Behind the airbrushed murals of Chicano students from Bowie High School, behind the painted baggy pants and wrinkly faces and all the brown skin and sun worn demeanors is the white scraggly beard of Gaspar Enriquez.
Enriquez who himself is from El Paso and even grew up around the Bowie neighborhood, is now a renowned Chicano artist larger than the grey sultry couple that has a similar expression as many El Pasoans do when the sun beats down on them, he has at the entrance of the El Paso Museum of Art.
The Chicano youth in his portraits represent more than just Bowie High, El Segundo, or even El Paso, Enriquez himself explains. They represent himself; they became reflections for himself growing up in el Chuco. They became a metaphor for himself.
The “students reminded me, of me because they were going through the same obstacles,” Enriquez said, reminiscing about growing up in a dysfunctional family and around gangs.
In Enriquez’s senior year of high of school, he moved to Ysleta and Ysleta High School where he would graduate. But before he moved there and then onto California for five years for college, it was with late artist Melesio “Mel” Casas that Enriquez found motivation in art.
His story shows the importance of teachers growing up, as he began drawing as a kid but did not have any teachers that inspired him and just focused on collecting paychecks.
Mel Casas was only the first of Enriquez’s mentors and supporters. Enriquez knew his career was speeding up when Cheech Marin began to take interest in his work. Marin, who now owns the largest Chicano art collection in the world, still carries several of Enriquez’s works. Luis Jimenez, another El Paso art legend, was also a good friend and mentor for Enriquez.
Gaspar Enriquez captures El Paso not through landscapes but through its people. Works like “Gabby in Red,” show the people of El Paso that manifest and become who they are. He shows what they wear, how they see, what they really are, through their demeanors and how they dress.
– By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca