WATSONVILLE—The art of Juan R. Fuentes, a Watsonville High graduate, is the feature of the latest Pajaro Valley Arts exhibit, “Resilience: Works of Strength and Dignity 2023.”
The body of over 50 works in woodcut, linocut, linocut/screenprint and screenprint—plus more than two dozen posters—spans Fuentes’ work from the 1970s to the present.
“I feel so honored to have the opportunity to exhibit such a large body of work for the community of Watsonville,” Fuentes said. “Having grown up here, it was my personal contacts from Watsonville High School that propelled me to attend San Francisco State University in 1969 as part of a new wave of students of color admitted through the Educational Opportunity Program.”
Fuentes said exposure to the struggles for Ethnic Studies programs at San Francisco State along with the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the Chicano and United Farm Worker Movements, “solidified my commitment to social and cultural activism in the fight for equality and social justice, which my work continues to address.”
“It was just down the street from here (the Porter Building) where I had my first job at the Western Auto Parts store on Main Street while I was a student in high school,” Fuentes said. “There, I learned to change tires on cars and I also did most of the new bicycle assembly. It was the last time that I had entered another agricultural field to harvest anything.”
Valéria Miranda, executive director at PV Arts, said Fuentes is an enormously important local figure in the Bay Area community because of his connection with Galleria de la Raza in San Francisco, among other Latino-focused organizations.
“You can tell when you look at the images that there is so much content that relates to our area, especially farmworkers and various political movements supporting farmworkers, like the Braceros,” Miranda said. “These are such important pieces of art.”
It was at SF State that Fuentes took his first screen-printing class with artist/professor Rupert Garcia.
“I liked his political approach to image making, the use of bold colors and flat shapes also used by other international artists like Rene Mederos of Cuba, who also approached their work in this manner, and became my mentors,” he said.
Miranda said the exhibit stems from a suggestion from Consuelo Alba, co-founder and director of the Watsonville Film Festival. The current 11th annual festival features a film about Fuentes. “Strawberry Picker” is a short documentary about Fuentes and features his collaboration with Kathleen Crocetti and the work they’ve done on Watsonville Brillante, the massive mosaic murals sprawled across the parking structure on Rodriguez Street.
“My poster work is connected to the now historical Chicano Poster Movement,” Fuentes said. “In 2020, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. included my posters in the exhibition titled ‘Printing the Revolution, The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to the present.’ The exhibition has been traveling the country for a few years.”
In the 1990s, Fuentes transitioned from screen-printing to relief printmaking. While teaching inmates at the San Bruno County Jail how to cut images onto linoleum, he became “totally absorbed with the process.”
Miranda said the show is a first such showing of the body of posters created by Fuentes that include movements in Nicaragua, El Salvador, South Africa, Mexico, Palestine and more.
Showings and screenings
• An opening reception for the exhibit will be on Sunday from 1-3pm at the Pajaro Valley Arts Porter Building, 280 Main St.
• An Art Walk headed up by Fuentes from the Porter Building to Watsonville Brillante at the Civic Plaza Parking structure (two blocks away) will run from 1:30-2:30pm.
• “Strawberry Picker,” as part of the Watsonville Film Festival, will show at the Mello Center, 250 East Beach St. at 7pm with the doors opening at 6:30pm.
• For information, visit pvarts.org.