[dropcap]M[/dropcap]arcos Raya, one of the city’s most prolific artists, will be featured as part of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s upcoming exhibit “Surrealism: The Conjured Life,” which opens Nov. 21 and runs through June 5, 2016. The exhibit will showcase over 100 pieces of work that demonstrate the deep currents that surrealism sent through the international art world – and especially through Chicago – since its emergence in the first half of the 20th century. Along with work by Raya, classical surreal work by artists like Remedios Varo, Balthus andLeonora Carrington will be interspersed with international contemporary figures like Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Ann Wilson.
Raya arrived in Chicago from Irapuato, Guanajuato in the early 60s, fervent in his desire to create art despite the harsh reality of the neighborhood where his family settled. “It was really bad in that area, ugly, full of gangs and drugs, but it’s where a growing community of Mexicans lived. Eventually, we would all make our way over to Pilsen,” he explained about his time lived in the Little Italy neighborhood.
During high school, Raya was introduced to a whole new world of art and was eventually given the opportunity to explore his talents at the prestigious Windsor Mountain School in Massachusetts on a full scholarship from the University of Illinois. He soon became curious about art in general and began traveling to other cities, including time spent back in Mexico City during the turbulent student uprisings of the late 60s, pivotal moments that would influence his work. Exuding the admiration he first felt as a young boy when he met Mexican muralist Jose Chavez Morado, as well as a life-changing visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York during their International Surrealism Exhibit, Raya became and continues to be a pioneer of the muralist movement in Chicago.
Throughout his lifetime, his struggles with addiction and his “dog days” when money was scarce, Raya never stopped creating elaborate work and looking for ways to showcase his unique talent. His plethora of surreal and socio-political visual expressions can be found in permanent collections at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Alfred Smart Museum at the University of Chicago and the Museum of Notre Dame in Indiana with existing murals across Pilsen including his infamous work on 18th Street by Western Avenue. You can also find a great collection at Harbee Liquors & Tavern where owner Steve Fritz has accumulated many of Raya’s pieces.
“Back in my early muralist days, there was a political movement, a powerful Chicano movement. That’s where Casa Aztlan came from,” he explained of the time spent in Pilsen creating visual political statements on the streets. “But globalization arrived and thanks to that many of those communities disappeared. Many of those individuals, those solely dedicated to their neighborhood and their parochial ideas, seemed to not realize or wake up to the realization of the dynamics of living in a city like Chicago,” he said with a sense of sadness. He’s only left his home in Pilsen for brief stints while studying or working on his art in other cities.
When asked what he thinks about the current work on display in and around Pilsen, Raya said, “We’re in one of the most dynamic cities in the world, the city of Chicago, with its abundance of incredible architecture and you’re out here painting these silly caricatures and what have you… come on, wake up! Take a trip downtown, go to different schools, go to galleries. Study other forms, study other people and get out of your neighborhood because it’s not going to take you anywhere to be stuck in only what you know.”
At this weekend’s opening of “Surrealism: The Conjured Life,” Raya will once again exhibit his genius vision of surrealist work, including a self-portrait acrylic on canvas titled “Night Nurse,” surrounded by a cabinet, surgical instruments, a mannequin and found objects. His work speaks volumes on the current state of affairs, while he demonstrates visually the life he’s lived and the life he continues to engage in as the world around him evolves in drastic measure.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is located at 220 E. Chicago Ave. For more information about Raya and his work, visit marcosraya.com.
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