Art gallery exhibit mixes celebrities, historic figures and ordinary people

Simon Silva posing with his favorite work “Bus Stop #1” displayed in the gallery. Photo by Kaylee Arca

By Kaylee Arca

Renowned Latino artist Simon Silva left a lasting impression on the Gavilan College community, following his special exhibit at the Gilroy campus library gallery and an April 21 reception hosted by the Gavilan Educational Foundation.

Attendees were treated to an unforgettable evening of art, mingling with the artist, known as the “Creativity Crusader,” and experiencing the beauty of Silva’s paintings up close.

With his unique blend of traditional and contemporary techniques, Silva’s exhibit was a must-see event for art enthusiasts. The exhibit ran through May 3.

The Los Angeles-based artist displayed 20 of his pieces in the gallery. The variety included images of children’s stories like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Pinocchio” as well as celebrities and historical figures such as Kobe Bryant, Muhammad Ali, and Emmett Till. The exhibit also included ordinary life scenes such as a tired woman waiting for public transit in “Bus Stop #1”.

Gavilan Superintendent/President, Dr. Pedro Avila warmly welcomed Silva to the campus at the reception.

“This is very special for me,” he said. “Your art reflects the struggles of farm workers and migrant people. We’re very proud to have you here, Simon.”

During the evening, Silva strolled around the gallery and talked with attendees about his inspirations and his love of art and education.

“The arts are the 21st century’s source for creating innovation and empowerment with the potential to create system-wide change,” he said. “If you’d ask me back years ago why I’m an artist, I’d say because this is what I’m good at. But my philosophy over the years has changed. If you asked me now why I’m an artist, well, part of it is fun, but at the core root of what I do, my artwork, over the years, has motivated and inspired a whole generation.”

Starting at age 6, Silva grew up laboring long days in the hot Imperial Valley sun picking fruits and vegetables with his family as migrant farm workers. He comes from an artistic family made up of “wannabe singers.” Over the years, he found art served as a solace from the grueling labor. He used his cultural experiences to create art.

“I became an artist when I had something to say,” Silva said. “To me, it’s not about the pretty pictures, it’s all an extension of my learning.”

Silva’s first paintings were influenced by his own life. He grew up with very little food in the home and a lot of “government cheese,” so sometimes a delicious meal makes him emotional. Now he finds art comes in many different forms. It can come in a question, conversation, idea or concept, and it all has the potential to create something artistic.

“Initially, the stories were based on imagery that was culturally relevant and something people could identify with,” Silva said. “I felt like I had an opportunity to motivate the Latino community. My paintings were my contribution to the Chicano movement, to help our community start looking at ourselves differently.”

Avila sat with Silva for a “fireside chat” to discuss the abundance of applicable advantages and immediate benefits of practicing the arts. He advocates for the requirement of art classes in all schools.

“My biggest challenge as an artist is to get people to accept that the arts are not about pretty pictures, that art can be so much more, that it’s an extension of learning,” Silva said. “Art can create rabbit holes that we can dive into, and we never know how deep and profound that hole will be.”

Silva preaches the arts give children and teens a creative advantage. He believes the benefits of practicing the arts correctly, effectively, and respectfully will transfer throughout all professions and develop improvisational skills. We just need to provide opportunities for kids to experience and develop these skills.

He continues to be inspired by children and their innate genius of youth.

“My wife, who’s a teacher, gave me a drawing by a little girl of an elephant with a transparent truck that you could see water being absorbed up into the trunk,” Silva said. “It got me thinking about how human beings limit our capacity for how we experience time, space, and reality.”

Silva wants to empower families and children to believe in themselves and find their genius in the arts.

“The biggest discrimination in our society is against our own children,” he said. “We have a tendency to believe they are lesser than us in terms of intelligence. But their sensitivity is off the charts. We’re the ones that are wrong.”

To inspire kids to pursue art, “we just have to stay out of the way.”

During the reception, a print of Silva’s portrait of Latino farm labor leader Caesar Chavez was raffled off to the attendees. Morgan Hill Life publisher Marty Cheek was the lucky winner. Cheek praised Chavez’s work as he accepted the prize.

“Over the years I have come to appreciate this man (Chavez) and what he’s done for social justice,” he said.

In the spur of the moment, Cheek decided to give the painting back to the community. He donated it to the Latino Family Fund de Gilroy, a nonprofit in youth philanthropy and grantmaking, to “hang in a place of honor.”

Kaylee Arca is a 2017 graduate of Sobrato High School. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in journalism and media studies.