at The Precita Valley Center June 12, 2005
| Renowned muralist Luis Cervantes died at his
San Francisco home Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer.
He was 81.
Mr. Cervantes, co-founder of Precita Eyes Muralists, a Mission District nonprofit that promotes the mural art form, inspired generations of artists.
"He influenced a lot of Chicano and La Raza artists, and they influenced his work," said his son Luz De Verano Cervantes. "He was passionate about creating a message about one's roots. His murals were often about community, the universal themes of life and transformation and the spirit of family and friends."
Luis Cervantes and his wife, Susan Kelk Cervantes, opened the New Mission Gallery in the 1960s, and in 1977, they started Precita Eyes Muralists, whose mission is to produce urban community art through collaborations. Mr. Cervantes directed many of the nonprofit's projects, including "The Cross of Quetzalcoatl" at San Francisco State's student union, "The Precita Valley Vision" at the Precita Valley Community Center and "Si Se Puede" at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in San Francisco.
Mr. Cervantes was born in Santa Barbara. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 and served in England, Belgium and France with the 358th Engineer General Service Regiment. Mr. Cervantes was among the invasion forces at Normandy on D-Day.
After World War II, Mr. Cervantes moved to San Francisco and found work as a custom mattress maker with the McRoskey Airflex Mattress Company, his employer until his retirement in 1992. He served as president of the San Francisco Furniture Workers Union for two years.
Mr. Cervantes used his G.I. Bill scholarship to study sketching and sculpture at San Francisco State College and ceramic sculpture at the College of Marin and the San Francisco Art Institute. His sculptures have been shown at the M.H. de Young Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Mr. Cervantes, who abandoned ceramic sculptures in the 1970s to concentrate on painting with acrylics, taught at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco State, the Galeria De La Raza and other venues.
In 1990, he and his wife participated in the Ecological Arts Collaboration, a cultural exchange between American and Russian artists. The couple visited Russia three times and produced two murals in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow.
Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed April 6 "Luis and Susan Cervantes Day," and May is Mural Awareness Month in the Bay Area.
In addition to Kelk Cervantes and Luz De Verano Cervantes, Mr. Cervantes is survived by sons Suaro and Monte of San Francisco and Stephen of Corralitos (Santa Cruz County); daughter Lorna Dee Cervantes of Boulder, Colo.; brothers Angelo of Las Vegas, Juan of Crawfordville, Fla., and Frank of Lompoc; sister Aurora Cervantes of Santa Barbara; and five grandchildren.
The family requests that donations and contributions be sent in Mr. Cervantes' memory to Precita Eyes Muralists, 2981 24th St., San Francisco, 94110.
Luis Cervantes: "All I Know Is That I'm an Artist & I'm an Indian"
Lorna dice: Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers. He would not want to be remembered as a muralist, although he painted murals, and though he was the other eye in the co-founding of Precita Eyes Muralists, he considered Susan to be the Master Muralist. He was a fine arts artist, and probably one of the first postmodern artists, having come to it under siege in Antwerp, and in the sense that his art by it's very nature resists classifications, hierarchies & hegemonies. He would have spoken up, right away, interrupted the speaker had she or he called him a "Chicano" artist. "Call it what it is," as he put it the last time I spoke with him, "I'm Mexican and I'm an American (a certified WWII war hero) so I guess that makes me a 'Mexican American', and that other guy over there, well, you'll just have to ask him where he comes from and where he's at." (hearty laughter) "Yeah." That's pretty Chicano, if you ask me. And since I'm telling, if he wasn't a Chicano artist, in our original self-defining sense of the term, then I would say he was "pert'near" as my maternal gramma always put it. But then, she was pretty postmodern herself, and possibly, the original Chicana post-flapper.
I remember our long debates of the late 70s, not 'identity politics' discussions but a creative act by the Creative Class; he said: "I've been called a hepster, a hepcat, a cool cat, hip, hep & hipster, a Beatnik, a Beat & a Beatster, a hippie, a (dippie?), a chippie...what they call it keeps changing but the thing remains the same. All I know is that I'm an Artist and I'm an Indian."
I'd say, "So I guess that makes you an Indian Artist?" But the worth of his art would skyscraper, and the Federal Government might have something to say about that designation since they seem to hold the registered trademark on the brand. So I'll keep it to myself.
The other day, while walking to my deposit, I thought of the absence his arms make—the ghost pain of their missing abrazos ('hugs' does not translate in this particular case) which was the first thing I thought of when seeing Susan for the time after his passing: Who can give her that Master Hug so many times of day & night...now? We will all have to practice daily, as he did lifting barbells until 100 pounds didn't lever his outstretched hand. (I'm sorry Susan, it will make you cry to read this as I well to write it: but it is a healing tearing, like a good poem pouncing on the truth.) "My father was an 'abrazo artist' and he was a Master." And I teared & walked & laughed, simultaneously & syncretic, all the way to the banks saying: "Luís Cervantes, Abrazo Artist."