ART : 3 Views of Family : A trio of Latino artists provides differing perspectives on the subject in a gallery showing.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES:<i> Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times. </i>

A look at the show “la familia” at Century Gallery will confirm and call into question generally held ideas of what con stitutes a family. Lee Musgrave, director of the Sylmar gallery, has brought together three artists of Mexican-American heritage whose work presents differing views on the subject.

“I personally don’t like to do shows based on ethnic, religious, gender or national origin principles. They should be based on the art,” Musgrave said. “But occasionally there’s an aspect of one of those categories that is strong enough to be isolated. When I thought about the Hispanics I know, they are very much involved in their families. They talk a lot about them. They make decisions based on how they affect their families. I wanted to do a show with a broad definition of family.”

Salomon Huerta has painted small portraits of his family--which includes his parents, four sisters and three brothers, one niece and one nephew--and two large portraits of former neighbors at the Ramona Gardens Projects, where Huerta lived with his family for 17 years.


“It’s where all my work comes from. I’ve known him since he was 3,” said Huerta, pointing to the imposing figure of one of these neighbors, Vero. The blue of Vero’s shirt and the blue in the painting’s background “are the same blue they use in jail and the same color of the housing projects. You never feel you can do what you want in your own neighborhood.”

Huerta studied art at Pasadena City College and then Art Center College of Design, where he received a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1991. At Art Center, he was making drawings of people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jack Nicholson until, as an assignment, he and his classmates were told to paint a problem in society.

Huerta said the class “freaked out” at his portrait of gang members. They were surprised to learn that he actually knew these people. “I realized I had to educate them, to tell the truth,” he said. “To paint something that was hard to look at, but that they want to understand. I have a responsibility to speak for the Chicano. At the same time, I want to bring in other elements.”

Huerta’s respectful portraits of family members, done on metal, represent the first time he has painted them. He doubts that he will paint them again, since “they have their ideas about how they want to come out,” he said. But he did the series to “put everyone on the pedestal, to give them their moment and to bring them into what I’m doing so they can understand. I want raza (my people) to feel they can be a part of that.”

In Domingo Rodriguez’s photograph, “Holy Communion,” we see a young girl dressed in white finery for the special occasion. What Rodriguez knows and we can’t possibly see is that this girl is a homegirl, a girl who belongs to a gang, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez captures a woman in her 40s with her back against a wall of graffiti in both “Acculturation” and “Assimilation.” “The posing reflects the dynamics of the conflicts,” he said. While the graffiti in “Acculturation” is authentic, that in “Assimilation” is “generic graffiti” done by a Hollywood production crew for use in a movie.

“Mother and Daughter, No Generation Gap” depicts a woman holding her toddler daughter. They represent part of a continuum in a community that includes 60- and 70-year-old homegirls. “It’s very infrequent that homegirls leave that ambience,” he said.


Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Rodriguez has been photographing homegirls for eight years. His interest in them began in the 1960s when he became acquainted with them as a history teacher at Garfield High School.

“People generally portray them as harsh, masculine and brutal, but I found them to be like other women. They have the same feelings, needs, desires,” Rodriguez said.

Christina Fernandez’s black-and-white photographic self-portraits are part of her series “Sin Cool/Without Cool.” Her work explores “human relationships, my familial history and personal journey and metamorphosis . . . within the context of being a woman and a person of color,” she writes in her artist’s statement.

Frontal photographs appear in negative form. In more than half of the images, we see Fernandez from the back. References to the women of her family have been painted on her back in such pictures as “Christina.” Though shot from behind her, in this image she holds up a mirror, so we also get to see her face. Her figure is surrounded by burning candles.

Fernandez investigates her physical and spiritual connections with the women of her family from both “classic European and mystical Hispanic perspectives,” Musgrave said.


What: “la familia.”

Location: Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Ends Oct. 22.

Call: (818) 362-3220.