Violence of the streets captured in paintings

Violence of the streets captured in paintings
By Mimi Estrella, Mi Estrella
May 26, 2005
Felix Perez, 56, grew up in the streets of San Fernando, where his family was involved with gangs and violence.
“I wasn’t a cholo (street tough). I was neutral, so I was able to travel into the different areas of the barrios — back then we called them clubs,” he said. “Everyone knew that I didn’t dress like a gang member, but my main interest was art. I was a spectator. I watched how the gangs ruled the street. This was the world I grew up in.”

Perez has a controversial collection of art that is being featured at Cafe on A in Oxnard. His work also has been featured in a PBS program called “Private Insanity.”
“Many of the youths that we work with here at the cafe have been directly affected by the violence portrayed in the paintings,” Deborah DeVries, co-curator of the gallery, said about the reason for selecting this body of work to show at the cafe.
“Many are drawn to this life but are unable to see the reality of gangs, drugs and violence,” she added.
‘Fallen spirits of the barrios’
The paintings are colorful and surreal, yet they hold a dark and scary element.
They have been set up in chronological order beginning with a baby in a womb affected by his mother’s addiction and feature typical family events in the subculture of gang life.
“Movies depict a little of the truth and the reality of what it’s really like, but Felix Perez portrays his conscience on many different levels,” Jose Gonzalez, 23, an Oxnard College student, said as he looked at the paintings.
“He is showing the world as he sees it — the fallen spirits of the barrios and the lost souls of the community.
“I think that the painting sends a message to the people to get more involved because we are concerned about each other, and we need to make a difference,” he added.
“Felix is a very spiritual person and an old friend from Pacoima,” said Armando Vazquez, co-curator of the gallery.
“I met his wife, Helen, at a youth community center called El Jardin de Flor y Canto, where we expanded consciousness through the arts. I respect his expression, the message that he is sending: There is no glory in killing people, man. Felix didn’t pull any punches; he didn’t glamorize the underbelly of gang life.”
Real story told
These paintings tell a very true story for Vazquez, an activist for the rights of underprivileged youths, who along with DeVries had been asking Perez for some time to bring the collection to the cafe.
“The passion comes from the injustice of things. Father Boyle, our mentor, always said, ‘If you come up with a bad diagnosis, you will come up with a bad cure,’ ” Vazquez said.
“We want to extend an invitation to the people to see this exhibit. You may disagree or even hate this body of work, but come and experience the full power of the Constitution.”
“I usually painted landscapes, seascapes and portraits. I was afraid of what the public would think if I painted what was in my memory,” Perez said.
“When I first started, my wife didn’t like it. It went against her morals and values, and she even asked me to stop. At one point she thought that I was losing my common sense — this was really hard because we have been married for 33 years — but once I finished the first five, I couldn’t stop. I didn’t use any models. All this work is done from memories. I didn’t even use my discipline, which is my usual technique.
“Now the entire collection belongs to Helen.”
Perez said, “When I finished this body of work, I felt that I released something that had weighed down my heart for a long time.
“These paintings have plagued my soul.”

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