Carlos Almaraz

(1941-1989)

About The Artist

"His life was contradictory and often conflicted, and he reveled in and avidly celebrated the complexities and contradictions of his identity and experiences…these connections and slippages, these crossovers and disconnects, these harmonies and dissonances constitute the enduring essence of Almaraz’s art." - Howard Fox

The life and work of artist Carlos David Almaraz reflect a myriad of disparate phases and the bold vision of a studio artist who straddled the roles of activist and painter. During his lifetime, Almaraz advocated for the civil rights of the Chicano community, using his art to translate a message of social revolution and political activism. This is only one chapter of Almaraz’ oeuvre, however. The last decade of his life saw a move away from the public art milieu and towards the studio and successful career as a solo artist. It is where Almaraz would fully embrace his Eurocentric art training and visionary talent to create work deeply rooted in psychological impact.

Born in Mexico City in 1941, Almaraz and his family eventually settled in East Los Angeles. After time spent in New York City throughout the 1960s, he returned to Los Angeles in time to engage with the political and cultural issues of the Southern California Chicano movement. The creative freedom New York City provided Almaraz facilitated the transition from metropolitan life to radical social engagement. In 1973, Almaraz co-founded the Los Four, an artist collective whose mission included advocating for the rights of migrant laborers. During this period of six years, Almaraz collaborated with other artists who shared an interest in muralism and graffiti and became involved with Cesar Chavez’s farm workers movement. The end of the 1970s saw Almaraz’s engagement with art as a venue for political action begin to wane. According to curator Howard Fox, who organized Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz, the first major survey of paintings by Almaraz at the Los Angeles County of Museum of Art in 2017: "He was a very complex personality, and he was feeling very constrained by the essentialism implicit in Chicano notions of shared identity. At that point, he estranged himself from political activism and became more of a traditional studio artist."

The next chapter of Almaraz’s career produced a body of work so personal and complex; a visual diary of his environment, his sexuality, and optimism amidst the realization of being diagnosed with HIV in 1987. Throughout the almost decade long period between his return to the studio and death in 1989, Almaraz painted striking scenes from his Echo Park neighborhood; depictions of life outside his window and his now famous car crash paintings, the explosive disasters disguised behind abstract pieces of color and motion. LACMA Director Michael Govan chose to fill the blank space on his office wall with a car crash painting: "The freeways represent a kind of optimism," Govan says. "You get the sunset and you get the spectacular, tragic explosions. ... It had the sunshine and the noir, the brightness and the darkness of the L.A. situation in one."

Almaraz ended his life and career with a body of work that truly embraced his relationship with Los Angeles; the lure of the city and turbulent climate of the 1980s resonated with Almaraz in a deeply profound and complex way. His fearless courage to turn inward produced paintings projecting elements of the real and unreal, representational and spiritual, sensual and layered. Much like the City of Angels.

 

References: 
Appleford, Steve.  “In life and on canvas, the ‘tragic explosions’ and L.A. dreamscapes of artist Carlos Almaraz.” Los Angeles Times. August 30, 2017. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-carlos-almaraz-pst-lacma-20170830-story.html

Barrie, Lita. “Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz.” Art Now LA. https://artnowla.com/2017/12/04/playing-fire-paintings-carlos-almaraz/

Gauthier, Olivia. “A Retrospective for a Painter Who Broke Away from Murals.” Hyperallergic. November 14, 2017. https://hyperallergic.com/411626/a-retrospective-for-a-painter-who-broke-away-from-murals/

Guanuna, Lucy. “The Echo Park of Painter Carlos Almaraz.” The Eastsider. October 11, 2017. 
https://www.theeastsiderla.com/eastsider_on_the_go/arts_and_culture/the-echo-park-of-painter-carlos-almaraz-there-s-a-deeper-more-mysterious-element/article_f8208332-382e-5a8a-832a-1e73cf52c0df.html

 

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