Gina Lobaco

Lobaco lives in Kauai, Hawaii, and was a friend to Carlos Almaraz and his wife, Elsa Flores Almaraz. She discusses her defense of Almaraz against allegations later in his career that he was a sell-out.

In early 1988, about two years before his death, Carlos was profiled in the L.A. Weekly in a story that used anonymous quotes from Carlos’s artist “friends” who commented negatively on the changes in his art from the political to the personal. Vendido (sellout) was the subtext.

I remember standing in the kitchen with Elsa and Carlos at their log cabin in Pasadena as they looked in disbelief at the tabloid paper spread out on the table before them. Carlos was subdued but if he was angry, he didn’t express it forcefully. Rather, he seemed rueful and unsurprised, taking wry guesses at the identities of what today we would call his “frenemies.” At the time, he was living with AIDS and only a handful of his closest friends knew about the diagnosis—including those detractors whom Carlos suspected were the source of the anonymous Weekly quotes.

The piece also took Carlos to task for his heretical assertion that artists needed to get off the government grant-seeking hamster wheel and take a risk by putting their art out in the marketplace and in galleries. He had become financially successful during the past few years, although he had always outpaced his peers in productivity and creativity. Celebrities, museums, and collectors had recently bought some of his pieces, and he was no longer living on the economic margins. So that made him an object of envy and criticism: He wasn’t painting campesinos (peasant farmers) toiling in the fields; he was painting Pierrots parading through phantasmagorical landscapes. The implicit criticism was that he had become a lightweight in pursuit of fame and fortune.

Because I knew the then-editor of the L.A. Weekly from our mutual political activism, I wrote a letter of complaint about the article. My letter ran a few weeks after the piece, and in gratitude, Carlos gave me a pen-and-ink drawing that reflected his feelings about the whole episode: people with concealed identities. I don’t know if he ever brought up the issue with those he suspected of talking to [the reporter]. But as his illness overtook him, he didn’t hold grudges and I saw him enjoying the time he had left with them.


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