Carlos Ramirez’s paintings have all the energy and sophistication of Carlos Ramirez himself.
Bold, colorful, engaging, intuitive, his quasi-abstract canvasses have always alluded to or called to mind the works of Cezanne, Monet, Basquiat and Joan Mitchell. Ramirez’s new works, which confidently emphasize vivid colors and ample white space are on view at Hunter Kirkland Contemporary.
The white spaces in particular give Ramirez’s color-filled paintings unusual power. Whereas Cezanne never left any blank space in his meticulously structured still lifes, and the 17th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán achieved an otherworldly, surreal ecstasy in his highly religious works (through the use of a negative space that was pitch black, ergo, planeless), Ramirez breathes possibility into his equally rigorous paintings by eschewing color in almost every corner and he, too, evokes the numinous, a feeling of release, salvation, freedom—by not using any color.
Oddly enough, color, and his unique use of color, is in his blood. “I’m Cuban. I’m from Miami. Color is part of your DNA,” says Ramirez, an only child who emigrated from Cuba with his parents when he was six (and originally settling in Hoboken, New Jersey before moving to Florida). “No way you can be from the tropics and not like color. Plus, nature is all about colors.”
Splitting his time between Miami and his new home in Santa Fe, this new body of work is inspired by the garden that surrounds his cottage studio. A lush, verdant garden that he himself planted and has tended for over 20 years.
After an unfulfilling few years in law school he gave up a full scholarship to pursue a more creative role by forming the fashion label Liancarlo almost 30 years ago.
Though he has always sketched and drawn and painted, Ramirez’s years in textiles, as a designer, as an arranger, as a creator always aware of color, shape and movement—complemented what he was doing in his home studio.
“My work in many ways is a blend of both of these worlds. Fashion brings a modern attitude to color, a certain bravado. From nature I borrow shapes, rhythm and scale. Its beauty and sheer size absorb all of my senses, nature is all encompassing”
About 15 years ago, he took a workshop with Wolf Kahn, a master at color. “As I became more painterly, I ended up in a landscape world,” says Ramirez. And from Kahn he took away plenty, one nugget in particular. “He gave me a moment: Don’t interpret the landscape as you see it but as you want to see it.”
As all-engulfing as the fashion business and Liancarlo was, Ramirez continued to carve out time for sketching, drawing, painting and composing watercolors on his dining room table. The watercolors, especially, opened up his canvases. They gave his paintings a translucence. The watercolors also opened up his reasons for wanting to capture what he saw out there in the world in a certain way.
A sketcher by nature, he’d dip a twig in ink and apply that to the canvas. The effect made the lines very irregular. He loves irregularity. He loves it because it’s a reflection of how he sees, how he wants to see nature: “When you look at nature, what you see is uncontrol,” says Ramirez. “There’s structure there, but it’s chaos. I wanted it to have structure but not be too neat and tidy.
And as one can see in this current show, the compositions are looser, with new colors (more of that purple, for instance). “Looser by far,” smiles Ramirez. “And there’s an organic sense to them. A more spiritually different dynamic in them. Almost a delicateness.”
“The mumbo jumbo of things makes me unique,” says Ramirez of his work, citing the various fashion-world elements that add to his paintings—from embroidery to colors. “Colors look great or terrible depending on what’s next to them. And I have 1000 favorite colors.”
“I’m not a calming relaxing chill-out kind of guy,” adds Ramirez—as if that weren’t abundantly clear. “What I strive for in my painting is freshness—because that’s nature. Nature is always crisp.”
As is Ramirez. Crisp, lively, colorful. Impossible to contain. Full of life. Just like his paintings.