Mendoza was not only a master of technique but also a person well-versed in art history. He understood his role as an artist within the context of contemporary art. Every artist is a product of his own place and time, and his completed works will reflect the hopes, possibilities and limitations of that period.
Like other painters before him, such as Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci, he would occasionally insert himself into a painting or mural. You may wonder, why would an artist do that? Because an artist wants you to know he understands the subject matter on a personal level. That he lived it and understood it. He is one with his painting.
Mendoza completed the painting above at Jose Clemente Orozco Academy, where he taught art for many years. The large canvas still hangs prominently on one of the school walls. In it, there is a paletero (ice cream man) with schoolchildren surrounding his pushcart, all clamoring for an ice cream bar. Mendoza painted himself into the scene as the little boy with the red shirt. For those who knew him as a youngster, it portrays him accurately.
You’ll also find him in his outdoor mosaic mural at Orozco Academy, along 18th Street at Damen Avenue in Chicago. He painted himself standing at the 18th Street El station, as a little boy wearing a White Sox uniform next to his mother, Goyita.
Like all great artists, Mendoza definitely captures his place and time.