The Smithsonian Latino Center recently honored Cheech Marin with a Legacy Award for his commitment to Chicano artists. He spoke with former magazine intern David Zax.
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WEB EXCLUSIVE - Extended Interview
People think of you predominantly as an actor, but you've done a lot of other things.
Yeah, I was the product of a catholic education in both religious and secular terms. I was interested in a lot of subjects from very early on. And that's uniquely Chicano, because every Chicano I knew always had three jobs.
When did you first start taking an interest in Chicano art?
As a kid, I used to go to the library and take out all the art books. By the time I discovered Chicano painters in the mid-'80s, I recognized that these guys were really world-class painters, but they weren't getting any attention, which was good in one sense in that I could get their work for cheaper! [laughs] And then bad in another sense in that nobody knew who they were. That was my biggest concern, that here was a school of world class painters, and they were not getting any shelf space.
Was there one moment as an art viewer where you were really moved by what you saw?
Oh, there's so many moments. Every time I saw a new painting I liked, it just knocked me out, I was, like, "Wow." Seeing the painters come along to produce a masterpiece, and the works leading up to it, what they were perfecting, and their vision and their ability to convey those ideas—it was like discovering King Tut's tomb.
Were artists surprised that half of the Cheech and Chong duo that maybe they grew up with was suddenly an art collector?
No, they were very happy because—"Hey, there's an art collector—with money!" [laughs]