In 2018, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation named local artist and educator Carlos Frésquez “Artist of the Year” at our Annual Awards Celebration. Carlos has spent his career offering a unique perspective on culture in Denver and the Chicano community’s impact on the city’s evolution, so it was an honor for the Foundation to recognize and acknowledge the vast impact Carlos has made in the Mile High City. We also get the honor to enjoy and admire a work from Carlos as part of our art collection in our new offices in Denver’s Arts District on Santa Fe.
Fast-forward two years and here we are in 2020 – the year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the empowering Black Lives Matter movement. We wanted to check in with Carlos to see how he’s doing, what projects he’s been working on, and hear his thoughts about the current fight against social injustices and inequality. Carlos’ earlier work was inspired by the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that endeavored to achieve Mexican-American empowerment, so we knew he’d offer valuable insight in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here’s what Carlos had to say during our chat:
Bonfils-Stanton Foundation: We’re currently living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Tell us how the year has impacted you so far – both personally and professionally. How have you been doing?
Carlos Frésquez: Well, as a practicing artist during COVID-19, I’ve had several exhibits cancelled. One exhibit that I was really looking forward to attending was at the University of Pécs in the country of Hungary in May 2020. However, the exhibit was rescheduled and will now occur in October. We here in the U.S. cannot travel there, so I unfortunately will not be attending the opening reception.
When it comes to creating artwork during the pandemic, not much has changed on that front. There really is no difference, I generally am holed up in my studio, kind of self-quarantined anyway. I’m just doing my part as everyone else – getting by as safely as possible.
BSF: What projects are you currently working on that you can share with us?
CF: Currently, I am working on a couple of new series of works, both are in their infancy. I’m making a lot of sketches, notes and models.
BSF: You were named “Artist of the Year” in 2018 at Bonfils-Stanton Foundation’s Annual Awards Celebration. What did that recognition mean to you as an artist?
CF: My gosh, having been creating artworks for over 40 years and really, making art almost all of my 64 years, this honor was an affirmation that I have been faithful to myself – creating works that are meaningful and painted or created with honesty, truth, compassion and integrity.
This honor was a true affirmation of what I am doing with my life’s work, which is making art, teaching art and giving back to our community through volunteering in schools, arts centers and performance theaters though set design. One of the things I am proud of is my social action, giving back to the community. This award filled me with pride an honor, I was given respect because I have given respect to all I do.
BSF: Not only has 2020 been a big year as we navigate the pandemic, it’s also been historic for equity and social justice. Your early artistic vision was inspired by the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Has the recent movement with Black Lives Matter reignited any creative passions similar to your earlier works?
CF: Yes, for sure. That is part of one of the new series I’ve begun, a throw-back to the Chicano Movement. The BLM movement has given me many moments to reflect on my past socially active experiences. The first protest that I participated in was in 1969, I was 13 years old. We were fighting for the same things back then. I ask, “Why has it taken 50 years to get at least to where we are at today?”
BSF: You’re also a professor at Metropolitan State University Denver. How does the upcoming fall semester look for you? Are you teaching in-person or remaining virtual?
CF: As a professor at MSU Denver, I’ve had to adjust to a hybrid model, teaching both online and in-person. It hasn’t been too bad, but I’d rather be totally in the studio with the students, watching their paintings progress and having the ability to question, to motivate and to mentor.
BSF: Once this pandemic is behind us (it couldn’t come soon enough!), what are you most looking forward to doing?
CF: Traveling and going out to experience art in-person at museums, arts centers and galleries. Also, to visit nightclubs to hear live music. I love live music. I was in a band back in the mid-70s and again in the 2000s. I miss experiencing the arts in person.
BSF: If you could meet any artist dead or alive for an hour conversation on a park bench, who would it be and why?
CF: This is a tough question to answer, no doubt. There are so many great artists, ancient and of the not-too-distant past that would be a total joy to learn from in conversation.
I guess I would say, from the more contemporary, Robert Rauschenberg and Miles Davis. Why? I would have loved to have met Rauschenberg while listening to Miles play live.
Or an artist of the distant past, a Pre-Columbian/Pre-Conquest artist. I would love to have a conversation with an ancient Mexican — Mayan, Aztec (Mexica) artist, informing her or him what has happened here in the Americas for the last 500-plus years and learning from them.