Cheech Marin

Marin is an actor, director, writer, comedian, author, musician, and avid Chicano art collector. His collection includes more than twenty works by Carlos Almaraz.

Carlos Almaraz is the John Coltrane of contemporary painters. He puts paint on canvas with wild, effortless spontaneity. At the same time he displays a mastery of technique that would, at first, seem to be in direct opposition to his first impulse. How do you totally let go, but maintain control at the same time? This dynamic sets up a tension that allows anything to happen.

His palette ranges from the most delicate of pastels and watercolors to the jagged edged, black-red blood of dogs in a loud, wet fight. His cars crash on fiery freeways and drop huge chunks of burning metal on those below. Acrid smoke, that you can taste, wafts off the canvas. Meanwhile, back at his version of Giverny, lovers sit on the banks of Echo Park Lake, with their arms entwined around each other, impervious to any evil that lurks about them in the jungles of Echo Park. Clowns and giant rabbits stand in trios silently watching in the wind. A great deal of the time there is wind. It twists and bends palm trees into corkscrews. El Payaso, the clown, is usually watching from the wings. Chaos and calm. And always, there is paint. Paint. Paint in big thick icing trails. Canvases slathered with paint. Paint wedged on with a putty knife. Paint swung across a canvas like a slap on the ass. Paint piled up like it was growing out of the canvas. It is no longer paint; it is architecture.

If Carlos was remembered just for being the leading force of the Chicano art movement, or the man who thought that we were unique and had something distinctive to say, and that the Chicano painters could stand on the stage with anyone, that would ensure his place in history. If he was remembered just for being a sign painter for Cesar Chavez in the grape fields of Delano or the backdrop painter for Luis Valdez and Teatro Campesino or the painter of large, edgy political murals in the neighborhood, that would be enough . . . but he could paint. Almaraz first articulated the philosophy of Chicano art and then moved beyond it almost immediately.

I am of the belief that paintings are alive and are imbued with the creative energy of the artist. His paintings shine with the constant clarity of a beacon. Every time I walk by a painting by Carlos I’m exposed to this creative energy. I’m changed by it. It’s simple quantum physics. It is beyond my control.


Return to Other Voices: Reflections on Almaraz's Legacy  

Return to Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz