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Playing with Fire: Paintings by Artist Carlos Almarez

Artistic Inspiration

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is presenting the first major retrospective of one of the most influential Los Angeles artists of the 1970s and '80s, Carlos Almaraz. "Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz" features more than sixty works and includes pastels, ephemera, and notebooks, largely from 1967 through 1989, the year of the artist’s untimely death at age 48.

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Echo Park Bridge at Night, 1989
Oil on Canvas

Almaraz began his career with political works for the farm workers’ cause and co-founded the important artist collective Los Four. Although he saw himself as a cultural activist, Almaraz straddled multiple — and often contradictory — identities that drew from divergent cultures and mores, and his art became less political in focus and more personal, psychological, dreamlike, even mythic and mystical as he evolved artistically.

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Starry Night, Echo Park, 1984
Oil on Canvas

Almaraz’s career as a painter evolved through lively, disparate phases before his death from AIDS in 1989. For a time he was a leading force and muralist in L.A.’s Chicano arts movement. But Almaraz ultimately returned to his original ambition of becoming a studio-based painter, creating personal work — “Playing With Fire” focuses on that 11-year period.

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Chatita Kitty, 1989
Oil on Canvas

The paintings typically use striking splashes of color to create scenes of dream imagery — both tranquil and hard-boiled — from seductive landscapes of the bridge at Echo Park Lake to a modern-day shootout by the beach between cops and vatos locos gangsters.

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Echo Park Lake, no.1 -4, 1982
Oil on Canvas

One of the standout pieces is Almaraz’s monumental four-panel landscape, Echo Park Lake, reunited for the first time in 30 years. This operatic, iconic image of Echo Park Lake, at different times of day, highlights not only as the neighborhood where the artist lived, but also as the place he celebrated as the soul of the Chicano community.

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Creatures of the Earth, 1984
Oil on Canvas

"Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz" is part of this year’s Pacific Standard Time: L.A./L.A. —exhibitions focusing on Latino and Latin American art — and is on display at LACMA through Dec 3. For more information on the exhibit, visit