When renowned artist Juan R. Fuentes graduated from Watsonville High in 1969, Chicanos couldn’t take fine arts classes. But that didn’t deter Fuentes. It was a source of inspiration he’s carried throughout his prolific career, which will be showcased at Pajaro Valley Arts in his new exhibit, “Resilience: Works of Strength and Dignity 2023.”
The exhibit features over 50 works—woodcut, linocut, screen-print, plus more than two dozen posters—spanning Fuentes’ work from the 1970s to the present.
“I feel so honored to have the opportunity to exhibit such a large body of work for the community of Watsonville,” Fuentes says. “Having grown up here, it was my personal contacts from Watsonville High School that propelled me to attend San Francisco State University in 1969 as part of a new wave of students of color admitted through the Educational Opportunity Program.”
Exposure to the struggles through ethnic studies programs at San Francisco State and the anti-Vietnam War, Chicano and United Farm Worker movements also influenced Fuentes’ ongoing commitment to social and cultural activism and the fight for equality, all common themes in his work.
“It was just down the street from [the Porter Building] where I had my first job at the Western Auto Parts store on Main Street while I was a student in high school,” Fuentes says. “There, I learned to change tires on cars, and I also did most of the new bicycle assembly.”
Valéria Miranda, executive director at PV Arts, says Fuentes is a crucial local figure in the community because of his connection with Galleria de la Raza in San Francisco, among other Latino-focused organizations.
“You can tell when you look at the images that there is so much content that relates to our area, especially farmworkers and various political movements supporting farmworkers, like the Braceros,” Miranda says. “These are such important pieces of art.”
Fuentes’ poster work has become synonymous with the Chicano Poster Movement. In 2020, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. included his posters in “¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now,” which traveled throughout the country.
Miranda says the new exhibit features many of Fuentes’ posters inspired by political movements in Nicaragua, El Salvador, South Africa, Mexico, Palestine and more.
“I like [Fuentes’] political approach to image making, the use of bold colors and flat shapes also used by other international artists like Rene Mederos of Cuba,” artist and SF State professor Rupert Garcia says.
Co-founder and executive director of the Watsonville Film Festival, Consuelo Alba, initially suggested that Fuentes’ new exhibit open during the festival. The 11th annual WFF opens tonight with the world premiere of Eugenia Rentería’s 2023 short film, Strawberry Picker, a documentary about Fuentes’ leading up to local artist Kathleen Crocetti’s “Watsonville Brillante,” a sprawling collection of massive mosaic murals blanketing the Civic Plaza parking garage in downtown Watsonville. The first mural that went up was Fuentes’ “Mayan Warrior,” featuring a farmworker picking strawberries, hence Strawberry Picker.
The “Resilience: Works of Strength and Dignity” opening reception happens Sunday, March 5, at 1pm at PVA Porter Building, 280 Main St., Watsonville. pvarts.org; ‘Strawberry Picker’ screens at the 11th Watsonville Film Festival on Friday, March 3, at 7pm at the Mello Center, 250 E. Beach St., Watsonville. Free (donations appreciated).watsonvillefilmfest.org