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the term is expanded from its casual association with a pidgin language to encompass a whole race of people, the "kitchen Spanish," who are regarded by dominant white culture as cartoon stereotypes, as standardized and interchangeable as any other "kitchen appliance."
 
The blame for these cultural aberrations is not laid solely at the feet of the white culture and its media manipulators, however. The populace at large is called to account just as readily in paintings like Humanscape 77: Temporary Loss of Image in which the symbolic screen has gone black and the herd of sheep crossing before it, in the absence of cultural authority, have lost their images as well, existing only as transparent profiles in the vacuum.

Having said all of this, however, I should hasten to point out that the quality that most distinguishes Mel Casas as an artist is neither his artistic acuity, nor his intellectual subtlety, nor the trenchancy of his critique of contemporary culture. Nor is it even his longtime commitment to an artistic strategy, only recently fashionable. Finally, for me at least, it is the courage and high spirits with which he has accepted the rather demoralizing conclusion and daunting challenges posed by his own insights into the nature of culture, language and the artistic endeavor.

Looking back, as I have been, over twenty years of largely unrecognized and unrewarded creative work, what strikes me most immediately is not the despair or the anger (although they are there, in spades), but the dazzling vitality, the visual elegance and thoroughgoing good-heartedness of the spectacle, its systematic acceptance of its own challenges. The work that begins in the '60s with a critique of the virulence of popular culture readily accepts the challenge to provide real political imagery in the Farmworker paintings, and having bid farewell to that idiom (with the shadowy "shanghai gesture" superimposed on Humanscape 63: Show of Hands), he proceeds to its alternative and swiftly dismantles the comic impotence of abstract art in a series of paintings like Humanscape 108: Surely a Collectible, in which the startling irrelevance of the endeavor is starkly dramatized by the total depopulation of the frontal pictorial space.

What is most amazing about all of these efforts at subversion and deconstruction is that Casas, the artist, indulges in none of the masochistic visual self-denial, or self-conscious ugliness so characteristic of contemporary efforts in these areas. There is a charming impudence in his perfect willingness to have his cake and deconstruct it too. He seems delighted, in fact, to indulge himself in the voluptuousness of the "American Beauty," in the pop dazzle of the "Comic Whitewash," in the faux grandeur of political rhetoric and the tasteful wash-and-spatter vocabulary of abstract painting, as if to say, "Where is the authority in criticizing something you can't do?" In the process he has made a lot of good pictures and good paintings in the service of the public good.

And, finally, in his latest paintings, having cleared the field of proletarian low-art imagery, mid-cut political imagery and elitist high-art imagery, Casas accepts the challenge to fill the symbolic space he has so shrewdly vacuumed out over the years with his own rambunctious,

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[[image - painting]]
Humanscape 77: Temporary Loss of Image, 1975
acrylic on canvas 
72x96 inches 
Collection of the Artist 

Este es un convencionalismo que se remonta a la literatura inglesa de siglo 18 con el paisaje inglés como protagonista y que también fue la broma central del libro pornográfico inglés más famoso, Fanny Hill (fanny=hill=trasero=colina) y en el que el convencionalismo del "paisaje humano" se explota con gran vitalidad jocosa. Por supuesto que Casas emplea este poderoso pero no invisible estereotipo cultural para dramatizar el intimidante prospecto de aquellos inmigrantes de piel obscura que sólo pueden escapar desde el sur al volver a nacer en la cultura de la madre blanca.

En las pinturas más antiguas hay un ejemplo tras otro en que vemos hasta qué punto las imágenes populares generalizadas y el lenguaje popular se imponen en nuestra vida diaria. En Humanscape 70: Comic Whitewash, un verdadero escuadrón de superhéroes vestidos de blanco, autoritarios, emergen volando del marco simbólico para contaminar los sueños y, por ende, la visión que un Chicano joven tiene de sí mismo; en Humanscape 68: Kitchen. Spanish, la referencia al término se expande más allá de la asociación accidental con un idioma jerigonza para abarcar toda una raza, the "kitchen Spanish" a quien la cultura blanca dominante ve como estereotipos de historietas, tan uniforme e intercambiable como cualquiera otra "máquina de cocina." Sin embargo, la culpabilidad por estas aberraciones culturales no recae solamente sobre la cultura blanca y sus expertos en manipular los medios de comunicación. En pinturas como Humanscape 77: Temporary Loss of Image, al populacho en general se le llama a rendir cuentas: la pantalla simbólica se ha vuelto negra y el rebaño de ovejas que lo cruza, en la ausencia de autoridad cultural, también ha perdido su imagen existiendo sólo perfiles transparentes en el vació.

Sin embargo, después de todo lo dicho, prontamente debería señalar que la cualidad que mejor distingue a Mel Casas como artista no es ni su agudeza artística, ni su sutileza intelectual, ni tampoco su crítica mordaz de la cultura contemporánea. Ni siquiera es su dedicación de durante tanto tiempo, a una estrategia artística que sólo se ha puesto de moda últimamente. Más bien, para mí por lo menos, es la entereza y optimismo con que ha aceptado las conclusiones más bien desmoralizadoras y desafíos intimidantes que él mismo ha lanzado en sus cavilaciones sobre la naturaleza de cultura, lenguaje y cometido artístico. 

Reflexionando sobre veinte años de labor creativa que ha sido prácticamente ignorada y que no ha cosechado laureles, lo que más me llama atención no es la desesperanza ni el enfado (aunque están presentes en alto grado), sino que la vitalidad deslumbrante, el espectáculo tan altamente humanitario y de elegancia visual, así como la aceptación sistemática de sus propios desafíos. La obra que comienza en al década del 60 criticando la virulencia de la cultura popular, prontamente acepta el desafío  de proveer imágenes políticas reales en las pinturas sobre los Trabajadores Agrícolas y habiendo dejado de lado ea jerga (con el tenebroso dedo fálico superimpuesto sombre Humanscape 63: Show of Hands), procede a una alternativa y rápidamente desmantela la cómica impotencia del arte abstracto en una serie de pinturas como Humanscape 108: Surely a Collectible, donde

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Transcription Notes:
Transcribed everything except picture.

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