By Christopher Harrity
Originally published on Advocate.com July 30 2011 4:00 AM ET
Hector Silva is a self-taught artist based in Los Angeles who has been producing work for more than 25 years. Born in Ocotlan, Jalisco, in Mexico, he moved to the United States at the age of 17. He began drawing in his late 20s when he discovered his own talent. Today, Hector's work is collected internationally and has received acclaim in the U.S. and abroad. Living in Los Angeles with its rich Latino/Chicano culture, Hector draws from the Latino tradition. Among his influences are religious iconography, Frida Kahlo, M.C. Escher, Tom of Finland, and Chicano prison art. Hector explores themes of cultural identities, eroticism, and beauty. His mastery of light and shadow on skin is captured on paper with pencil.
Recent group and solo exhibitions include a retrospective at the One Institute/University of Southern California and shows at Highways Performance Space; the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif.; City of Buena Park [Calif.] Council Chamber; the Museum of Mexican American Art in Chicago; the Autry National Center and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles; the Museo Hispano de Nevada; the Erotic Heritage Museum in Nevada; DePaul University in Chicago; and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently Hector is a resident artist at ChimMaya Gallery in east Los Angeles.
His work is featured in Triumphs of Our Communities: 4 Decades of Mexican American Art and The Cisco Kid: American Hero, Hispanic Roots and on the cover of Good Bandits, Warrior Women and Revolutionaries in Hispanic Culture, published by the Hispanic Research Center at Arizona State University. He has also been featured in the journal Dialogo from the Center for Latino Research at DePaul University and in La Gente de Aztlan newspaper from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2009 Stanford University acquired Hector's work for its Latin American, Mexican-American, and Iberian collections.
“If no one’s trying to censor you, then you’re probably not doing anything that important.”
I explore themes of cultural identity, because as Latinos, we are often erased from the social portrait. and then when you add being queer to that, we can really disappear. But I also think that the “positive image” strategy can be a trap, and as an artist, I feel responsible for showing art that is not only beautiful but truthful.
I want my work to be accessible, always giving the viewer a way into the image. I feel that “high art” often excludes people, and I am strongly against that. I think art should invite people in and engage them in a conversation, aesthetic, political, philosophical, erotic, whatever.
When I make art, my intended audience is not only the person that attends museums and galleries. I feel very strongly that art belongs in the streets. Putting art in the streets has been part of Latino culture for a long time, and we see it all the time, from murals to graffiti. I consider myself part of that tradition. I think art belongs in the street, and on the street is a lot of art.
The Advocate: Why are you an artist?
Hector Silva: When I was 25, I discovered my ability to draw and paint. Being completely self-taught, I feel that it is my destiny to be an artist. I have a vision that I want to share with the world. As a triple minority, being a Latino, immigrant, and gay, and also being raised Catholic, I have much to represent.
Tell us about your process or techniques.
I usually draw from photographs, but all my art comes from my imagination. I use pencil and colored pencil, mostly black and white. I find this medium very pure and democratic. Sometimes I add a touch of color. That has become my signature. I capture the play of light and shadow through my shading and my values.
How do you choose your subjects?
If there is a political topic that I feel a need to address, or new definitions of masculinity, or as simple as depictions of love and tenderness among queer people, especially people of color. Of course, I like to draw from my Mexican culture. I am attracted to those subjects. I am also fascinated by Latino masculinities — for example, the “Homeboys.”
How do you describe your work?
My work belongs in the intersections of race and sexuality, of marginalization and belonging, of speaking truth to power.
What makes a good artwork to you?
I like work that has not been seen before, new ideas, new topics. I also appreciate work that is executed well. That is what makes fine art to me.
What artists do you take inspiration from and why?
I am a fan of M.C. Escher. I think he was a genius. I love Frida Kahlo and the way she drew inspiration from her personal life. Vermeer is also a favorite of mine — I love his portraiture artwork.