Lost and Found: Carlos Licon Paintings | ArtJabber


Lost and Found: Carlos Licon Paintings

Pastel and Ink on Newsprint, Carlos Licon.
Share |

What’s in your basement? Not sure? Don’t remember? If you think it’s just a lot of junk your spouse stored over the years, it might be worth your while to take a look. That’s exactly what Sylvia Greenstein did shortly after her husband passed away in July 2014. And to her surprise, and delight, she discovered a treasure trove of colorful and spirited paintings by the late Carlos Licon.

 

Sylvia Greenstein, Owner of Carlos Licon Paintings.

Sylvia Greenstein, Owner of Carlos Licon Paintings.

 

For over 40 years, Sylvia and her husband Peter owned and operated Jewelcraft Jewelers, a jewelry store and pawn shop, in Sacramento, CA. It was in the basement of the store that she unearthed nearly 25 paintings by the late Chicano artist Licon who died in 1982 at the age of 53. At the time of his death, the Sacramento Bee referred to him as a world-class artist and genius.

 

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

The majority of the Licon works are pastel on board depicting what his granddaughter Manae Ross describes as the hardships and injustices around him, as well as the perseverance of Chicano life. Said Ross, “He painted workers, prisoners, vets and also quite a bit of his own experiences of pain and love.” The pain Licon suffered, likely stemmed from a life riddled with drug and alcohol abuse. An obese man, Licon was a prolific gambler who often found himself in debt. He served time in San Quentin and Vacaville prisons for heroin possession. Unable to afford art materials, Licon occasionally created pen and ink drawings on newspaper pages. Although her grandfather never talked about politics, Ross believes his art should be categorized as radical.

 

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

In an attempt to get out of debt, Licon sold his paintings to Peter Greenstein at Jewelcraft. Sylvia was aware her husband bought Licon’s work over the years, but she really had no idea of the quantity. “My husband mentioned that this man came into the store to sell his paintings,” recalled Sylvia. When Peter brought Licon’s painting of a bullfighter home to Sylvia, she told him she didn’t care for the subject and sent it back. After that, he refrained from bringing any other Licon works home to her. “But for 15 years, Peter, who appreciated art and dabbled in pottery and jewelry-making, continued to purchase Licon’s art and store it in the basement of the store,” explained Sylvia.

 

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

Born in 1929 in Los Angeles, Licon displayed at a young age a natural talent for painting. As a teenager, Licon painted backdrops for the Padua Hills Theater in Pomona, CA. He was greatly influenced by his teachers Millard Sheets and Alfredo Ramos Martinez. While working as an assistant to Martinez, a well-respected Mexican muralist, often referred to as the Father of Mexican Modernism, Licon earned a scholarship to Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles. Licon’s paintings were exhibited throughout the 1970s and 80s at numerous galleries in Northern California. During his time in Vacaville prison in the early 1970s, Licon painted “California Heritage,” a three-wall mural that is still installed there today. Licon lived out his final years in Sacramento somehow supporting himself on his art.

 

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

Pastel on Board, Carlos Licon.

Recently, Sylvia Greenstein met with curators from Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum whom were quite interested in her Licon collection. As a remembrance to her husband, she generously donated four Licon works to the Crocker.

Comments

comments

2 Responses

  1. Bernice Sofer says:

    Great story Leslie. His work reminds me a it of the work of Jacob Lawrence

  2. Chip Barletto says:

    I met Carlos in 1979 and he also lived with me for a time. We became very good friends. He was quite a character and such a beautiful person. We spent many nights enjoying jazz music and eating at his favorite Mexican resteraunts in Sacramento. I own many of his art works including a self portrait. I love his art and I loved the man…

Please Leave a Comment