IOWA ARTIST | Seso Marentes

IOWA ARTIST | Seso Marentes Jackie Wilson, Des Moines CityView | 01/04/2023

Seso Marentes is to be known as an Iowa artist — not just an artist whose ancestors came from Mexico.

He began his soul searching path to discover his Iowa roots. As a result, his artwork consists of a series of Mexican icons interlaced with symbols of Iowa.

“It’s a type of hybrid art between my Mexican and Iowan roots,” he said.

In his artwork, he’s painted the Des Moines bridges, interspersed with his Mexican icons such as El Chapulín and Frida Kahlo.

He says Chicano art often depicts a Southwest flair.

“I want to change that. As Mexicans, we’ve been in Iowa for so long. Why not make artwork for the community here?”

He dispels a myth that Latinos haven’t been in Iowa for long.

“My mom’s side of the family came here in 1912. She heard a tip that she could work or live in Iowa in July for just a quarter.”

Marentes was raised on Des Moines’ east side and attended Edmunds Academy. He began painting at an early age. He recalls drawing the character from the Lucky Charms cereal box when he was in second grade. His teacher then showed how people draw comic books, and he was fascinated with sketching cartoon-type characters. 

Cheech Marin, actor and musician with Cheech and Chong, was one of the first Latinos that Marentes admired.

“Cheech was eye opening. His Mexican-American roots sounded just like mine,” he recalled. “He really spoke to me and what I could do.”

The first time he saw popular Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s art was at a museum, and he imagined himself with her success.

“I thought it was too far off for me, that it will never happen to me,” he reflected.

As he pursued a degree in art, his financial aid was cut. He took a year off, and that’s when he realized he could make a living selling his art.

He made enough money to return to college, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts from Grand View University. After that, he submitted work at the Des Moines Social Club and started a screen print design business. 

Today, he has a studio at Mainframe Studios and does a variety of paintings and “whatever art method speaks to him.” He’s painted a mural over graffiti at the Friendship Center. 

One rewarding mural he painted is located at East High School. After the school experienced a drive-by shooting, he and others wanted to bring hope and joy to the students. He painted El Chapulín, a red grasshopper Mexican superhero.

“We needed Chapulín: a hero. We want the kids — there’s 240 Latino students — to talk about community, culture and history. Let’s put it all together and talk about the Iowa Latino culture.”

Marentes participated in Iowa’s Latino Heritage Festival and was surprised by the lack of Latino artist representation. He wants young Latino Iowans to realize that an art career is a valid profession.

“Yes — roofing is a great job, and it provides an income,” he said. “My whole goal as an artist is to show Latinos that they can do anything they want. If you have a dream, you can go anywhere. Be persistent and never give up. Keep following your heart.” ♦