“There’s a long, honorable tradition of public art that he inherits, but he’s doing something that is so different, and is so imaginative, and is so much of this moment,” said George Lipsitz, a professor of sociology and black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
“The art that he creates is very different from a political mural or a silk screen. And very different from the traditions I learned in the ’60s and ’70s, when I saw political artists advancing their ideas,” Lipsitz said. “There are never any words, never an Aztec eagle or an American flag. What Ramiro does through these images is assert a kind of common destiny. People who hire people to clean houses have to share social space with the images of people they don’t usually talk to. It’s an interesting provocation.”
Gomez’s father, a truck driver, and his mother, a janitor, came to the United States without documents. They achieved legal status and became citizens. Gomez and his two younger sisters were born in San Bernardino.
Gomez left art school without graduating. He became a full-time babysitter, now earning about $15 to $20 an hour, he said. His partner of seven years is an editor in film and television.
At a live-in babysitting job for a family in the Hollywood Hills a couple of years ago, he got to know the gardener, the housekeeper, the pool-cleaner. The family had luxury home decor magazines lying about. Gomez started painting acrylic portraits of the domestic workers on the glossy pages, inserting them into a luxury context.
The next step seemed natural. He started deploying life-size portraits in real-life moneyed environments. He used recycled cardboard because it was free — and because it was as disposable as some people feel immigrant workers are, in his view.
“My cutouts in Beverly Hills are there between when the gardener cut the hedge and when he comes back to cut it again,” Gomez said. “It’s that invisible space in between that nobody sees. With a cutout, I can at least represent that work.”
After scouting the White House on Monday, he called up on his iPhone a Gordon Parks photo he loves that shows African American children looking through a fence at a fair from which they have been excluded. Painting until 4:30 a.m. Tuesday on cardboard he scrounged from a Costco, he created a Latino family inspired by the Parks photo.
Tears welled in his eyes when he unveiled the portrait in a meeting room at the Washington Hilton on Tuesday, before an audience of immigrant activists. The cutouts represented his own family, he said, and the families of everyone in the room.