Manny Chapa began painting El Pajaro Negro en Fuego (Black Bird on Fire) as a close-up of Texas nature.
That was before the Liberty Hill artist noticed the dark sky that emerged.
“It reminded me of smoke,” Chapa said. “Then, (I thought) back to the Bastrop fires and how nature can be engulfed and just taken away so quickly with fire....I incorporated the flames down here below the cactus.”
His piece is one of 15 that debuted Sunday at the Killeen League of United Latin American Citizens Council 4535’s third annual Latino Arts Festival, a four-week art exhibit at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
Killeen LULAC President Raul Villaronga said about nine artists are participating this year.
The event also features five paintings from Union Grove Middle School students.
Chapa said he lives close to Bastrop, and remembers the devastation the fires wrought in fall 2011.
His impressionistic, acrylic painting details a black grackle standing still atop a light-green, flowery cactus, while fire roars below.
He said the juxtaposition of the stoic bird and fierce fire leaves the observer guessing what will burn.
“There is devastation but there’s not,” Chapa said. “Once the devastation has occurred, life will come back. It’s not going to go away. Regardless of if you’re burned, your land will grow again.”
On Sept. 28, judges will give $75 to the winner, and lesser cash prizes to the first and second runners-up.
“We exhibit the art for them, and they can sell it,” Villaronga said. “They get all the money from the sales.”
Chapa is asking $550 for his piece.
The exhibit celebrates Latino Heritage Month, said event co-chair Rudy Calooy Jr.
Along with Chapa, other participants like Austin artist Alicia Goewuy and Antonio Medina infuse emotions and personal experience into their art.
Goewuy said she painted her abstract “Graffiti Doodle” to inspire her son to use graffiti on legal canvases.
Medina introduced his second painting in a three-part black-and-white series depicting the pain of parents who lose children.
“It takes me awhile to work on them because there’s so much that goes through my mind and so many feelings,” Medina said. “Sometimes, I feel like I want to keep adding more to it, but sometimes you just got to let it be.”