Ah, a walk through the museum on a chilly autumn afternoon. Lots of folks walking the corridors and looking at art. It’s a good day. In American Art’s Lincoln Gallery on the third floor of the museum, I spent some time getting acquainted with Homage to Still Life by Carlos Almaraz. What grabs you at first is its size, energy, use of color, and plain old gusto. It is a painting without fear. This is not your grandfather’s still life.
For a work that’s about the Still Life, Almaraz’s painting is all action and activity. The more time you stare at it, the more aspects emerge. The man at the bottom right corner sipping a hot drink almost feels like the emcee, in charge of all the whirl of activity: figures, faces, columns, a television set, more figures, a bunny (bunny?), with the more traditional still life objects, bottles, flask, fruit, at the center. The energetic brushstrokes keep the painting in flux. Life? yes. Still? I’m not so sure.
Almaraz was born in Mexico City in 1941, and died in Los Angeles in 1989. He painted Homage to Still Life three years before his death from AIDS-related complications. He spent part of his childhood in Chicago, then California, and as an adult, some years in New York. In 1973 he helped found Los Four, to bring attention to Chicano Street Art. In an interview with the Archives of American Art from 1986-87, he talks about his life and art.
Today, December 1, World AIDS Day, we remember Carlos Almaraz and other talented artists we lost too soon.