Carlos Almaraz was a brilliant artist whose short life intersected at significant moments with Cesar Chavez and the farm worker movement. In one of his last stories for the Los Angeles Times, Reed Johnson (whose terrific cultural reporting will be sorely missed as he moves to the Wall Street Journal’s Brazil bureau) wrote on March 9 about plans by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to mount a major exhibition of Almaraz’s work in 2017.
According to a lengthy oral history by Almaraz and correspondence between Almaraz and Chavez, the artist’s work with the UFW during the 1970s helped him find his identity. He worked for the UFW newspaper and painted an iconic mural for the United Farm Workers founding convention in 1973. Almaraz later rose to prominence in the LA art scene as a member of an influential collective known as Los Four. Almaraz died at 48, in 1989.
Much of his work has been scattered and the whereabouts of key pieces are unknown, and Johnson’s story details efforts by curators now to track down missing pieces – including setting up an email address and a phone line.
Below is a photo of part of the mural Almaraz did for the 1973 UFW convention. And here’s a short excerpt from “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez” about Almaraz:
Garfield High graduate Carlos Almaraz, whose paintings hung in major museums and galleries, credited his success directly to Chavez. Born in Mexico, raised in Chicago and Los Angeles, Charles Almaraz had thought of himself as a Mexican living in California until he met Luis Valdez in 1973. Almaraz changed his name to Carlos and headed to La Paz, following Valdez’s advice to seek out the leader of the farm worker movement. Almaraz volunteered to paint the mural for the UFW’s first convention, returned two years later with a team of artists to produce another mural, and worked intermittently for El Malcriado. When he found himself one semester short of his master’s in fine arts, about to be kicked out of school for failure to pay tuition, Almaraz appealed to Chavez. He sent a $400 check. “Without you and the union this might not have been possible,” Almaraz wrote Chavez upon graduating from Otis Art Institute. The artist painted a fifty-by-twenty-foot “Boycott Gallo” mural and wrote Chavez that his birthday present was waiting on a Los Angeles street corner.