Death of Rubén Salazar
1986 Frank Romero Born: East Los Angeles, California 1941 oil on canvas 72 1/4 x 120 3/8 in. (183.5 x 305.8 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 1986, Frank Romero 1993.19 Not currently on view
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Death of Rubén Salazar
Luce Center Quote
“In my studio I have to deal with my own devils, and I wrestle with my own concerns and dreams and fears.” Frank Romero, Oral History interview, 1997, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Romero memorializes Rubén Salazar, a Los Angeles Times journalist and key chronicler of the Chicano civil rights movement. After covering the Chicano Moratorium of 1970, an anti-Vietnam War demonstration, Salazar stopped at the Silver Dollar Café in East LA. Reports of an armed disturbance sent deputies to the scene. A tear-gas projectile shot into the bar killed Salazar instantly. Romero combined references to this tragic day with a vision of the future when Salazar is the subject of a film announced on a theater marquee. The work’s large scale and subject link it with a tradition of grand painting that commemorates events that shaped history.
Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, 2013
Rubén Salazar was a writer for the Los Angeles Times and was active in the civil rights battles of the 1960s. When Chicanos rallied against the Vietnam War on August 29, 1970, the Los Angeles police fired tear-gas canisters into the Silver Dollar Bar, where Salazar was struck and killed. Romero painted Death of Rubén Salazar on the scale of Mexico's revolutionary murals, but used the brilliant colors of the East L.A. barrio. To the right, a movie marquee announces that La Muerte de Rubén Salazar is now playing. At the left of the Silver Dollar, the Casa de Cambio suggests not only the exchange of paychecks and cash but also the idea of change in the community.
Officers, clouds of gas, buildings, and lowriders all share the bold brushwork and fiery color of graffiti, but this exuberance masks the emotional toll that painting the scene exacted. Romero acknowledges that it takes years to think through and to paint these episodes in the life of his community. He did not grow up thinking of himself as a Chicano, but embraced that identity after years of working with three other Latino artists in an informal group known as Los Four. The year he painted Death of Rubén Salazar, Romero said that "there's all this talk about America not having a culture other than McDonald's...I do have a culture. It's Aztlan." He was referring to the mythical birthplace of the Aztec people.
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006
Luce Center Label
Rubén Salazar was a writer for the Los Angeles Times and was active in the civil rights battles of the 1960s. When Chicanos rallied against the Vietnam War on
Architecture Exterior - civic - theater
Architecture Exterior - commercial - tavern
Architecture - vehicle - automobile
Occupation - service - policeman
State of being - death - murder
paint - oil
fabric - canvas
About Frank Romero
Born: East Los Angeles, California 1941