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Cheech celebrates Chicano artists

Veteran comedian Cheech Marin is spending much of his money and time these days promoting the artists from the Chicano culture he shares.

He spoke to an audience of more than 100 in Niagara County Community College's Fine Arts Auditorium Friday night, devoting his entire talk of more than an hour to Chicano painting, including dozens of slides of major works included in a national tour he organized from his own collection, called "Chicano Visions."

The tour, now in St. Louis, has been traveling the country for five years, appearing in 15 different museums, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. "This show has broken attendance records at every museum," he said. Marin, who first became popular in the 1970s as half of the comedy team Cheech & Chong, later turned to acting and had a supporting role in the Don Johnson detective series "Nash Bridges."

He said Chicano art is centered in East Los Angeles and in San Antonio, two bastions of Mexican-American culture. Marin said the word "Chicano" at first was an insult hurled by Mexicans at other Mexicans, but was adopted as a term of pride by Mexican-American civil rights activists in the 1960s.

The artists who arose in that decade created heavily political works, but as time went on, Chicano artists produced all types of paintings.

"What makes it a school is, every one of them makes art using aspects of Chicano culture," Marin said. He showed paintings ranging from modern Madonnas to depictions of drive-by shootings.

Marin said he started collecting Chicano art seriously in the mid-1980s and now has more than 300 pieces.

He said the paintings of Chicano artists bear comparison to the best works in every style and need to be better exposed. "My theory is, you can't love or hate Chicano art unless you see it," he said.

Marin's slide show included works owned by other stars, including Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper and Sean Penn. He showed one painting that he said Penn owned before it was destroyed in a mobile home fire. "I don't know what he was doing to make the trailer catch on fire. He was married to Madonna at the time, so it could have been anything," Marin said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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