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 ’70s, and also in Europe in the late ’90s, 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 freelance 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).
In this Chagoya print, “Expresses Nothing but the Self” the artist is concerned with the current unsustainable interaction between people and nature.
"We are part of nature, not a species apart. We are creating an ongoing extinction of fauna and flora and we are headed toward massive extinction if we don’t take urgent action. I try to use some humor in my work as a form of personal defense against my own anxieties in this context. Humor is a door opener into uncomfortable topics that we need to deal with."
You can watch a conversation discussing his artwork and inspirations with art advisor Danielle Wohl in the Talks with the Artists interview series below.