Cheech Marin & What it Takes to Make a Great Wall

Editor’s note: It isn’t every day that you get the chance to interview an icon like Cheech Marin, let alone the fact that he has been one of my personal comedy heroes going on 3 decades (God, I’m old.). It also isn’t every day that you get the chance to pass up talking to that hero in order to let you progeny spread his celebrity interview wings and see if he flops or flys. Not so long ago, my son fully came out of the creative closet. I had my suspicions. I mean, in the past couple of years he’s been in several theater productions, created a webcomic and in his first semester of college, he confessed that he had experimented with an improv troupe. Some dads may have been disappointed but I like to think I’m pretty… You thought I was gonna say ‘woke’ didn’t you. Ha, never. Anyway, I digress, enjoy this sit down with Cheech Marin regarding, among other things, part of his current Chicano art collection now on display at the Art Museum of South Texas.

Vent Jr.: When it comes to art or being creative in general, do you believe in the concept of a muse?

Cheech Marin: A muse? I like to be “A-mused” by art. ah, you know, art like anything else is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. You know it’s a discipline, you have to get up and do it every day, just like anything. If you wanna be a great basketball player, you go out on the basketball court and you dribble and shoot hoops til they turn off the lights. It’s the same thing with being an artist, you have to get up and make art every day. Ah, so it is inspirational, but it’s also craft-oriented, and that’s what you have to learn.

VJr.: How would an undiscovered artist catch your eye as a collector.

CM: Oh, that’s a tough one. They have to present themselves in front of me. They have to have enough gumption to think (high-pitched) “hERE lOOk aT tHIS,” you know? And the Latino population or the Chicano population, they’re much too polite. They’re reticent to kind of intrude upon your space, you know that feeling. And so it takes me going out there and discovering them, and once I’m there… you know I discovered two great artists in this town – Ricardo Ruiz, and Joe Pena – and it’s only because I came here. What the big art establishment – like from New York – they don’t even know what a Chicano is, much less what their art looks like. “Oh, a Chicano is that like a crispy treat? Like a potato chip? Chicano?” You know, so it’s a process of education, you know, that’s what this is all about – process of education.

VJr.: Is there a piece out there that you’ve seen and wished you could’ve owned, but then somebody else bought it?
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CM: Oh, there’s so many. I mean really there’s so many. It’s because I’m an interesting art collector on an art scale in that I have to be working in order to collect art. You know, I’m not a zillionaire that says, (cholo voice)”Ayyy, send over two tons a’ that art, over here,” you know, kinda like that? I have to be working so I can buy what I can afford. The only thing that aids me in that process is that I have an eye. That’s been developed – I wasn’t born with an eye, and nobody’s born with an eye – you develop that eye, that appreciation over years of seeing and being involved with art. So, in that process, you really have to want to buy that art in order to do it. Cause it costs “money.”

VJr.: You mentioned your eye, so, as a collector, how do you discern between real art and hack?

CM: Uh, experience. You see a lot of art. And you see what’s bullshit and what’s for real, you know? And really that’s the only way. I educated myself in art from the time I was 11. I used to go to the library, take out all the art books, look at ’em, “Okay, that’s Cezanne, okay cool, that’s Picasso, okay cool.” All those and that’s how I discovered Chicano artists because the gap in my knowledge was contemporary art. So I started going to contemporary galleries, and I saw some Chicano painters there. “Wow, why aren’t these guys big artists, they’re really good.” You know, it’s like seeing a band can really really play, and they’re playing “Joe’s Barbeque Joint” and you know, East Corpus Christi. To get into that mainstream requires effort on the part of the artist, but it’s also effort that’s required by them, in their own self-education and development at the same time.

VJr.: As a creative icon, who’s done so much, do you feel that you’ve done justice to your potential, or is there always a longing that you need to do more?
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CM: Oh god, I wake up every day and I’m like, “What is it I haven’t done? I still have these projects to do… Okay, I gotta do it.” And just like anybody else, you go to work. And sometimes work is great and it’s the most fulfilling thing. And sometimes work is work. But, that’s how you move forward. And I watch these painters, and I watch them paint, that’s the most informative thing, watching them paint. Cause it’s not like they dash off in a moment of inspiration, it’s labor. You know, to look at any one of these paintings, that means somebody sat there in front of a canvas with a little brush, probably dipped it in paint, and ten thousand strokes or a hundred thousand strokes are in every one of these paintings. And that’s how they do it.

VJr.: If Trump called you up, and said you could decorate the border wall with hundreds of miles of your favorite art, what would your response be?

CM: I think that art would be composed of panels that are transparent.

VJr.: Do you own anything created by artists in prison?
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CM: Uh, Tommy Chong did a couple… (laughs). No, but I know the genre, but that’s not what I was collecting because again, I didn’t want it to be ghetto-ized. You know, or put into a corner, this is world art, this is world class art. And I wanted that recognition to come out more than anything else.

VJr.: This questions mainly for my dad, but as a Chicano writer with a white last name (Henneberger), do you think he should consider writing under his mother’s name (Cervantes).

CM: No, I think he should write under the name he’s comfortable with. Some of the great painters like Wayne Healy – that’s an Irish name, but he’s Wayne Alaniz Healy. I mean it’s only an indication, but get people to read first. Get them to sit in front of a book or a paper or a magazine and actually read. And, the writing will reveal itself. As much publicity as you can get attained to yourself to do that helps you. You know, you come up with a persona that’s comfortable for you to express, and what you want to express is obvious right away.

VJr.: The Vent also runs the local Corpus Christi Fun for Kids page, so what do you think young kids in South Texas can gain from seeing an exhibit like this?
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CM: A sense of joy. A sense of joy and pride and accomplishment like “Oh, these are cool.” You know, and I think that should be the primary artistic experience because it is for me. I don’t judge a painting because of “Oh, this is influential because of the elements of Picasso, and the geometry of this and the thickness of the…” All those are aspects of informing your opinion, but they all want to come together to make “Oh, that’s cool.” And that’s my aesthetic experience is standing in front of the painting and go like “Well this is cool,” but that “cool” is informed by a lot of aspects.

Through April 29th, 2018, you can stop in and see this amazing collection Cheech has shared with Corpus Christi. For more info visit: www.artmuseumofsouthtexas.org

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