Frank Ybarra Illustrates Mexican Childhood in Phoenix

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The Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center kicked off the New Year with an artist reception for local Chicano painter Frank Ybarra in their main gallery, Galleria 147. Local fans, friends, and newcomers alike came out in support of the first art showing of the year. The main room was alive with the scenes of the Hispanic experience depicted in Ybarra’s acrylic paintings.

In vibrant hues of blue, green, yellow, and red, Ybarra has taken snapshots from his own personal childhood growing up in Phoenix. When asked about his use of brilliant shades, Ybarra responded, “It’s natural for me to work in bright colors. I like the way it looks and I have fun with it so I exaggerate the color a bit.” Some of his subjects include Mexican folk dancers, a black labrador retriever, a yucca plant, and a family in a car en route to California. He uses cubist overtones and flat, distinct colors.

A master of subtlety, some of Ybarra’s paintings are seemingly ordinary, but to anyone who grew up Hispanic in Phoenix can catch his nods to that experience. The donuts on the table are not donuts but pan dulce. There is a santo in one family’s front yard. A facial cream is labeled “Crema de Tortuga.” The world inside his paintings could take place in virtually any Hispanic household in Phoenix.

Ybarra’s paintings give an inside look into the life of a typical Phoenix Latino growing up. “Los

Traviesos,” a crowd favorite, portrays two boys wrestling in the front yard while their mother scolds them and their abuelo naps under a sun hat. I chuckled to myself when I first saw the painting because it hit so close to home for me, as did all of Ybarra’s work. What also struck me was that even though I grew up decades after Ybarra, we experienced so many of the same things. I never realized how universal it is to be Hispanic (particularly Mexican) in Phoenix. I asked Ybarra what he thought about the universal themes in his work. “It surprises me a little bit, but it’s nice to hear because it’s obvious that our culture and growing up here, there’s still a connection,” said Ybarra, “That’s nice to see.”

Later that night, I noticed two grade school age Hispanic girls looking at “Los Traviesos” who were pointing and laughing. They no doubt could relate to the painting too. Different generations of Latinos in Phoenix are all connected through the unique shared experiences of what it means to grow up in the Valley.

Frank Ybarra’s work will be on display at the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center in Galeria 147 now through February 28th.