Yolanda López, an artist acclaimed for her reimagined paintings of the Virgen de Guadalupe as well as her early work on political posters, died of cancer this morning at her home on San Jose Avenue. She was 79 years old.
Her son, artist Rio Yáñez, said his mother passed away peacefully. López had been in hospice care at home for over a month, being cared for by other artists, friends and her son. Often times she was lively and propped up with pillows, telling stories from her past.
When a visitor noticed that it was strange for her to have a picture of Howard Hunt on her refrigerator, she laughed. It wasn’t the Watergate hunt, it was his UC San Diego running trainer. At the time, she said, she thought she was taking a Swedish gymnastics class, but discovered long-distance running.
Later, in his triptych of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which also incorporated the royal blue fabric of the Virgin depicted in Christian art, López illustrated his own figure as a runny, vibrant, determined and regal woman.
Yáñez, her son, said this morning that an official memorial would take place after concern over Covid subsided. Tonight at 5 p.m., he said, friends and family would gather informally at the recently unveiled “Yolanda Mural” in Folsom and 16th Street.
At nearly 80 years old and in her apartment surrounded by a lifetime of work in the Mission District of San Francisco, López has remained determined this summer to continue creating art.
It was only recently that she received some of the recognition that others thought she long deserved, winning a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as part of her short story. Latinx Artist Fellowship, and learning that the first solo retrospective exhibition of his work would be held in San Diego.
In search of a way to present her works and ideals, López, like others before her, found that printing images and text on business cards was a stylish and affordable way to showcase her. job. “I’m trying to create a methodology where women can do something easy and inexpensive,” López explained in the Spring when revealing his latest project – a project that involved reproductions of his art in business card size that were slipped into small manila envelopes: “Pocket Posters,” she called them.
The small posters feature a photograph of one of her works on one side and a feminist statement on the other. “Once we as women begin to treat [men] as victims of the patriarchy, they will start to rebel against it, but they will begin to understand it, ”it is written on the back of one of the cards.
The pocket posters featured statements such as “Men must learn that aggression is not power”.
López concluded this after years of trying to teach men to be feminists, and failing. “Men have to flee from patriarchy if they want liberation,” she said.
For his part, López has long lived an artist’s life. And despite struggling for recognition and making little money with her art, she didn’t hesitate to answer: “Something artistic, probably in the cinema. ”
López was born in San Diego in 1942, to Margaret Franco and Mortimer López. She was the oldest of four sisters and lived with her mother and maternal grandparents in Shelltown, a largely Mexican-American neighborhood in southeast San Diego. Her mother worked as a steam press operator and was a “very talented, intelligent and sophisticated woman,” López said.
Her grandparents, both from Mexico, reunited in San Diego after trips to Louisiana (where her mother was born) and New York. Eventually, López’s grandmother headed west “leaving diapers as a path” and the family settled in San Diego. Years earlier, a family member had bought a house there thanks to the GI Bill.
Growing up, López remembers his mother buying him and his sisters coloring books from the latest Walt Disney films, as well as a new box of pencils. López and his siblings would sit and listen to the “little yellow records”, playing things like music from Cinderella, and they would draw. Their neighborhood was a bustling Mexican-American neighborhood, with a tortilleria on one side of their house and a bar on the other. Sometimes her uncle Mikey would come to visit her and he would teach her how to tango, ballroom and salsa in their small living room.
At Lincoln High School, López and his friends were walking around the classroom during lunch. One of his friends played Mozart for him; it was the first time she had heard Mozart, and it surprised her.
Three days after graduating from high school in 1961, when López was only 19, her uncle Mikey picked her up in his Cadillac and drove her to the bay area where he lived. With just two paper bags full of things, she started a new life in the Bay Area.
López had not received any advice on going to college, but she did manage to enroll in summer school in the state of San Francisco, right across from Sausalito where she lived with her uncle. She couldn’t secure a place in the state of San Francisco, but a friendly teacher helped her enroll in the College of Marin, where she took art classes.
It was “quite wonderful and exciting,” López recalls. At the Collège du Marin, one of his professors, Mr. Cadigan, gave him an envelope with a $ 10 bill and a $ 20 bill. He taught her how to make her own frame and stretch a canvas, skills she took with her forever.
Eventually, López moved to San Francisco and rented a small residential room at the Larkin Hotel on Polk Street. She attended San Francisco State School in the morning and worked at the Golden Gate Movie Theater from afternoon until evening.
While in the state of San Francisco, López participated in the 1968 Third World Liberation Front strike, which demanded the creation of a department of ethnic studies that would include both black studies and Latin American.
At that time, she was also involved in Los Siete de la Raza, a group formed to defend seven men whom they believed not guilty of the murder of a policeman in 1969. The defense committee, in which López was involved, got involved. beaten for the possible acquittal of the men.
“I belong to the Chicano civil rights movement as an artist,” López said.
Los Siete created a movement journal called Basta Ya! who fought against the police of the mission which López recalled that they “did pretty much what they wanted”. She said that although it wasn’t called police brutality at the time, “that is basically what it was.” The group also created a program that gave free food to the children of the mission and brought Spanish translators to San Francisco General, to translate for patients who had difficulty communicating with healthcare workers there. .
During López’s participation with Basta Ya!, she had the chance to meet Emory Douglas, graphic designer and member of the Black Panther party. At the printers, he showed López and his friend how to cut the borders of the Chronicle of San Francisco, and paste it on the Black Panther journal. López was inspired by Douglas’s emphasis on everyday black life. His illustrations were published on the back page of the Black Panther newspaper.
Although López played down his own involvement, the publisher of Basta Ya! Donna Amador said: “For me she was the inspiration.”
López eventually returned to Southern California where, in 1975, she received a bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing from San Diego State University.
López is well known for her series of paintings that reinvent the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. His depictions of the Virgin were among the most widely circulated images of Chicano artists of his generation. They provided Latin women with a presentation of the divine feminine that was outside the Catholic institution, which many feminists saw as patriarchal, according to Karen Mary Davalos, author of a book on López published in 2008.
López repelled popular representations of women in the mass media and used the Virgin Mary as a symbol to talk about issues related to race, class and feminism. She said that while doing research she turned to images of women in the media, including watching porn and other religious symbols, and realized that the only popular portrayal of women Mexican was the Virgin. Virgo, she says, “allowed her the language and vocabulary she had never heard before,” to express her ideas.
So she turned to the image and created representations of the Virgin as an intellectual, hardworking, complex and moving woman, and not as a stagnant and submissive figure.
“She was really fiery,” said Donna Amador, a longtime friend and collaborator. López often told others to “go out and heckle – let people know that you are here,” Amador said of López.
Even decades later, while in her San Francisco apartment, her fascination with mass media and representation remained, as she analyzed the image of a woman on a tin of Star Tuna. sea that she had received from a local pantry. López believed that culture is shaped by the visual images that surround us every day in advertisements and in the media, and that it is important to acquire visual knowledge because it makes us aware of the images that impact our mind. .
In 1979, she received a master’s degree in visual arts from UC San Diego. López said she never learned how to make money creating art and was always humble when she received recognition for her contributions to the Chicana art movement. “This celebrity accompanying her right now is a bit annoying,” she said after Jessica Sabogal, an artist she had mentored, created a large-scale mural in her honor in San Francisco.
This year, she received a $ 50,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as part of her new Latinx Artist Fellowship. Upon announcing the award’s reception, López acknowledges that his generation of artists have just learned and understood how to archive their work. She said a conservative once told her that she could make $ 2 million from her job. But she was much more interested in making her works useful and intellectually powerful.
Although López has stated that she has never been able to fully grapple with the idea that she is some sort of heroine, her legacy lives on in the many Bay Area artists she has mentored. and inspired, many of whom are involved in Galería de la Raza.
An excerpt from Yolanda López’s description of Who is the illegal alien:
“… This is about the stupidity of white American ownership of the land. With his finger pointed, he literally stabs the colonial tradition of Western Europe. “Manifest Destiny” is the perverted and possibly pornographic American concept of mother earth and mother earth. Seize the time.
Just yesterday, her friend Donna Amador said López smiles while listening to the Beatles and her friends dance around her. “I know she was full of pain deep inside, but it was a glorious moment to share together,” said Aamdor, the editor-in-chief of Basta Ya!
López is survived by his son Rio Yáñez, who lives in Oakland. Her ex-husband Rene Yáñez, also an artist, died in May 2018.