The Art Show
Sculptor Roman Villareal and his wife, Maria Villareal, recently organized and curated the Mendoza Brothers Art Show in partnership with Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski Garza and the Chicago Park District. The exhibit opened on Saturday, September 1, 2018, and was the first time the Mendozas exhibited together since the mid-1980s.
It was nice to see old high school friends, neighborhood acquaintances, and a former teacher stream through the gallery space to view the artwork on display. My family was very grateful to the Villareals for their generous support in organizing this special event for my uncles, who both passed away during the last six years.
Both Roman and Maria were friends of Francisco Mendoza for many years, and saw him rise as a prominent artist. They were also close friends with his older brother, Vincent Mendoza, who was a popular muralist on the South East Side. In fact, Roman shared a studio with Vincent before he met his wife Maria. During the mid-1980s, the Mendoza brothers shifted their focus onto the art scene emerging in the Pilsen neighborhood and moved away. However, the Villareals remained in the old neighborhood and still call it their home.
Chicago’s Coolest Art Couple
The Villareals run a local art gallery called Under the Bridge which hosts art shows for local painters and sculptors. In my visits there, I’ve also met video producers and musicians who come in to work alongside the artists. Roman and Maria also share a separate large working space with some of these artists in South Chicago. You can call it a creative incubator or an art collective. Whatever you want to name it, it’s a place that promotes a cross pollination of ideas between artists and other bohemian stragglers who pass through this unique space.
This sort of tight-knit art collective, reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Factory, is not as common as it once was in large urban centers like New York, San Francisco or Chicago. Perhaps it’s the high cost of living and finding a suitable space large enough to house a group of artists. However, if you find one in your city, you need to plug into it. Into that artistic electricity. Especially if you’re an artist, an art collector, or just simply someone who loves art. Luckily, this artist couple had the will and energy to create such a place for local bohemians.
Like other famous couples that changed art history (e.g., Elaine & Willem de Kooning; Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera; or Jackson Pollock & Lee Krasner), Roman and Maria Villareal are a dynamic force and are the artistic center of gravity on the South East Side of Chicago.