Other Voices: Aimée Brown Price

Aimée Brown Price

Price, an art historian, has lectured and taught in museums, universities, and art schools and curated exhibitions internationally. She met Almaraz when she was a new instructor and he was a graduate student at Otis Art Institute.

When I first met Charles Almaraz (as he was known then), he had recently returned from New York, where he had delved into what was then the still modish International Abstraction. This was a time (over forty years ago) when personal identities were investigated and cultural differences and specificity increasingly explored and celebrated in art. Among other groups, Mexican-Americans no longer downplayed but turned to the particulars of their individual backgrounds and formulated an imagery to assert it. No one was to do this more vigorously, with greater invention, energy, or protean force than Carlos.

These attributes along with his poetic sense of place were evident in L.A. Parks and Wrecks: Reflections on Urban Life (the 1979 exhibition for which I wrote the accompanying text). In his images Echo Park was both a serene, romantic arcadia with just a hint of anonymity and loneliness to its couples boating on glimmering water; and with its palm trees set at regular intervals it was also, nonetheless, a very urban landscape.

He was capturing the dual nature of Los Angeles and was to continue depicting the city with its polar opposites: an Edenic place and one of frenetic contemporary life. With his full-throttle imagination, L.A. became a place of lurking catastrophe, cata­clysmic car crashes, and vehicles gone out of control. A black-and-white police car could be read as more confrontational than any two anonymous cars colliding. He presented a full range of moods, from melancholic to underlying menace. Grim scenes are presented with enormous facility and verve of execution; the dire sense of these car crashes is tempered by a kind of comic realism. Like other great artists of the Mexican tradition—Posada, Siquieros, Rivera—Carlos was also committed to making his images accessible to a wide audience and his public works—murals, posters, banners—were, like theirs, potent message-bearers.

I last saw Carlos at his home when he was quite weak and ill, and yet there were remnants of his essential élan vital. Much as at a quilting bee, a small gathering of artist friends were seated around the kitchen table chatting, gossiping, and at his direction lovingly collaborating by helping color in and further valorize some of his late etchings (to better support what would soon be his widow and orphaned daughter). Ever thoughtful, he was a physically eroded, hobbled, but reassuring presence. What a superb artist my friend proved to be. He is, and I use this term advisedly, sorely missed. He enriched my understand­ing of art and yes, life. Yet he endures. We still very much have the heart and soul of Carlos Almaraz in his work.

 

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