Louie F. Pérez
Pérez is a musician and principal songwriter for the Grammy–award winning rock group Los Lobos. Pérez reminisces on his first chance meeting with Almaraz.
It was beautiful Los Angeles day in the spring of 1977. I found myself walking up the creaking wooden steps leading to an office located in a tired old building that served as the headquarters of the Concilio de Arte Popular (CAP), the statewide coalition of Chicano artists that published an ambitious little periodical called ChismeArte. Back then I was an aspiring artist and I was headed up those steps in the hopes of pitching a few drawings for the magazine. After knocking on the door, I was greeted by a bearded gentleman who looked me up and down before finally inviting me in. “I’m here to see Carlos Almaraz,” I told him. He then pointed toward a man hunched over a table that was spilling over with books and art materials. And so began a friendship that was galvanized a few years later when we both worked as resident artists at Plaza de la Raza.
Carlos Almaraz was tremendous. That’s how a Mexican woman, in Spanish, once described to me a man she knew that moved in many directions at once. Carlos was a wellspring of energy and creativity. He had the ability to move between mediums of expression seamlessly. As a painter, he could render an image with the skill of a renaissance master as well as paint with the purity and intensity of a child. We would spend many an afternoon sitting in the park that surrounded Plaza de la Raza or in his paint-spattered studio downtown, talking about the books he read, the music he enjoyed, and his philosophy about how to live an artful life that he so eloquently described.
In that office on that afternoon close to forty years ago, Carlos carefully reviewed the half dozen drawings I had stuffed in a manila envelope. “I like this one, I think I have just the place for it.” I remember clearly, as I walked down those stairs after our brief meeting, about how he made me feel. It wasn’t just the encouragement every fledgling artist needs but he also left me with the sense that we all have value in whatever creative path we choose to follow. That was Carlos Almaraz as an artist, teacher and friend. A man who inspired many that had the opportunity to know him. Gracias, hermano.