Looking down on Esteban Villa. Photo by Todd Stands.

Todd Stands is a multi-skilled artist with 30 years of public art experience. He was invited to be a part of million dollar restoration project of the murals at Chicano Park. Lucky for history he is also an excellent photographer. While working on the murals Todd would bring along his camera and document the painstaking process.

The murals of Chicano Park tell the vibrant history of Barrio Logan and the Chicano community in San Diego. Born in 1970, as the result of a non-violent grassroots land takeover, Chicano Park officially became an Historical Site in 1980 and in 1987 the murals were recognized as public art. Over the years there have been several restoration projects funded by public sources to restore the murals to their original status as ageing and vandalism have taken a toll.

Chicano Park has grown an international reputation as the largest collection of outdoor murals in the world. Today, the Park is frequently promoted by the city as a part of its diverse and colorful cultural heritage. Tourists from around the globe visit San Diego to glimpse the impressive large scale murals painted on the pylons of the Coronado Bridge. But it was not always so.

Strategically located near the waterfront, Barrio Logan has suffered encroachment after encroachment by the military, Anglo-American businesses and autocratic city officials. In 1963, the construction of Interstate 5 bisected the neighborhood, pushing out families and business under the shield of eminent domain. In an act of appeasement the city promised that the land beneath the bridge could be preserved for a park, instead the city reversed course and attempted to build a Highway Patrol Station.

In April 1970, Barrio Logan rose up immediately and decisively, blocking the bulldozers with their bodies, occupying the land and forcing a halt to construction. Leaders organized and beat back city hall, forcing the transfer of the land to the community. By 1973 artists Salvador Torres and Victor Ochoa provided the artistic vision and leadership to make the murals a reality.

Given the enormity of the task and the cultural importance of the Park, I asked Todd to share some of his photos and talk about his experiences.

April 1970, Chicanos Protesting. Pictured from the “The Journal of San Diego History” website.

AGITPROP: Currently you are documenting the restoration of murals in Chicano Park. How did you get involved with this project?

TODD STANDS: My involvement with the Chicano Park Mural restoration project started in June of this year. It was the beginning of a year-long Cal Trans project that will include the restoration of 18 murals on the pillars under the Coronado Bridge. Five murals were begun in June and the other thirteen were scheduled for later in the year or the first half of 2012. I helped restore Michael Schnorr’s mural titled “Undocumented Workers”. I formed relationships with all the artists that were working at that time and was given access to the work in progress. When I could break from painting I often photographed the other four artists and their crews. When “Undocumented Workers” was completed I felt an affinity to the park and the project so I continued to photograph the artists as they completed the first set of murals.

The second set of murals included some of the artists from the first set but several were unknown to me. My connection to the project and the relationships I had developed, opened doors for me to have access to the new artists and their mural’s restoration. It seemed to be a natural path for me to follow.

AGITPROP: Can you please tell us about some of the artists whose work you’ve been documenting?

Whenever possible, the murals are being restored by the original artists that painted them in the 1970’s and 80’s. I mentioned my work with Michael Schnorr. Also included in the first set were Victor Ochoa, Felipe Adame, Guillermo Rosete, Carlos Lopez and Norma Montoya. The second set of artists are based around the Sacramento area Esteban Villa, Juanishi Orozco, Jose Montoya. All of these artists have continued to be very influential in the Chicano movement throughout their careers.

Each artists has very different techniques from watercolor to oil paint and even airbrush.. Their skills have been honed over thirty years of art making. They have worked as traditional muralists or even as commercial billboard painters. It is inspiring and educational to spend long hours photographing and watching these masters of mural painting.

Felipe Adame and Guillermo Rosette working together closely on the scaffold. Photo by Todd Stands.

AGITPROP: What are the challenges of documenting such large scale work?

The main challenge is access. I needed insurance to be able to be on the scaffolding and lifts. There is very limited space to back up and move around. I need to stay out of people’s way. I’m trying to show the artists in their working environment so I have worked mainly with very wide angle lenses.

AGITPROP: Is there anything you’d like to say about this project as it relates to your own career?

I feel privileged to have been able to paint in Chicano Park. As a mural artist it is humbling to be part of such a great collection of history and to be included in the impressive roster of artists that have worked there.

AGITPROP: Have you thought about what you will do with these images one the documentation is complete?

At this time I do not have a plan for the photographic work I am doing. Now is it the time to make the images while the work is being done. I think it will find it’s significance in the future.

AGITPROP: When will the restoration be complete?

TODD STANDS: No opening event is planned as of yet.. there is the annual Chicano Park Day celebration in april.. it will be around the time that most of the murals are done… they should be officially done by June if i remember correctly.

AGITPROP: Thanks for talking to us and letting us publish your photos!

Left to right, Frank Galindo,Victor Ochoa,Stephanie Cervantes,Glory Galindo Sanchez, Hector Villegas...seated Felipe Adame. Photo by Todd Stands.

Mario Chacon on the scaffolding. Photo by Todd Stands.