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Farewell Fellow Worker:
Carlos Cortez

Some Carlos prints

Tribune obituary

When you do a painting that’s it, it’s one of a kind. But when you do a graphic the amount of prints you can make from it is infinite. I made a provision in my estate, for whoever will take care of my blocks, that if any of my graphic works are selling for high prices immediate copies should be made to keep the price down.
                                                            Carlos Cortez

the Amber Fluid

By Carlos Cortez

Sitting at this bar
Thinking of places
In my glass of beer
I see
Thru the smoke-filled haze 
Of this room
Like a crystal vision
A ribbon of cement
Black line down the middle
Perdition bent
Like a galloping snake
On the make
Thru treeless prairies
And bottomless passes
Ever in motion
Over a moonkissed desert
Toward golden California
Stopped only
By a big blue ocean,
Give me the song
If you can
Of a greyhound motor's
Crawling along
Some old ten-mile grade
Where life can be complete...



Cortez' union the IWW 


Carlos Cortez was an extraordinary artist, poet, printmaker, a lifelong political activist for the working class and the environment, and a union member (Industrial Workers of the World). The son of a German socialist pacifist and a Mexican IWW organizer he spent two years in prison for refusing to “shoot at fellow draftees” during World War II.

Throughout his life Carlos worked a wide range of jobs always doing his art in his spare time. He achieved his greatest recognition after punching out as a wage slave for the last time. “After some 40 years of construction labor, record salesman, bookseller, factory stiff and janitor, I no longer punch a clock for some employer and have entered the most productive phase of my life where I do what I want to do and not what some employer wants me to do for him…As I keep working out ideas, I keep getting more ideas. So I’m going to go out kicking and screaming.

In 1948 he started drawing cartoons in 1948 for the Industrial Worker, the IWW newspaper. As it was cheaper to print from linoleum blocks than shoot line drawings he switched to that method. When the price of linoleum became too steep, Carlos started using wood. Used furniture was easy enough to find in any alley. “There’s a work of art waiting to be liberated inside every chunk of wood. I’m paying homage to the tree that was chopped down by making this piece of wood communicate something.” Carlos later became an accomplished oil and acrylic painter, though he always preferred the woodcuts because they were reproducible and affordable.

Over the years Carlos also served as editor of the newspaper, a regular columnist, and on the union’s General Executive Board. He was one of the IWW’s most popular public speakers. Carlos’ has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and in museums throughout the United States, Europe and Mexico .

“I’ve always identified myself as a Mexican,” he says. “I guess this was a result of my early years in grammar school. Even though I resembled my German mother more than my Mexican father, being the only Mexican in a school full of whites made me mighty soon realize who I was. But it was my German mother who started my Mexican consciousness. She said, ‘Son, don’t let the children at school call you a foreigner. Through your father you are Indian, and that makes you more American than any of them.’”

Inspired above all by the work of José Guadalupe Posada, printmaker of the Mexican Revolution, and the German expressionist Käthe Kollwitz, Carlos blends the techniques and styles of the German expressionists with themes from the ancient Aztecs and modern Chicanos. He made countless images support striking workers, from miners in Bolivia to farm workers in California , though he is best known for large linocut poster-portraits of activists and labor organizers such as Joe Hill, Ricardo Flóres Magón, Lucy Parsons and Ben Fletcher.  

Carlos' last Detroit show was at the Cass Cafe in late winter 2003. The opening included poetry reading by the artist and a guest appearance by Country Joe McDonald. Anne Feeney did a closing concert.

He died in January 2005 of heart failure at his home in Chicago. He will be missed.


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