Currently on view at the McNay art museum in San Antonio, in conjunction with the exhibition Pop América, 1965–1975, is a presentation of six large-scale paintings and eight other works by the late San Antonio-based artist Mel Casas (1929-2014). The works, some of which are from his Humanscapes series, address themes of identity, politics, and the landscape of his native Texas, among myriad other subjects.
In addition to being a prolific and respected artist in his own right, Casas is known as one of the co-founders of the Chicano art group Con Safo, which was dedicated to promoting Chicano art and culture at a time when it was largely ignored by mainstream venues.
Because of the work of Con Safo and Casas’ persistence, his works, including pieces from Humanscapes, did gain some traction during his lifetime. His paintings were shown in the 1975 Whitney Biennial, a 1976 solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (see a catalog from that show here), a 1977 show at the Tucson Museum of Art, and a 2013-14 group exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. His works have also been collected by many institutions across the country, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Even so, no venue in Texas or nationally has hosted a major retrospective of Casas’ works.
If you want to learn more about the art of Mel Casas in San Antonio, you can attend Dr. Ruben Cordova’s gallery talk about Casas’ work on September 27, 2018. Cordova was responsible for the 2015 four-part exhibition of Casas’s work, that was held simultaneously at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Texas A&M University’s San Antonio Educational and Cultural Arts Center, Fl!ght Gallery, and the San Antonio Public Library Central Library. In a review of that exhibition for Hyperallergic, Mia Lopez wrote about Casas’ trajectory as an artist:
“For more than 40 years, Mel Casas created work that challenged and confronted existing notions of cultural identity. He carefully transgressed the margins of both the Chicano and Pop art movements, writing and theorizing on his position as an artist and “cultural adjuster.” Though he was loath to adhere to any single artistic perspective, he is credited with infusing the Chicano art movement with sharp wit and intellectualism, invigorating (and inciting) his peers and empowering his successors to do the same.”
You can currently see Casas’ works at the McNay Museum in the shows Pop América, 1965–1975 (October 4, 2018-January 13, 2019) and Mel Casas: Human (September 20, 2018 – January 6, 2019). Casas’ paintings will also be on view in an upcoming show curated by Ruben Cordova, American History Does Not Begin with the White Man: Indigenous Themes in the Work of Mel Casas (September 29-October 27, 2018), at Bihl Haus Arts in San Antonio.
To read Glasstire’s review of the recent exhibition Mel Casas: Iconic Reality at Ruiz-Healy Art in San Antonio, go here.