Visual

Chatting with Cheech

Chicano art and a collector worth knowing
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What does Cheech Marin think of the fact that Washington State recently legalized marijuana?

“It’s very cool,” says Marin, one half of the creative duo that single-handedly created the genre of stoner comedy in the late 1970s and early ’80s. “More and more states need to do that.”

And, although we spoke briefly of legalization and his recent onstage reunions with his off-again, on-again creative partner Tommy Chong, our short phone conversation had nothing much to do with Marin’s long and varied acting career, views on world issues or how much reefer he actually inhaled during the making of Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke. Instead, our connection was focused on art. 

You see, when he’s not busy acting, writing or pursuing a variety of other creative outlets, the Los Angeles-born Marin has managed to amass an enviable amount of Chicano art. In fact, it’s one of the largest private collections featuring contemporary Mexican-American artists in the United States.

“I discovered Chicano art about 25 years ago,” Marin says. “I’ve always been a collector—whether it was baseball cards, rocks or antiques—but at first, I just wanted to take the art home. Eventually, I started collecting it.”

Marin estimates he has about 500 pieces in his collection, only some of which can be found in his California residence. Others are either in storage or—lucky for us—on the road.

When “Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection {Size Doesn’t Matter}” opens Jan. 12 at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, the amiable entertainer will be on hand to share details about exhibit. Later that night, he’ll also host a Q & A at the Pickford Film Center following a viewing of his 1987 movie, Born in East L.A.

Those who show up to see the exhibit—and Marin—will be introduced to the works of 26 painters showcasing 65 paintings, all of which average 16 inches square, or smaller.

“For the collector, the small paintings are the ones that remain with them throughout their lives,” Marin says in his collector’s statement. “They are the paintings that are always in their bedrooms or their kitchens of whatever room in which they spend the most time. The owners know every square inch of these paintings and can almost see them in the dark.”

Because he’s committed to introducing the work of the artists to the public, Marin is more than willing to share these intimate paintings—which, unlike a lot of his collection, focus more on the personal points of view of the artist rather than a response to political, social or cultural situations.

In addition to giving shout-outs to the many artists he believes deserve recognition, Marin stresses he wants people to leave the exhibit feeling that they know more about what the Chicano vision really is. “I want them to have a sense of the experience of being Chicano through a myriad of different viewpoints,” he says. 

And in case people get confused about the content of the exhibit and show up wanting to see an original Cheech Marin painting, they’ll be out of luck.

“I’m not a good graphic painter or drawer,” Marin says. “I was a professional potter for a time in my early 20s, and that fulfilled my art longing. I could probably learn more, but you have to know your limits.”

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