Contreras Gallery's Amigos exhibit features the work of past and present members of Raices Taller 222, a primarily Latino community outreach organization and gallery. The Raices Taller folks hope their exhibit will give an extra boost of recognition to the Contreras' new gallery, considering the significant contributions that Neda and E. Michael Contreras have made to Raices Taller 222 and the Tucson art scene.
"A big mistake people make is that they always call us (Raices Taller 222) a Latino gallery; we're a Latino-based gallery. Our membership does not consist solely of Latino artists. If we did that, we'd be doing the very same thing that was done to us by excluding people," said John Salgado, president of Raices Taller 222.
The organization started as a gallery representing minority artists. The Spanish name literally translates to "roots workshop."
"We felt we weren't getting the chance to exhibit like other artists," said Salgado. "So we decided to open our own gallery."
Artists Juan Enriquez and Jorge Arteaga founded Raices Taller. The gallery moved from its original location and namesake, 222 E. Sixth St., just a couple of doors down to 218 E. Sixth St. in September 2007. (Although they've moved, 222 is part of their legal name, said Salgado.)
At their original location, members had ample room to host workshops and community outreach events, said Salgado. In 2001, Raices Taller 222 became an educational nonprofit organization.
The group currently consists of eight members, but has had up to 20. "Our goal is not to have artists stay forever," said Salgado. "It gives an opportunity for younger people who are up-and-coming artists to exhibit next to established artists."
In addition, the organization maintains a dialogue among artists and educates people of all ages in methods of art production, explained Salgado.
"We make the art experience available to those who normally don't get a chance," said Salgado.
Salgado describes the organization as "more of a familial thing." Though members have come and gone throughout the years, many former members still work near the area of Sixth Avenue and Sixth Street, said Ceci Garcia, a member of Raices Taller 222 and Salgado's wife. Neda and E. Michael Contreras are just two of several former and current members who have chosen to open their own galleries and studios in the downtown area.
"We have a very cohesive artists' community here," said Garcia "We're almost like comadres and compadres," she laughed.
The Contreras couple got more than they had in mind when they discovered a tiny storefront building at 110 E. Sixth St.
"We were just looking for a studio, but we got a gallery. This location is just so good," said Neda. The gallery/workspace opened May 5.
Both Neda and her husband are fourth-generation Tucsonans with artistic roots. Painter E. Michael also makes Southwestern and contemporary-style silver and inlaid jewelry, continuing the family business that his father, Alberto Contreras, started in 1949. Neda works mainly in oil on canvas, and learned from her father, a pen-and-ink artist.
The couple left Raices Taller 222 to secure their own studio space, but they often display their artwork with the organization. "Wherever Raices goes, we go," said E. Michael.
Those who view Amigos can expect to see a wide variety of works in various media, including oil and acrylic paintings, prints and collage. Most of the artists touch on themes of Southwestern culture; however, said Salgado, inspiration is more about experiences than bloodlines.
"If you put a painting on the wall, I would challenge you to tell me that it was painted by an African American or a Latino or a white person. We always kind of get cubby-holed by people. They always say, 'Oh that's a Mexican piece,' or 'Oh, that's a Chicano piece,' but it's really not," said Salgado.
Salgado explained that portrayals of popular local traditions often lead viewers to incorrectly make assumptions about an artist's heritage or race.
"Contemporary art is contemporary art--it's not a reflection of Mexican history or Chicano history or black history. It's very hard to know who painted something if you don't have a lot of information on that person. Sometimes, you just have to look at the work for what it is."
Exhibiting artists include John Salgado, Ceci Garcia, George Welch, David Tineo, Martin Quintanilla, David Moreno, Carolyn King, Ruben Moreno, Miguel Flores, Juan Enriquez, Jeff Litvak, Joe Rebholz and Lucia Grossberger Morales.
Amigos is on display at Contreras Gallery, 110 E. Sixth St., through Wednesday, July 30. There will be a reception from 7 to 10 p.m., Saturday, July 5. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. Call 398-6557 or visit the gallery Web site for more information.