as well. He uses familiar pop icons to create deceptively friendly points of entry for the discussion of complex issues. Through these seemingly harmless characters Chagoya examines the recurring subject of colonialism and oppression that continues to riddle contemporary American foreign policy.
Chagoya was born and raised in Mexico City. His father, a bank employee by day and artist by night, encouraged his interest in art by teaching Chagoya color theory and how to sketch at a very early age. As a young adult, Chagoya enrolled in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where he studied political economy and contributed political cartoons to union newsletters. He relocated to Veracruz and directed a team focused on rural-development projects, a time he describes as “an incredible growing experience…[that] made me form strong views on what was happening outside in the world.” This growing political awareness would later surface in Chagoya’s art. At age 26, Chagoya moved to Berkeley, California and began working as a free-lance illustrator and graphic designer. Disheartened by what he considered to be the narrow political scope of economics programs in local colleges, Chagoya turned his interests to art.
He enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute, where he earned a BFA in printmaking in 1984. He then pursued his MA and MFA at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1987. He moved to San Francisco in 1995. He has been exhibiting his work nationally and internationally for over two decades with a major retrospective organized by the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa in 2007 that traveled to UC Berkeley Art Museum and to the Palms Spring Art Museum in 2008. In the Fall of 2013, a major survey of his work opened at Centro Museum ARTIUM, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital city of the Basque Country, near Bilbao, Spain (with a trilingual catalog documenting the exhibition).
Chagoya’s work can be found in many public collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco among others. He has been recipient of numerous awards such as two NEA artists fellowships, one more from the National Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, residencies at Giverny and Cite Internationale des Arts in France, and a Tiffany fellowship to mention a few.
"In this codex I have made multiple self-portraits as male and female ethnic stereotypes portraying African, European, Mexican, Brazilian, Asian and Middle Eastern characters. I use my own face in the portraits to show that under any ethnic stereotype is an individual and that we are all from the same species. I do this with some sense of humor but without trivializing the seriousness of the subject.
I recently had my DNA ancestry researched and I learned that I have genes from Native American (from Central Mexico), European, Ashkenazi, Middle Eastern/North African, Sub Sahara African, and East and South Asian ancestors. This may be a partial self-portrait of my genetic makeup within my DNA."
You can watch a conversation discussing his artwork and inspirations with art advisor Danielle Wohl in the Talks with the Artists interview series below.