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Adventures in LA LA Land y Más

A little over three years ago I found out that the very first Chicano artist that I started to collect in 1990 was going to have his first solo exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The name of this exceptional artist is Carlos Almaraz. His is exhibit is called “Playing with Fire”. The exhibit is made up of 60 large-scale paintings and smaller pastels. The work is from 1967 - 1989. Carlos started out painting murals for the United Farm Workers, he did set design for El Teatro Campesino, he co-founded Los Four and eventually he decided to become a studio artist.

I discovered Carlos’s tremendous talent in mid-1989 when my sister and I went to an exhibit at LACMA called “Hispanic Art in the United States”. This exhibit was made up of paintings and sculptors from thirty Chicano artists. Included in the exhibit was Carlos Almaraz. After seeing this exhibit my sister wanted to go over to the Jan Turner Gallery on Melrose to see the solo exhibit by Carlos. In one room of the gallery there were four oil paintings that measured 72”x 72” hanging side by side depicting Echo Park from the brightest time of day to evening. Upon seeing these four paintings I was completely overwhelmed. I was affected emotionally. I had a “wow” moment. The beauty of his artwork touched the essence of my soul. It was at that moment I feel in love with the art of Carlos Almaraz.

The love affair ended quite quickly as Carlos passed away from AIDS six months later. He was only forty-eight yeas old. I was in shock. Another bright flame had burnt out way too soon. I had just discovered this artist and now he was gone. Even though he had passed away, I still was in love with his artistry. I still sought out showings of his artwork during the time that I lived in Los Angeles.

A year later the LA Photo Center had a Día de los Muertos event in his honor. A friend and myself went. I didn’t understand why people who were attending the event had their faces painted as skeletons; artwork of skeletons was on display and little sugar skulls were being sold. What I found the most touching about this event was the altar for Carlos created by the Chicano artist Frank Romero, who was in Los Four with him. There were photos of Carlos in Hawaii with his wife Elsa and his daughter Maya. I had no idea that he lived in Hawaii part of the year until I saw his altar. The altar brought him back to life. There was a photo of him smiling. I felt like I got to know him a little better. I walked away from this event not knowing anything more about Día de los Muertos than when I walked in.

Shortly after that, the Los Angeles Times travel section did a story on Day of the Dead in Oaxaca as well as the large format magazine LA Style. I thought to myself the only way to truly learn what Day of the Dead is all about was to go directly to the source. In 1991 a friend and myself went to Oaxaca to discover how Day of the Dead is celebrated. I wasn’t disappointed.

To this day, I wonder if I hadn’t discovered Carlos Almaraz if I would have started my journey to travel to Mexico and document indigenous culture and cultural events. My parents traveled to Mexico regularly, but their travels did not inspire me to want to visit Mexico, as their journeys were not focused on indigenous culture.

This visit to Los Angeles last week was a celebration in many ways as Carlos finally had his first solo exhibit almost thirty years after he passed away. I was so excited about this, that I decided to support the exhibit. On August 2, 2017 the VIP reception was held. As I walked into the gallery of “Playing with Fire” there were the four panels from long ago of Echo Park hanging side by side once again. It had been twenty-eight years since I had seen these four paintings. I felt like I was embracing an old friend with absoulute joy! It was a homecoming for myself. I still felt overwhelmed by seeing these beautiful creations! My heart was full of happiness! I had never been surrounded by so many pieces of his artwork in one space. It was exhilarating! I was overjoyed to see this exhibit become a reality! It was about time that Carlos was in the spotlight once again!

Also, on this visit I went to the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach to see local New Mexican artist Luis Tapia’s solo exhibit “Cada Mente Es Un Mundo”. Luis considers himself a Chicano artist too. In fact, his artwork was in the exhibit at LACMA in 1989 “Hispanic Art in the United States”. Luis carves beautiful polychrome wood sculptures. He has been working in this medium for forty-five years. His exhibit at MOLAA is up until August 27th. After that, a larger version of this exhibit will travel to the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) in Chicago. It will open on October 27, 2017. This exhibit is titled "Sculpture as Sanctuary". Tey Marianna Nunn, who is the Director and Chief Curator at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) in Albuquerque will be the guest curator for Luis’s exhibit at the NMMA.

Also, while I was in Los Angeles I wanted to visit the Santa Monica Metro Station to view the public art by Judithe Hernández who was the only female member of Los Four. I own an exquisite pastel by Judithe in my collection of Chicano art called “La Muerte de los Innocentes”. Judithe’s public art is made up of 24 tile murals. The series is called “L.A. Sonata”. Her inspiration for these pieces are the various cultures from around the world that have come to Los Angeles and contributed to the community. The images trace the passage of the day and the seasons as musical movements that make up a symphony. Her work is on the various platforms at the Metro Station in Santa Monica at 402 Colorado Avenue. For more info on Judithe’s beautiful artwork you can visit her website: https://www.judithehernandez.com

I visited Self Help Graphics at their new location just slightly east of the Los Angeles River past downtown. Originally, Self Help Graphics was in Boyle Heights on the corner of Gage and Brooklyn. A Franciscan nun called Sister Karen Boccalero founded Self Help Graphics. It opened its doors in 1972. Sister Karen recognized the tremendous talent of Chicano artists in the community. Through the Atelier Program artists could come in and make serigraphs or monoprints with a master printer. After their edition was completed, the artist keeps half of the edition whereas the other half goes to Self Help Graphics. These prints are sold during Self Help Graphic’s annual print sale to support the organization. Sister Karen passed away twenty years ago but her spirit lives on. I was very involved with Self Help Graphics when I lived in Los Angeles. I even created a serigraph edition and did a few monoprints. It was a great place to acquire Chicano art too. For more info on Self Help Graphics you can visit their website: https://www.selfhelpgraphics.com

Lastly, I returned to Los Angeles on August 26th to see the exhibit "One Pathway Two Journeys" at the Millard Sheets Art Center in Pomona, California that featured the work of Patssi Valdez whose paintings I started collecting in 1998 and Judithe Hernández. These two ladies are extremely talented artists. Both of their work is a part of the permanent collections at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. As I collect their artwork I wanted to be there for the VIP opening. Their exhibit is up until January 28, 2018.

This is a great time to visit Los Angeles as all of these exhibits are taking place through the sponsorhip of the Getty called Pacific Standard Time Latin American/ Latino Art in LA (PST: LA/LA). A majority of these exhibits are focused on Chicano art.

Locally, one can see a really fun exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque called “The Piñata Exhibit (Sure to be a Smash Hit)”. This exhibit features old and new piñatas. There is also artwork by another Chicano artist that I collect named Carmen Lomas Garza in the exhibit. The piñatas will change throughout the time it is up. Currently there are piñatas of Zozobra and ones for Halloween. This exhibit is up until March 31, 2018.

This has been a wonderful year to see both Mexican and Chicano art throughout the country. If you are in Los Angeles anytime soon try to see “Playing With Fire” and any of the other exhibits that are part of PST: LA/LA. Carlos’s exhibit will be up until December 3, 2017. You won’t be disappointed!
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Echo Park at Night - 1989
Echo Park at Night - 1989
At the Carlos Almaraz reception
At the Carlos Almaraz reception
Suburban Nightmare - 1983
Suburban Nightmare - 1983
Cat Man's Wedding - 1985
Cat Man's Wedding - 1985
Tree of Life - 1987
Tree of Life - 1987
Greed - 1982
Greed - 1982
Europe and the Jaguar - 1982
Europe and the Jaguar - 1982
In front of 4-panel Echo Park
In front of 4-panel Echo Park
California Natives - 1988
California Natives - 1988
 Magic Green Stage - 1982
Magic Green Stage - 1982
Over the Edge - 1984
Over the Edge - 1984
The Conjurors Power of Suggestion - 1972
The Conjurors Power of Suggestion - 1972
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