Ramiro Gomez Looks Into the Inner Lives of L.A.’s Laborers

The artist and former nanny has long put L.A.’s monied populations face to face with the people who serve them—now he’s going deeper
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As Ramiro Gomez walks from his Lincoln Heights art studio to Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown, he stops to collect items he’ll incorporate into the installation he’s building: a Happy Meal box, an event flyer, a deflated balloon, an already-scratched lottery ticket. As part of his new show, Here, For a Moment, Gomez has turned the gallery’s basement into a sort of microcosm of Los Angeles (where he works) and West Hollywood (where he lives). The walls are covered with construction fence materials. There are orange traffic cones and a real estate sign. Gomez is bringing in cardboard figures, too, a nod to the street art that first put him in the public eye.

Before his work was hanging in galleries, Ramiro Gomez strategically placed cutout paintings of laborers around L.A.’s toniest neighborhoods. In his solo 2014 debut, Domestic Scenes, he riffed on several of David Hockney’s L.A. paintings by including domestic workers in scenes inside modern homes. Two years later his On Melrose show highlighted the labor along the famed avenue. Here, For a Moment, which opened at Charlie James on November 16, continues this dialogue with the issues that have always been represented in his work—as well as a lot of self-reflection.

Among the more personal pieces in the show is a portrait of the artist’s grandmother, who helped raise him and died a decade ago. After her passing, Gomez dropped out of CalArts and got a job as a nanny. “That was my grieving process,” he says. “The nanny job itself was my way of coping with a lot of care that someone gave to me.” His work as a nanny also became the jumping-off point for his art career. “That was a tough experience and a learning curve but one that introduced me to the kind of world that L.A. sometimes doesn’t discuss, especially in cultural products,” he says. “It felt so disconnected, the culture not representing the very people that I saw.”

“It felt so disconnected, the culture not representing the very people that I saw.”

Gomez looks at modern issues like labor in the age of persistent wildfires and inside art institutions, but he also includes work that taps into the class divide that has long existed in the Southern California. In Ruido, he paints the Spanish word for noise on a wall in the landscape. That’s a direct reference to the late-1990s effort to ban gas leaf blowers led by the residents of some of the city’s most elite neighborhoods. Residents complained about noise, but gardeners relied on the devices to save time. In his research, Gomez found a Wall Street Journal article where actress Julie Newmar, TV’s Catwoman, admitted to spray-painting “Ruido” in an alley by her neighbor’s house in Brentwood.

In this series, Gomez draws upon his own life as well, including his identity as a queer man. “I grew up with a lot of guilt and specifically a lot of shame, being the first son, also the eldest son to a first-generation family,” he says. “Now that I’m older and exploring myself, I’m realizing more and more that I need to be true to me.”

He also looks at how detainment and deportation affects families in a work that was inspired by his uncle, who was deported late last year. Gomez is digging deeper into the lives of the people in his pieces as well. Sometimes I Dream of Flying Away features a man wearing Icarus-style wings. The figure is painted on a small cardboard cutout and placed inside an impeccably groomed landscape, where he appears to be floating away from a lawn mower.

“I’m very interested in this body of work to think about the internal struggles, the daydreams, the workers themselves being given some agency,” he says. “In some of my work in the past, they were just referenced as the gardener and not given any kind of individual ideas or thoughts.” In a particularly intriguing move, Gomez is also looking at labor and art. He uses references to abstract expressionism to make a statement about custodial work inside art institutions.

In one installation, he references his On Melrose series with paintings of the people responsible for keeping Paul Smith’s facade an Instagrammable shade of pink, including the store’s painter, Luna. Gomez has been thinking about how people perceive painters whose work appears in galleries and those whose work appears on buildings. For the installation, he includes pieces of cardboard used as a drop cloth when painting the beloved pink building.

“It’s meant to be discarded,” he says. “But, for me as an artist, I want people to observe this painter’s art with the backing on the back so that we can hang it.”


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