Gomez: “The connection between Goth girls and Chola girls was very interesting to me.“
I met Ramiro Gomez a few months ago at an art show in downtown Los Angeles. Here is one thing I must tell you about shows in L.A.– it doesn’t matter if you are listening to music or looking at art, but people aren’t usually friendly. They’re nice, but they won’t typically come up to you, introduce themselves, smile, and then actually proceed to listen and converse about something.
Unless they’re a rare bird. Unless they’re Ramiro.
I remember him distinctly, because his candor was disarming. He smiled while he spoke, and leaned in to listen. He has a knack for making people feel like they’ve known him forever. After what was probably only a few minutes, I wanted to grab him by the arm and go get an ice cream. Instead, we talked about artists we liked. We exchanged information. And I mooned over his work. It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s informed in such a specific, delicate way–truly irresistible.
When Ramiro phoned me a few days ago to invite me to his show, I knew I had to interview him for the blog. Here, now, is what we talked about.
How did you start working with Chola imagery? What drew you to it, and why do you stay with it?
2009 had been a rough year, I had dropped out of artschool, was moving constantly, had no money, and suffered the sudden loss of my grandmother, whom I was incredibly close with. Towards the end of 2009, rather than coming back to San Bernardino, CA. where I’m from, to live with my parents again, I decided to take a job as a live-in male nanny in Laurel Canyon which gave me stability in a very turbulent time. I had my own little furnished room with a bed, a tv, and a drawing table. I developed a routine. As soon as I finished work, I’d go to my room and watch movies, or listen to music and draw. It was my own secluded space where I could escape. I would go to Amoeba Records
and raid the movie section for movies and tv shows to watch. Movies like The Science of Sleep, Pretty in Pink, and Mister Lonely. TV shows like Daria, Dinosaurs, El Chavo Del Ocho. I was searching for myself. I had watched the movie Mi Vida Loca
when I was a kid and the only thing I remembered was the ending when the little girl gets shot in front of a liquor store. As a result, I had always thought of it as a hardcore gangster movie until I decided to buy it at Amoeba and rewatched it in early 2010. It’s actually a very funny, well-written movie with a lot of heart that was nothing like the hardcore image it’s cover presents. It was very much like my experience when I first started going to Echo Park
and realized because of gentrification, there were now more record stores than gangs there and there were other Mexican-American kids like me who would eat menudo with their family and collect records at thrift stores, I had found my “gang”. I had been listening to the Dum Dum Girls
music heavily and going to the Part Time Punks night at The Echo in Echo Park. The connection between Goth girls and Chola girls was very interesting to me. After a trip to Urban Outfitters, where I would shop for clothes, I started to draw directly onto their Spring 2010 catalog, which presented these white girl models in various boring, lifeless poses. Reimagining the models into chola versions was both funny and fun because for the first time in my life at that point, I was not confined to painting on canvas or taking myself to seriously. It was DADA just like Duschamps had done with the mustache on the Mona Lisa in “L.O.O.H.Q” I was having fun with the reappropriations and really was not thinking of why I was doing it, I was just doing it. In hindsight, I chose to draw on the catalog as a response to the advertisements we are constantly assaulted with. Urban Outfitters sells an ideal “hipster” image that I am both drawn to and reject because I will never be a skinny white hipster. As a Mexican-American, The term “chipster” or Chicano Hipster has been thrown my way because I am drawn to indie music, indie movies and wear cardigans. I see myself in the chola because we are both in search of our own identity. Are we Mexican like our parents? Are we American? There really is no difference between a suburban white kid who decides to listen to punk, a chola who decides to join a gang, and me who decides to draw. It all is a version of American teen angst. We’re growing up and will continue to grow as a culture. We don’t really have many images or portrayals of our lives in the media as a Mexican-American and so we search for ourselves, I will probably always continue to draw because I realize there are millions out there like me searching and with my drawings and work, I would be able to help others find themselves as well.
You’ve said that you gravitate more toward composing Cholas than Cholos. When did you start picking up on that specific attraction, and what did you decide it was about?
It must’ve started when I saw the movie Mi Vida Loca again in early 2010. The Chola to me is more creative. There are more outfits to choose from, there is more drama. I can see the chola in a lot of things. In the girls that shop at Forever 21, in the style of bands like Strawberry Switchblade and Dum Dum Girls or Lana Del Rey and the Late Amy Winehouse. Amy specifically inspired me because her Chola “look” went beyond what had always been presented. She did not wear dickies, or nike cortez, or give herself a nickname like Squeaky or Sad Girl. But she was a very sad girl with the tragic life that a lot of people live, full of heartbreak. She was a Chola in the romantic sense. With her heavy black eyeliner and Beehive hairdo, her image captivated me. As a Gay Man, you would think I would be more attracted to the Cholo but I am not. Much like many male artists before me, the woman is a mystery that I am naturally drawn to. During my teenage years, before skinny jeans were popular, I would always look in the girls section for jeans that were a tighter fit than the baggier fits typically found in the male section. Nowadays I don’t have the jean problem anymore but I still find myself looking through the girls section for floral print tshirts or anything else I could find that I would be able to “pull off” as unisex. You can call it chasing a trend or trying to start one i guess, but I really want more Floral Prints and variety in the guys section. I see the girls section of Forever 21 and I’m jealous. The floral attraction really helped cement my vision of the chola, because there is nothing prettier and dangerous at the same time than a Rose. Much like the Chola, Roses have a beauty and danger to them that is irresistible to me. The combination for this work of floral prints with black haired cholas was an experiment with image. Im not interested in the hardcore image of the gang lifestyle that has been done plenty of times, i’m more interested in the romance.
What is your relationship with Cholas, and how has it grown and changed since starting your study with this particular content?
In junior high, I had a friend name Roxanne Barajas who was a chola. She looked so much older than she was and had an older boyfriend who she would write letters to. She would keep these letters in her folder and show them to me during class. On the front of the folder, she also had tons of pictures she would take at the 1 hr Photo places at the mall with friends and they all would share and collect these wallet size pictures. It wasn’t just the cholas doing this. Every girl I knew would take these pictures and pass them around at school. It was all pre-facebook, and pre-texting but I could see how that would all morph into what I see the teenage girls do now, posting their photo albums on Facebook that they ask their friends to comment and like. Being a teenager is interesting, because heartbreaks are the end of the world, and styles are constantly changing. I had older cousins in my family who went through a chola phase, and of course had a lot of cousins who had kids as teenagers. They would watch Ricki Lake and The Jenny Jones show during the day, and my grandmother and aunts would take care of their kids while they went to continuation school or their jobs. I find it intriguing how in my family, Spanglish is a language, and these negative cycles continue to repeat. I don’t think it’s a question of bad parenting in all cases, because it’s not that simple. There is a disconnect between Mexican born immigrant parents, and their kids that are born here and attending American schools. A Chola is a rebellious teenager. The parent is not always able or capable of dealing with her when they have a house to pay for and mouths to feed and they don’t understand why their daughter is staying up late and going to parties. My study of Cholas has led me to observe what a Chola is like now. with Big teased hair and skinny jeans. Outfits change, but rebellion is the same. My art work deals with much more than just the Chola however. I also observe the Gardeners and the Housekeepers working hard on the westside of Los Angeles to maintain the luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous. The gardeners and housekeepers have kids of their own that they can’t always attend to. How could they? They often depend on public transportation and don’t get payed enough to make the rent every month. My understanding of the chola grew from this observation. The Grafitti and Gangs on the eastside don’t just happen for no reason, they are direct results of the inequality of life and and economic disparity between the rich and the poor. Documenting my life right now is a necessity with all these thoughts I have that I may never experience again.
You put together this show specifically for Pherspace in Echo Park. What is it about this area that correlates with your content?
The gentrification of Echo Park is what interested me in having a show there. My parents are mexican-born and came to this country in the early 80′s. They settled and met in San Bernardino, CA where I was born. They try to pass on traditions to me that they had when they were growing up in Mexico but it is difficult to maintain the same traditions and include the American traditions that they now must accept. Cultures start blending. Our Christmas has presents, and Thanksgiving definitely has Turkey. But they also have tamales, and we play a family soccer game to burn off the holiday calories. Los Angeles is a big city full of different neighborhoods that I love exploring. I can be in Beverly Hills one minute, and Koreatown the next. Echo Park is a melting pot of the things that interest me most. The Record Stores and the concert spaces blend with the panaderias and taquerias. With this blending, there is a danger of losing my culture. Losing my history and my family’s traditions. Gentrification is both a good and bad thing and the show is an attempt at reaffirming who I am. The artwork deals with Quinceañeras and teen pregnancy, paletero men and grafitti. Choosing to make most of my drawings on found records from thrift stores came from the blend. I am a mixture of a lot of things and Echo Park presented the perfect venue.
You’ve described yourself as an observer. Where do you go for inspiration in Los Angeles, and why those places?
I have a few favorite places in LA that I seek out for comfort and inspiration. Irv’s Burgers in West Hollywood which is run by the most amazing woman named Sonia and her family, The New Beverly Cinema where they have the best double-features and the greatest staff, not to mention the popcorn. Amoeba Records where I can hide and spend hours searching for the perfect records and movies without being disturbed. Burrito King on the corner of Alvarado and Sunset in Echo Park for a great Sope or El Taurino on Hoover and Olympic for the green salsa. lately it has also been the Fabric District of Downtown LA where there is so much happening. I specifically like those places because they remind me of home in some way. Living on the westside, I’m always driving around which is the best way to observe really. There is not much on the westside that I can identify with. I’m always traveling East.
Are there other artists in L.A. that inspire you? Who and why?
The Date Farmers and their work has greatly affected me. I had never heard of them until last March when I was told of their show at ACE Gallery by a friend of mine. It was one of the best art shows I had ever seen and was struck at how similar the art I was doing was to theirs. I reached out to them and they have been so supportive. The fact that they can come from nothing, and get the recognition for presenting the life of the Coachella Valley in a creative way is truly inspiring. I connect to their work because they see the things I see. But they are on their own creative path while I am on mine, and I always remember that my own success will come in different ways. I am charting my own path.
You’re also really involved with music. Can you talk about how your day job relates to the content you put out with this collection of pieces?
I recently took a job as a college-radio promoter for a Downtown LA based company called Substance Co. We promote some of my favorite bands like The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and The Dum Dum Girls and taking a job in the music industry was a natural progression for me. I have worked as a male-nanny for the past 3 years and it was definitely time to take a step towards a career. I am developing a comic called “Rose Gardens”, with plans to develop the comic into a full-fledged animated show similar to the amazing MTV show Daria.
What can we expect at this show?
One of the purposes for this art show is to promote and start building a brand name that would be recognized in order to get the comics and animated show up and running eventually. Most of the artwork for this show is on found Record Covers as I said, but I will also have large cutouts, paintings on paper, and small printed comics for sale. I am very inspired by the D.I.Y. indie music scene so I wanted to have the show carry that same spirit of a cool record store. The bands performing, Wonderwheel from the OC, and Melted Toys from SF are two bands I really love and was excited for them to play my opening. I will also have 2 DJs spinning between sets, KCRW DJ Marion Hodges as well as Club Underground DJ/Lead singer of the awesome local band Sweater Girls Diana Meehan. There will be cervezas and ceviche to munch and I’m expecting an appearance by the Mi Vida Loca director Allison Anders
along with some members from the cast. I am very excited for the show and hope you all can join.