Modern Multiples is a renowned artists’ workshop and fine-art print publisher. Considered to be the West Coast destination for inventive printmaking techniques across nearly four decades, no other workshop is more closely associated with the heart of Los Angeles and its people. Learn more about founder Richard Duardo, a leader in the Chicano art movement and pioneer of artistic serigraphy.
The small gallery in the front of the Modern Multiples printmaking workshop is warm, betraying its proximity to the hot, dry L.A. River basin. It’s also near to major works whose creators nurtured the development of Modern Multiples’ founder and chief artist Richard Duardo — the grand 84′ Olympics mural on the 110 freeway by Frank Romero, the iconic protest mural by Mario Torero in Boyle Heights, and a groundbreaking exhibition of work by Duardo’s early collaborator Carlos Almaraz just a few miles north at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The legacy of Modern Multiples and of Richard Duardo is an inspirational story of a hometown hero who achieved international acclaim [or, a punk rock Robin Hood who took art back for the people?]. It begins with Josefina Duardo, a young immigrant woman who fought for Chicanos in the L.A. public school system as the civil rights movement dawned. Her son Richard Duardo was born in 1952, and when she saw that he and his sisters were being marginalized at their inner-city Boyle Heights school due to lack of resources and general ignorance for the needs of English language learners, she raised the issue to education officials all the way from Los Angeles to the California capital. She also moved her family to Highland Park, a traditionally white area with good schools and access to the Arroyo Seco nature preserve. And so the Duardo children became both activists and agents of change.
Richard Duardo recalls in a televised interview filmed by public station KCET that he faced challenges growing up in his neighborhood. “We were the only Chicano family in a neighborhood of old white widows,” he remembered, “and they hated that we made noise. And we weren’t unruly…. We were just, you know, kids…. But you know, my mother raised me to be polite, so … my siblings and I were bringing in their trash, sweeping their sidewalks, and mowing the lawns of every house on our street, so finally they started to like us.” The area was changing as they grew up; more working-class Chicano families moved into the old homes built in Highland Park at the turn of the century as more affluent families moved out to the suburbs in the 1960s. Duardo saw the tension between cultures at school as well: “My career counselors kept guiding me toward wood shop, mechanic shop, all these manual classes instead of college prep like my white friends, even though my white friends weren’t rich either. I started to get mad… I felt like they were trying to keep us stupid or down.” He initially joined a gang, then decided he could be more effective with community media. Thus the hallowed artist and printer’s career began with a high school newspaper called “The Student Voice,” self-published and printed via mimeograph at a corner where “old Russian communists” welcomed meetings and sponsored publications for revolutionary organizations, including Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers. He distributed his newspaper at meetings of the Students for Democratic Society, the Brown Berets, and MEChA.
Duardo put socio-political issues aside when he enrolled at college to study art, first at Pasadena Community College and then at UCLA, where he obtained his Master’s Degree. After college, however, he decided to use his education for the greater good. “I was determined to find myself again, and who I really was as a Chicano,” he said in KCET’s televised interview. “I went straight back to the neighborhood I was born in.” Duardo became one of the first artists to work at the Self-Help Graphics & Art center in Boyle Heights, a now-famous organization that provided training and exposure to young artists and community members of all ages in inner-city Los Angeles neighborhoods. As one of the primary centers incubating the nascent Chicano art movement, it became the west coast hub of the major Chicano Poster Movement, promoting art as a non-violent instrument of social change.
In 1977, Duardo had a fateful meeting with fellow artists and activists Carlos Almaraz and Guillermo Bejarano. The two had been nurturing Chicano arts in Highland Park, and invited Duardo to found a new artistic and political hub in the area. The Centro de Arte Publico, as it was called, became a hotbed of culture in the East LA community, and was the most significant catalyst for Richard Duardo’s artistic expansion. His eventual departure from the Centro was the beginning of his mission to produce some of the most complex, innovative works in print by artists around the world, in what has become the legacy called Modern Multiples.