Story: True Tribute
El Paso times (tx)
Bernadette Sedillos Self - El Paso Times
Juan Galceran's paintings reflect the same complexity and intensity that flow naturally in conversation with the artist.
"I'm searching for the truth, and I think I'll always be searching," Galceran said in an interview this week. "Art is about a search, and artists -- serious artists -- are searching for something that people cannot always see."
It's somewhat ironic that the form of expression for such an intangible search manifests itself in so physical a form as art -- work that must catch the eye before it can whisper to, or scream at, the soul.
El Pasoans can see some of Galceran's work on exhibit at the People's Gallery at City Hall. And if the city's airport board and City Council approve Galceran's concept drawing for a tribute to Fort Bliss' 507th Maintenance Company, they'll be able to see more of his work at the El Paso International Airport.
The 40-year-old native El Pasoan has created a conceptual drawing for a 19-foot-by-8-foot painting he hopes to display at the airport.
It's not typical "tribute" art. And that may not sit well with some people.
"Serious artists aren't just out to create something pretty," Galceran said. "They want to provoke thought or emotion -- some kind of dialogue or discussion. You don't want to create something that doesn't have an effect on people. Otherwise, what would be the point?"
There's a mix of imagery in the concept drawing, much of which is discernible only after protracted staring at the picture. In the foreground of Galceran's vibrantly colored drawing are eight rifles, stuck bayonet in the ground, with helmets resting on the rifle butts.
Signs in the background of the drawing make reference to the nation's history of racial and ethnic discrimination. One sign reads, "No Mexicans Allowed." Another says, "No Irish." Another refers to the internment of Japanese-Americans.
Throughout Galceran's intricate image are characters including Native Americans, a campesino-style Mexican worker and blacks in bondage. Some who look at the tribute may wonder why a straightforward memorial of the soldiers isn't being suggested.
"I didn't intend it to be a political statement on the war," he said.
"Part of the reason I drew it this way is because so many of the soldiers in this war -- like in other wars -- are minorities. Their people have suffered racism, or still do, and despite all that, so many are willing to sacrifice their lives for this country. That's an important statement."
El Pasoan Alma Sanchez, the cousin of Ruben Estrella-Soto, agrees. It was Sanchez who first suggested a mural-type memorial to honor the nine soldiers who lost their lives in the much-publicized ambush of March 23, 2003. Originally, she approached Galceran about painting something for Estrella's family.
"Right after Ruben was killed, I was thinking about how young he was," Sanchez recalled. "I can still remember seeing him when he was getting ready to go to a dance. He was holding his girlfriend's hand. ... One year later, he was dead. He was just a kid. They were all just kids."
Estrella-Soto was 18. He's buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
Sanchez said many people are forgetting about the human toll of the war. The painting, she said, is meant to acknowledge sacrifices, not ignite controversy.
"But I do agree with something John said when we were talking about ideas for it," Sanchez explained. "He said he didn't write history. These things happened, you know. Racism is real. I saw news stories about how some of the soldiers who were killed weren't U.S. citizens. They were granted citizenship after they died. They weren't citizens when they volunteered to go fight for this country, and they were willing to sacrifice their lives for this country. We shouldn't forget that."
It's not clear yet when Galceran's proposed painting will be voted on by the airport board or City Council. Opposition may be minimal because Galceran and Sanchez are seeking private donations for it.
Galceran has offered to do the work free. "How can you put a price on something like this?"
The family of Estrella-Soto, whose face is prominent in the painting, has seen the concept drawing. "I like it a lot," said Amalia Estrella, the soldier's mother. "I feel very proud. It's very nice."
She still feels the pain of her loss and said she's touched that some want to honor her son's memory. "They're doing more than the government is doing ... The government has forgotten about the sacrifice."
(August 21, 2004)
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