Carlos Almaraz would have turned 76 today, October 5. And while it’s hard to say what birthday gifts the artist might receive if he were alive today, it’s clear that throughout his life and career, Almaraz shared his own gifts liberally as a colleague, mentor, activist, husband, and father.
Marielos Kluck, an independent curator and educator, compiled and edited the many recollections of Almaraz that comprised the “Other Voices: Reflections on Almaraz’s Legacy” chapter in our exhibition catalogue, Playing With Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz. Kluck was in contact with some 30 friends, artists, collectors, and family members who knew Almaraz.
As Barbara Carrasco’s story demonstrates, Almaraz provided important intellectual and professional support to numerous young artists who were just beginning their careers. In addition to hiring Carrasco to work on a mural that he was painting in collaboration with fellow artist John Valadez, Almaraz “offered suggestions about reading materials related to history, politics, social movements, and classical literature.” And his encouragement extended more generally, as well. “There were moments when I felt that I was not being taken as seriously because I was a young Chicana artist…. His ongoing support of my work was reassuring and gave me the confidence to persevere.”
For Maya Almaraz, who was just six years old when her father died in 1989, it is the gift of Carlos Almaraz’s work itself that has formed the basis of her relationship with him, providing her with a deep awareness of his many-faceted personality and spirit. A painting that that the two of them made together “represents the inseparable nature of our relationship…. It speaks to how in our brief years together, my father, like parents all over the world, has shaped who I am, yet has not determined who I will become.”
Judithe Hernández, a member of the Los Four artists collective cofounded by Almaraz, shared how his inspiration literally changed one young man’s life. Almaraz often hired local gang members to assist him when he was making his public neighborhood murals in the 1970s. Decades later, Hernández met a dean at East L.A. College, who confided in her: “The last time you saw me, I was 14…. Knowing Carlos was one of the most important things that ever happened to my life. I got out of the gang, I didn’t ever want to be in it but I felt I had no choice. And I finally was able to get away and I went to school, and my life has been different because I knew you guys.”
Taken together, these and many more stories paint a vivid portrait of a man who was as personally generous as he was artistically prolific.
Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz is on view through December 3, 2017.