Ramiro Gomez: I Choose To Recognize That The Custodian Was Here

When my blogging partner was writing our recent post about Eduardo Sarabia it reminded me of another contemporary Mexican-American artist. A young painter/sculptor working in Los Angeles named Ramiro Gomez.

I first became aware of Gomez when I read about the guerrilla art installations he created along Sunset Boulevard and other streets in Bel Air and Beverly Hills. These were life-sized painted cutouts made from salvaged cardboard packing boxes. They were images of the anonymous domestic workers and gardeners who care for the children of the wealthy or keep those upscale neighborhoods clean and manicured.

Once the figures were painted and cut out Gomez set them up on sidewalks in front of pristine houses and tidy yards. His intent was to acknowledge and celebrate the invisible workers who labor behind the scene to make paradise possible.

The cardboard figures were usually removed – more often than not by the hired help – as soon as the property owner discovered they were there.

cardboard cutout paintings by Ramiro Gomez

cardboard cutout paintings by Ramiro Gomez

Ramiro Gomez’s parents are immigrants from Mexico. His mother is a janitor and his father a trucker.

Gomez studied art for a brief time at Cal Arts in Valencia just north of Los Angeles. While there he supported himself by working as a male nanny in the affluent neighborhoods of the Hollywood Hills.

When the children he was watching had nap time he browsed through the fashion and architecture magazines his employers subscribed to. In the lush photographs Gomez noted that the models, rooms and yards were immaculate but the people who made them “camera ready” were never visible.

In response Gomez began a series of paintings created on top of magazine photos. In these paintings he shows the workers behind the scenes – the seamstresses, house cleaners and car washers.

paintings on top of magazine photographs by Ramiro Gomez

paintings on top of magazine photographs by Ramiro Gomez

Perhaps Gomez’s most talked about images are the ones he made after seeing a series of paintings by the artist David Hockney.

Hockney is a famous English artist who maintains a residence in Southern California. He is known for his minimalist representational paintings depicting modern architecture, perfect weather, beautiful people and wealthy art patrons.

Gomez was introduced to Hockney’s work by his high school art teacher who showed him a book about the artist.

His eventual response, years later, was to create a series of paintings based closely on Hockney’s originals but ones that featured the pool cleaners, gardeners and domestic help – workers who were left out of Hockney’s originals.

By the way, Hockney and Gomez have met and talked. Hockney is a big fan.

Here are two images. First Hockney’s Bigger Splash and then Gomez’s No Splash featuring the pool cleaner and a grounds person.

David Hockney painting, Bigger Splash

Ramiro Gomez painting, No Splash, based on Hockney's Bigger Splash

Early this year Gomez was included in an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. For this exhibition he shadowed and worked beside a custodial employee named Lupita Velazquez. The result is a bronze cast of an original cardboard cut out showing Lupita going about her janitorial duties.

Gomez says of the piece, “It might seem like a simple figure, but there is nothing simple about a immigrant person’s existence, especially in these times. This is for those little moments that won’t be recorded in history otherwise, the simple acts of labor that contribute whether we recognize them or not. She no longer works (at the museum) but I choose to recognize that Lupita was here, that the custodian is present.”

Bronze cast by Ramiro Gomez

Ramiro Gomez is a passionate and interesting artist. You can learn more about him and his work in these three articles, one in Hyperallergic, another in the LA Times, and the third from NPR.

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