Among the many stunning exhibitions consistently happening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, two exhibitions are dedicated to Pacific Standard Time LA/LA . One of which, Painting With Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz showcases a 65 piece collection of the Mexican-American painter/activist. As a first-time viewer of his work, I was initially shocked that I had never seen it before. The exhibition covered numerous styles and phases of his artistic career, illustrating his evolution as an artist. However, multiple factors remained the same throughout the various scenes, namely his vibrant use of texture and color. The movement created by his heavy use of oil paint, layered and caked on, is only extenuated by his unrelenting use of impossibly bright color.
Perhaps most well known for being a member of Los Four, an artist collective that produced and distributed public art in the 1970's and '80s, Almaraz and the group were also heavily involved in Chicano activism. Almaraz is known to have been an early advocate for the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, as well for his poetry and philosophy on the subject matter. Recognized as a major catalyst for bringing Chicano art to American art institutions, the Los Four produced murals that established the art form as an important American art movement. Ironically, their first exhibition as a group was also presented by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which would set the stage for their continued success over the following decade.
Although the collection I was looking at referred to Almaraz's success with the artist collective, his style was obviously singular. This selection of work was created in the last 11 years of his life and truly typified the Los Angeles cityscape. From peaceful landscapes of Echo Park to gangster shootouts, Almaraz captured a variety of scenes with his expressive and vibrant palette. My favorites however, were his depictions of a darker subject matter, namely car crashes and burning houses. The sweeps of motion and violent reality are beautifully juxtaposed with his gorgeous skylines. While each bursts with flames and smoke, it is impossible not to look at the negative space; the warm oranges and yellows or sometimes the cool blue and purple of a mid-evening.
Perhaps his most famous series in the collection were his many depictions of Echo Park at all times of the day. Filled with deep purples and blues, the multi-paneled pieces showcase the beautiful bridge and water, along with figures enjoying the luxury of the green landscape; a completely different trajectory than his previously mentioned "nightmares". With such a variety of subject matter and styles throughout his career, this more specified selection of work showcased Almaraz's unbridled, natural talent.
Pacific Standard Time LA/LA will be going on at 70+ art institutions around Southern California, many of which have just opened and will be up until January 2018. For more information and the full list of exhibits, check out Pacific Standard Time LA/LA