When he was a child, Guillermo Delgado's mother would entertain him with stories about his grandfather, a stern, mustachioed rancher in northern Mexico. The story he remembers best concerns his grandfather's abrupt death.
"He was drinking a bottle of orange Pep soda in the local cafe bar with the sheriff's son," Delgado says. "They got into a political argument, and the other guy noticed that my grandfather was carrying a gun--a practice that had just been outlawed. He went to get his father. The sheriff came and asked my grandfather to take it outside. The two got into a gunfight and ended up killing each other. When my mom told me the story, it really hit me."
The images of his grandfather, the pistols, and the orange Pep bottle stuck with Delgado and inspired him to create a series of nine monoprints, Pep, Pistolas y Abuelito, now on display at Mi Casa Su Casa restaurant in west Lincoln Park. The 30-year-old artist grew up in Chicago's Little Village and spent summers in Mexico. Although he never met his grandfather, who died in the 1940s, Delgado does recall the vibrant colors and textures of Mexico. He prefers to visualize a subject before he paints it, and he thought about the story of his grandfather for two years before deciding how to present it. Separate images of his grandfather, the pistols, and the Pep bottle are each repeated three times in vibrant colors: pink, yellow, orange, blue, and green. They're anything but morbid. Rather, they're a celebration of his grandfather's demise, in keeping with the spirit of Dia de los Muertos, a joyous remembrance of loved ones.
Delgado, who calls himself "a recovering Catholic," also has a piece called Cruzes in the restaurant's exhibit. Like Pep, Pistolas y Abuelito, it's a series of nine monoprints, each depicting a different colored cross. "When I do patterns with simple symbols or images, it almost animates them," he says. "When you put mundane things into patterns, it makes them more noticeable."
Delgado says he began seriously pursuing art in 1988, after he became a vegetarian and "started seeing things more clearly." But it wasn't until a few years later that he figured out the power of repeated images. He took a screen printing workshop at the Textile Arts Centre and "fell in love with the medium."
Delgado started painting one-of-a-kind T-shirts, eventually making enough money to quit his job as a bike messenger. He began painting on other objects, including bicycles and furniture. But monoprinting is his current passion. "I like this way of working, because it's like a painting but it's a print," he says. "You have to know what you're doing and be able to make quick decisions. And you don't always end up with what you expect."
An advocate of accessible art, he prefers his work to appear outside of galleries and museums. He's an artist-in-residence at John Spry Community School, and is working with his students on a mural at 25th and Sacramento. His artwork can also be found in cafes and laundromats as well as the 18th Street CTA station.
"I feel awkward when I go to a gallery," he says. "But people get excited when they go to a restaurant and see art that they like. It's not forced on them. They don't expect it, and they ask a lot of questions. And then they buy it."
Cruzes and Pep, Pistolas y Abuelito are on display through November 26 at Mi Casa Su Casa restaurant, 2524 N. Southport. One of Delgado's painted tables is at Cafe Jumping Bean, 1439 W. 18th Street, through December 11. Call 254-8551 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Randy Tunnell.