Carlos Almaraz (October 5, 1941 – 1989) was a Mexican-American artist and an early proponent of the Chicano street arts movement.
Childhood and education
Almaraz was born in Mexico City, but his family moved as he was a young child, settling in Chicago, Illinois, where his father owned a restaurant for five years and worked in Gary steel mills for another four. The neighborhood Almaraz and his brother were raised in was multicultural, which led him to appreciate the melting pot of American culture. During his youth in Chicago, the family traveled to Mexico City frequently, where Almaraz reports having his "first impression of art" that "was both horrifying and absolutely magical". A painting of John the Baptist in the Mexico City cathedral appeared as a gorilla to his young eye and frightened him, but it also taught him "that art can be something almost alive." When Almaraz was nine his family moved to Los Angeles on a doctor's recommendation that his father seek a warm climate to assuage his rheumatism, and also as a result of family problems, first settling in Wilmington, later moving to the then-rural Chatsworth, where they lived in communal housing with other Mexicans. The family then relocated to a Mexican "colony" of the nearly-all-white Beverly Hills, and still later to the barrio of East Los Angeles. Almaraz's interest in the arts, nascent in Chicago, blossomed after his family moved to California, and the sense of mobility developed after so many moves later allowed him to connect with migrant farmworkers and their children. He graduated from Garfield High School in 1959 and attended Los Angeles City College, studying under David Ramirez, and took summer classes at Loyola Marymount University. Loyola offered him a full scholarship, but he declined it in protest of the University's support of the Vietnam War and stopped professing the Catholic faith altogether. He attended California State University, Los Angeles but became discouraged by structure of the art department there, "because there was no place for an artist." While at CSULA, Almaraz began attending night courses at the Otis College of Art and Design, then known as Otis/Parsons, studying under Joe Mugnaini.
Almaraz studied arts at UCLA. In 1974, he earned an MFA from the Otis Art Institute (now known as Otis College of Art and Design).
In 1961, Almaraz moved to New York city, with Dan Guerrero, the son of Lalo Guerrero. He left after six months to take advantage of a scholarship offered him by Otis/Parsons. He returned to New York and lived there from 1966 to 1969, where he struggled as a painter in the middle of the new wave movements of the era.
While in New York, he also wrote poetry and Philosophy. Almaraz's poems and philosophical views have been published in fifty books.
After returning to California, Almaraz almost died in 1971, being given his last rites. It has been said that he had an experience with God during his convalescence . Almaraz recovered, and in 1973 was one of four organizers of Los Four, an organization that managed to bring attention from mainstream art critics and painters to the Chicano street arts movement.
Almaraz then went on to work for famed Arizonan and fellow Chicano Cesar Chavez, painting murals, banners and other types of paintings for Chavez's United Farm Workers. He also painted for Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino.
His "Echo Park" series of paintings, named after a Los Angeles park of the same name, became known worldwide and have been displayed in many museums internationally. On November 12, 1978, Almaraz wrote "Because love is not found in Echo Park, I'll go where it is found". While Almaraz may not have found love at Echo Park, he certainly found inspiration to produce paintings there: he lived close to the park, having a clear view of the park from his apartment's window.
Another of Almaraz's works, named "Boycott Gallo", became a cultural landmark in the community of East Los Angeles. During the late 1980s, however, "Boycott Gallo" was brought down.
Almaraz was married to Elsa Flores, another Chicano street arts icon. Together, the pair produced "California Dreamscape".
Carlos Almaraz died in 1989 of AIDS-related causes. He is remembered as an artist who used his talent to bring critical attention to the early Chicano Art Movement, as well as a supporter of Cesar Chávez and the UFW. His work continues to enjoy popularity.
- "Art is a record, a document, that you leave behind showing what you saw and felt when you were alive. That's all"- Carlos Almaraz, March 4, 1969.
List of notable Chicanos
- Transcript of interview with Almaraz from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art
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