Jose Ramirez (b. 1967) is an artist, teacher, and urban gardener. His paintings, mined from the depth of his Mexican-American heritage, are rooted in the metropolitan fabric of Los Angeles, his family’s home since the 1920s. Raised in El Sereno, with brief stints in Arizona and the San Francisco Bay Area, Ramirez has devoted his art to capturing the unique socio-political, economic, and cultural conditions that shape Latino life in the Southland. Deeply influenced by Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros (Los Tres Grandes) and by the populist Chicano Art Movement of the 1960s, Ramirez’s work features an array of mysterious places and characters—humble workers, ancient warriors, gangsters, laborers, innocent children, and mystical creatures that stir the imagination. They are seen against lush tropical gardens or Downtown’s jagged skyline, like ancient sentinels, reflecting the city’s unique Mexican history and experience.
Enthusiastically about and for the people, Ramirez’ paintings can be strikingly simple or bewilderingly complex, captivating viewers with bold compositions, stylized forms, and vibrant primary colors. The artist often begins a canvas with modest line drawings, slowly building the final work in layers of dark underpainting, bright overlaid pigment and dark purple outlines. He often displays his largest canvases unstretched, lending them the feel of rich narrative tapestries. Affixed to the wall with simple nails, they resemble temporary, dream-like apparitions that bring to mind the enchanted realism of Latin American writers like Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges or Laura Esquivel. The paintings also provide fertile links to the poetry of Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican playwright Miguel Piñero and Uruguayan man-of-letters Eduardo Galeano, who once exclaimed that he was “obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia.”
An avid horticulturist, Ramirez draws inspiration from the sprawling perennial garden he planted behind his home in City Terrace a little over a decade ago. He frequently notes his interest in the roles that history and soil biology play in human survival on this planet. What started as paintings of trees and native plants slowly evolved into multilayered explorations of the land itself, in paintings like Los Angeles Garden and Above the Clouds, both in this exhibition. Ramirez’s garden, photographed for this exhibition by Los Angeles photographer Gary Leonard, frequently appears in his paintings, providing the magical backdrop in front of which the artist’s stories unfold.