"Art collector" is not what people think of when they hear your name.
But more and more, they are. I was interested in the arts from a very early age—like 11, 12. I liked art; I couldn’t do it. But I loved art because, growing up Catholic, I would see liturgical art on the wall of the church. I was always fascinated by it. So, I started studying it. I would go to the library and take out all the art books and, one by one, I would familiarize myself with the world of art. “Oh, that’s a Rembrandt; that’s a Picasso”—I went through every book they had. So I had an academic knowledge of it throughout my life. Then, when I had enough money to collect art, I discovered these Chicano artists somewhere along the way. What was great about it is that I knew good painting when I saw it, because I had studied it all my life. I’d gone to museums and had seen it up close. I said, “Wow, these artists are really good painters, and they’re not getting any play here.” So I decided to put my celebrity behind them, giving them a little bit more attention.
How did you get the collecting bug?
I started collecting Art Nouveau and Art Deco and antiques when I very first started collecting in the early ’70s when I got some money when I was with Cheech & Chong. My first painting was probably a Carlos Almaraz. I have to work in order to collect art. I remember one time I did a movie and got paid in art. But I’ve always collected something as a kid, whether it was marbles, baseball cards, matchbook covers or whatever. There’s something about having a whole set and codifying them and classifying them that’s just interesting.
Why this love for works on paper?
It is really, especially for Chicano artists, and for most artists, it’s the most essential kind of art they do. It’s the first thing that they do. When you’re a kid, you pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and start drawing—usually when you’re supposed to be doing geometry. It’s a primal urge. It’s the least expensive of all the arts. You pick up a pencil and paper, and you can be an artist. It has that essential quality, and I wanted to show off that these Chicano painters are really good drawers, good graphic designers. That’s where they started, doing designs. It shows essential qualities and artistic abilities. And they’re dazzling.
What is unique about Chicano art?
Every artist is different, but there are some links to each other. They are telling the story of the experience of being Chicano, told from a myriad of different viewpoints—sociological, gender-based, religious, abstract, religious, historical. You put all these points of view together, you get this 360 of the general feeling of the saber, the feeling, the taste of what it is to be Chicano. The essential quality is being eclectic, taking where you came from and adding to that a new sociology, a new country, a new set of mores and cultures, and putting out something new. And, in effect, it is the quintessential immigrant experience. It doesn’t have to be just Mexican. That’s what everybody goes through in assimilation.
Name a few Chicano artists we should watch for.
Vincent Valdez, Alex Rubio, José Lozano. They’re very edgy in their themes and techniques, keeping that aspect of Chicano art alive—so it doesn’t become staid; they’re edgy in the subjects they tackle. And Patssi Valdez, Margaret García and Shizu Saldamando—all excellent painters. I love their techniques—it’s really world class.
Outside of Chicano art, do you collect other art?
I like lowbrow art. If I were going to start collecting again all over, I’d collect lowbrow. Because it’s just cool (laughs). That’s really my criteria: if it’s cool. Being cool—there’s a lot of information that goes into that. But it has to be cool instantly. I have to have that reaction when I look at it.
How do you decide what art to purchase? Does a bell go off in your head?
It is an immediate visceral, emotional reaction to it. But it’s informed by a lot of stuff. I come with a lot of knowledge to the arena. The worst thing somebody can do when they buy art is to say, “ I bought it for $200 today, and it’s gonna be worth $5,000.” That’s never gonna happen, for the most part. You have to buy art that you like. There are a million reasons why you like it. The more you know, the easier it is to like. The most important investment you can make in buying art is buying books about art.
So, with all the love you have for art, why aren’t you a visual artist?
It’s something I didn’t know you could learn to do. I was never aware you could learn to draw. You could break something down into elements and look at it. To me, it was either you were a fast runner or you weren’t, or you’re tall or you weren’t. But I liked it. I think I have more fun being a fan than being a painter. Know your limitations. To discover a new piece of art that thrills me is one of the greatest joys of my life. To walk in front of a painting and go, “Whoa! That’s cool”—it’s like discovering a beautiful woman who’s in love with you.
I read that you once lived part-time in Park City.
I had a place in Deer Valley and in Park City for 20 years. I got rid of my place there because I have knee problems, so I can’t ski anymore. But I am coming there to bring the family to ski, because they still like to ski.