On a Homeboy-centered Visual Vocabulary: the artwork of Hector Silva

            For the last decade, Hector Silva’s work has been seen in a range of galleries, museums, pop-up art happenings, as well as bus shelters, political campaign materials and movie posters. However, he amassed his earliest audience from the working class barrios he arrived in when he left Jalisco, Mexico over thirty years ago. It was they—though I mean we—that experienced his work for the first time on glossy paper. It was a flyer for Chico’s in Montebello, a gay Latino dive bar where go-go boys danced atop the pool table over a continuous loop of freestyle music, which introduced me to his work. These flyers would adorn the walls of Bienestar Human Services employee cubicles as if the men in Hector’s work were matinee idols. But you would never see the men in Hector’s in the movies—not unless they were extras in American Me or Blood In, Blood Out. Tough, hyper-masculine men, whom cultural theorist Richard T. Rodriguez calls the purveyors of “the homeboy aesthetic.”

            Present in Hector’s work is a re-mapping of an L.A.-specific erotic Latinidad that indexes prison ink art as much as it does the work of Touko Laaksonen, best known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland. Most of the men in Hector’s work signals a Los Angeles-specific style vector—bald heads, Dodger caps, oversized white T-shirts and Nike Cortez sneakers—seen in both the cruising sites of Elysian Park and Whittier Boulevard over the course of the last forty years. Hector’s work on queering homeboys is part of a visual register, joined by Mexican artist Javier De La Garza whose work queers the Aztec warrior prince, Cuatémoc; Don Bachardy and his line-based impressions of gay men in a mid-20th century Los Angeles subaltern; Shizu Saldamando’s rendering of a youth subcultural underground filled with Morrissey-loving goth girls and punk boys; and his immediate contemporaries in the Queer Latino visual arena Tony De Carlo and Joey Terrill, the latter whose work was imperative in lifting awareness about HIV and AIDS in Latino communities through art with the advocacy group VIVA.

            Hector has had to become an impresario to make his work available to a public eager to obtain it. He has sold his own work, setting up posts and having a direct connection to his fans making collecting his work possible, which interrupts the way a public consumes art and calls into question current gallery systems as very few of them make his work accessible to communities of color. Relying on the swap meet model, he made his work accessible and affordable to people coming to Day of the Dead festivities in Hollywood and East Los Angeles; the same people who are dealing with keeping their families together in the face of xenophobic legislation. His artwork is accessible in a way that art has not been for a community composed of queer Latinos and the families who love them; Chicanos present for many generations as well as the recien llegados.


            While Hector’s work was ubiquitous if you made the rounds at Club Tempo at the nexus of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue brought out the wiggle in the walks of macho vaqueros; the strut of the peacock boys at Arena and Circus. But his work spilled out of club spaces; parties where the persecuted danced into oblivion.  You often were able to assume a voyeur’s perspective into what happens after the club. Hector’s work alludes to a more sinister sexuality in his more personal work; an ecstatic pelón being urinated upon or the devilish smirk on the face of a knowing homeboy looking back at the spectator as he is about to dive in head first into a blossoming orgy.

            The men in Hector’s work, whether it’s one or two men standing side by side each other as the Virgen de Guadalupe hangs between them, are unapologetically rendered desiring one another. Hector creates the revelation and at times it is erotically sublime. And that desire, an ever-expansive visual vocabulary, is centered on being and remaining accessible to other young Gay Latino brown men. It is what makes Hector’s work so important.