Like América Tropical appearing out from walls during the civil rights era, the Pasadena Museum of California Art says it's time for the legacy of painter Alfredo Ramos Martínez to step out from a whitewash of memory.
Martínez was already in mid-career when he became an admired member of the "Bloc of Painters," the ensemble of Los Angeles based painters who helped muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros make art history in 1932. In fact, he's cited as the real father of Mexican Art, or Mexican modernism, as Martínez polished the craft of visual storytelling within the sophisticated methods of painting processes.
He may also have shaped Siquerios. In October, 1913, he returned to Mexico after spending 13 years in Europe and gathered ten boys to begin the first Open Air School of Art, according to the Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research project. One of the young pupils was David Alfaro Siqueiros.
But unlike Millard Sheets, who went on to complete illustrious careers, the body of work by Martínez isn't really remembered -- unless you see his paintings and murals in person.
Three of his monumental works are still in public view: the ceiling of the Chapel of the Santa Barbara Cemetery (1934); the La Avenida Café -- now the Coronado Public Library (1937); and the almost completed Margaret Fowler Frescoes at Scripps College in Claremont (1945).
PMCA's "Alfredo Ramos Martínez in California" will look at how Euro-bohemia training translated the Mexican experience into romantic California color, and how Martínez recalled his day-to-day observations while practicing modernist forms as a California transplant.
"Many artists contributed to the development of Mexican modernism. The rich development of modernism in Mexico was a product of a diverse group of extraordinary talents," says Amy Galpin, who recently was appointed curator of Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) at Rollins College after serving as Associate Curator for Art of the Americas at the San Diego Museum of Art. "While the history of art tends to single out individuals, it was as a result of so many talented artists working at once that complex avant-garde art forms were produced."
Exhibited in four sections -- "L.A. Stories," "Many Women," "Religious Piety," and "Forever Mexico" -- "Picturing Mexico: Alfredo Ramos Martínez in California" is the first comprehensive museum survey of the artist's work produced between 1929 and 1946, and will show the Mexican-born artist has a place with his contemporaries from Southern California.
"Alfredo Ramos Martínez brought back ideas to Mexico from his tenure in Europe and participated in a revolution in art education," said Galpin, who curated the works to show the development of the skills of Mexican Muralists, which in turn pushed forth the Chicano mural and art movement. "In 1929, he relocated to the United States, where he produced work until 1946; that was indeed a reflection of his dedication to technique and impactful storytelling."
Along with paintings and prints, existing murals of Martinez will be noted with a large-scale reproduction of the La Avenida Café mural in Coronado. Some artifacts in the exhibition touch upon the studies of his major large-scale projects in Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Claremont.
In the Back Gallery of PMCA, the exhibition "Serigrafía" serves as counterpoint to Martinez's works, showing the ongoing tradition of political graphic art through thirty silkscreens from the 1970s to the present, which can be seen as a predecessor to today's political street art. "Challenging the traditional notion of a 'poster,' the selected prints exemplify the impact of effective and moving communication through the printmaking process," states PMCA.
But the showcase of deconstructed social and political perspective, such as Esther Hernandez's "Sun Mad" and Xavier Villamontes' "Boycott Grapes," should not overshadow the Papa of Mexican-Californian Modernism. It's his turn to get a day in the sun; see how another member showed that the Bloc of Painters more than just an ensemble for Siqueiros. It's time to be reminded of the contributions that appear from the works of Ramos Martínez that, as Galpin noted, "[B]elongs to the trajectory of 20th century art in Los Angeles."
"Picturing Mexico: Alfredo Ramos Martínez in California" and "Serigrafía" at
Pasadena Museum of California Art runs from January 19 to April 20, 2014.
All images reproduced with permission.