The Godfather of the Mission

USF’s own Thacher Gallery is currently exhibiting the work of the late René Yañez, known as “El Padrino de la Misión” — the godfather of the Mission. Yañez was one of San Francisco’s most influential Mexican American artists. The exhibit was curated by his son, Rio Yañez, after René passed away shortly before being able to finish. “Studio Misión” offers a profile of the artist’s work from his final years, including various illustrations, polaroids, and collages that give viewers a peek into Yañez’s mind and the justice and cultural recognition he strove for. 

René Yañez, who passed away last year after a long battle with cancer, was an inspiring voice for social justice in San Francisco. He was a prominent figure in the fight against gentrification in the Mission and was a supporter of the Chicano Art Movement, which advocated for social and political justice for Mexican Americans. Fittingly, his work as an artist includes pieces with strong political messaging — for example, his support of the Chicano Art Movement was highlighted through live performances as his alter ego, professional wrestler Lucha Libre, and edible tortilla art that featured images promoting social justice. His fight for recognition of Mexican American culture prompted his curation of the first-ever Día de los Muertos exhibition in San Francisco, which is now put on display by SOMArts every October. 

In an effort to celebrate and recognize the work of one of San Francisco’s most outspoken Mexican American activists, “Studio Misión” focuses on work from the last two years of Yañez’s life. Many of the pieces displayed are collages and sketches that had not previously been shown to the public. They contain visual representations of unjust evictions within the Mission, portraits of Yañez’s friends and inspirations, and visual representations of his fulfilling life and rich culture. Throughout the exhibition, Frida Kahlo has a strong presence. During his life, Yañez continually advocated for greater recognition of her work, especially in San Francisco. 

The collages, which make up the majority of the exhibition, range from black and white to overwhelmingly colorful and bright, and even three-dimensional — when walking into the exhibition, one can see a table against the far wall of the gallery that holds 3D glasses to enhance the viewing of some of the pieces. After putting on the glasses, the image and messages of these works become clearer and more breathtaking. 

After starting cancer treatment, Yañez’s art shifts to depictions of visions inspired by his illness, which he used bleach to capture more effectively. These paintings and sketches convey the story of a man reflecting on his own mortality, demonstrated by their darker colors and abstract styles. These works offer a look into his mindset during his struggle with his health and treatment, and the feelings they convey are incredibly intense. These visual reproductions of the mental and emotional toll of his treatment allow viewers a peek into what Yañez experienced in his last years. 

Rio Yañez perfectly curated the vision for “Studio Misión” his father had held before he passed.

The paintings and sketches, as well as their places around the gallery, cohesively tell the touching story of the godfather of the Mission.

This exhibit is free to the public and will be featured in Thacher Gallery in the Gleeson Library until Nov. 4.


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