Enter the downtown L.A. loft of painter Carlos Almaraz in the 1980s, and you’d first notice the artist himself, warm and charismatic, in black beard and paint-spattered overalls. Then you’d see Almaraz’s work, vivid and personal, depicting Los Angeles and himself in extremes of peace and ferocity, on dreamlike canvases stacked four or five deep against the walls.
“You could tell immediately just walking into the room that he was enormously prolific, that he seemed to work in a profusion of painting and drawings and pastels simultaneously,” recalls Howard N. Fox, who twice visited the studio during Fox’s long tenure as curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “There was a lot going on in that crowded and cluttered space.”
Decades later, some of that work is among 65 pieces in the exhibition “Playing With Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz,” at LACMA through Dec. 3. Fox left the museum in 2008 but is back to curate the show, partly because of the lobbying by actor and longtime Almaraz collector Cheech Marin. “He knew where all the bodies were buried,” Marin said. “He knew Carlos. I just admired him from afar.”
The Almaraz exhibition had been set for 2014 but was delayed so it could be part of this year’s Pacific Standard Time: L.A./L.A. exhibitions focusing on Latino and Latin American art. It’s the first large-scale Almaraz career survey at a major American museum.