Artist Spotlight: Alfred J. Quiroz
Alfred J. Quiroz, El Azteca Practicando para Su futuro de Modelo para Calendarios de Tortillerias (Aztec Practicing for his Future Role as a Model for Tortilleria Calendars), 1992, Charcoal on Paper. Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Virginia Johnson Fund. 1993.28
With Veterans Day this week, we’re thinking about the impact of veterans on TMA visitors, staff and collections. We are grateful for all current and retired military personnel whose actions—both in and out of uniform—make a lasting difference.
Alfred J. Quiroz is one veteran who has a long-standing and ongoing relationship with both TMA and the community. The museum’s permanent collection includes half a dozen of the artist’s works, and he has been selected several times for inclusion in Arizona Biennial exhibitions at TMA. Three times those Biennial submissions earned awards: Best of Show (1986), Juror’s Recognition (1997), and the Pat Mutterer Memorial Fund First Place Award (2003).
Quiroz was born in 1944 in Tucson, AZ, and grew up in the Millville barrio (a subject of some of the artist’s more tender works), scarcely more than a mile away from where the museum stands today. Upon graduation from Tucson High School in 1963 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, served in Vietnam, completed active duty as an Assistant Navigator (E5) and received an honorable discharge in 1967.
The following year Quiroz used the G.I. Bill to begin pursuing what became a lifelong career as an artist and art educator. He earned a BFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute, a MAT in art education from the Rhode Island School of Design, and an MFA in painting from the University of Arizona. He was on the faculty of the School of Art at the University of Arizona for three decades, ultimately training and mentoring thousands of other artists, and was awarded Professor Emeritus status in 2018. His work has been exhibited extensively, both nationally and internationally, and featured in publications such as Art in America, Artforum and Art Week.
Alfred J. Quiroz, Aztec TV, 2004, wood, paint, metal springs. Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Charles and Virginia Sonett Collection. 2013.6.1
Quiroz creates satirical paintings and drawings that examine injustice in its many forms. According to Margaret Regan in a Tucson Weekly review of a 2003 solo exhibition of the artist’s work, “Quiroz meticulously researches history for its forgotten outrages, its glossed-over massacres and land seizures, and brings them to artistic light courtesy of crayon-bright colors.” He sheds light on cultural and racial stereotypes, the one-sided character of historical accounts and the comic nature of political figures, with subjects often depicted as caricatures. His style ranges from academically polished to exaggerated comic book.
In El Azteca Practicando para Su futuro de Modelo para Calendarios de Tortillerias (Aztec Practicing for his Future Role as a Model for Tortilleria Calendars), pictured above, Quiroz satirizes Mexican calendars that illustrate Aztec warriors of mythic Mexico. He depicts himself in a feathered headdress, metal arm bracelet, and jaguar robe. Standing before the Sun Stone calendar, he pulls back his lips to bare his teeth and brazenly sticks out his tongue at the sun god Tonatiuh. According to Quiroz, “As a kid I always thought that those restaurant/ tortilleria calendars were real depictions of actual Aztecs and all the Aztec women wore flimsy white slips. Later I learned it was a myth in regard to the twin peaks (Ixtacihuatl and Popcatepetl) of the volcano in the Mexico City area.”
Alfred J. Quiroz, El Primero Mafioso de America, 1991, Litho Ink, Monotype, Pastel. Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Virginia Johnson Fund. 1991.239
El Primero Mafioso de America (America’s First Mobster) provides a different perspective on one of the earliest events in what is known and taught as American History. Quiroz’s portrait depicts the Italian navigator and explorer Christopher Columbus, who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean and opened the way for the widespread European colonization of the Americas. The 1991 image was painted as the world was preparing for the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s 1492 arrival in America (and one year after Tucson’s Silverbell Park was renamed Christopher Columbus Park—a name that continues to this day). In Quiroz’s hands, this historical episode is one in which an entire civilization was wiped out by the actions of Columbus and subsequent Spanish explorers.