[1] [2]

[3] [4]

(1) "Red Lake," pastel, 14 x 17", 1986.
(2) "Glendale Blvd," pastel, 19 x 29", 1979.
(3) "Suave Como La Noche," pastel, 30 x 19", 1986.
(4) "Echo Park Dusk", pastel.

by Nancy Kay Turner

"Art is a record , a document, that you leave behind showing what you saw and felt when you were alive, that's all."
Carlos Almaraz, sketchbook entry
March 4, 1969

(Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica) In 1971, Carlos Almaraz, after a self-destructive bout with alcohol, had a near-death experience and was given last rites. During this period he had a vision of traveling through the universe in a spaceship (with God as a women in the form of an Eagle). He was offered three options by the spacemen--to return to earth as a baby, as himself or as an old black man named "Charlie." He chose to return as himself.

As he healed, he was able to come to terms with the lessons of his years in New York (1966-69), where he struggled unsuccessfully to work within the prevailing minimalist aesthetic. Even as he tried to conform, his grid drawings and prints from this era betray his painterly and sensuous line.
Almaraz constantly drew, wrote poems and philosophical ideas in notebooks, and over a period of twenty-five years amassed fifty such books. In them one can see compositions worked out and the evolution of Almaraz' distinct lexicon of characters, symbols and concepts.

It was in the Echo Park series, most of which were done during the last ten years of his life, that Almaraz found an enduring symbol of his Los Angeles. Echo Park, the ultimate city park, boasts a lake with boats, water lilies, ducks and geese. Like Monet and his haystacks, Almaraz captured, from his apartment window, Echo Park in all its various incarnations, from serenely bucolic to hot, feverish and dangerous. Bathed in deep violets, hot pinks and bloodlike reds, this Echo Park was a place of beauty and mystery.

Carlos Almaraz: Echo Park brings together serigraphs, etchings, paintings and pastels, as well as drawings and diary entries, depicting this most important subject from the Almaraz estate .
In Suave Como La Noche one sees the tranquil pink-tinged lake through a vertical screen of thin palm tree trunks. The landscape is devoid of inhabitants, save for a single stone statue, alone under a star-kissed magic realist sky. The interplay between the starlight, moonlight and street lamps makes for a romantic, quietly hallucinogenic scene. Here there is an uneasy alliance between the artificial and the real, between dream and memory.

These moody works show the influence of Munch's symbolist landscapes, the Fauve's color palette of pinks, oranges and blues, and Monet's brand of Impressionism, mixed in with Almaraz' own Hispanic sensibility. In the pastel Echo Park Dusk the gray cloudy sky stands in stark contrast to the lake, which seems on fire--a hot, seething cauldron of liquid orange. The floating island of palm trees in the middle is an oasis of calm in the turbulent, fiery water.

Almaraz was a restless soul and his work reflects this soulful journey. In his notebook dated November 12, 1978 is the following entry: "Because love is not found in Echo Park, I'll go where it is found." Eleven years later, Almaraz died, leaving a rich legacy of his emotional odyssey. His epitaph reads: "Here lies a chap quick as a cat and short one life."