Text-Based Work by Chuck Ramirez
A local San Antonio artist, Chuck Ramirez passed away at the age of 48 in 2010, leaving behind an impressive collection of works. Only two years after his death, his 2003 photograph Breakfast Tacos from the series Seven Days was purchased by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and was part of the touring exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. His large-scale and vibrant photographs often explore the intersection between private and public, fleeting and permanent, and treasure and trash. Through his use of juxtaposition, Ramirez’s work provides a window into American life, particularly Mexican-American life, highlighting aspects of consumerism.
Chuck in Context, Ruiz-Healy Art’s upcoming show, highlights Ramirez’s Words series and other text-based works by Ramirez. Due to his experience as a graphic designer, Ramirez had a deep and unique understanding of the way text works within a composition. In Words series, Ramirez imposes bold text on top of related photographs. By doing so, he causes the viewer to see the text before noticing the image, shifting the viewer’s interpretation of the image in a different direction.
This relationship is demonstrated by Viagra, one of the photographs in the series. In this piece, the word “viagra” is superimposed on top of an image of football players. Immediately, the viewer is conditioned to think of the hypermasculinity of the football players rather than their strength, teamwork, or even the colors of their uniforms. The word “viagra” does not necessarily paint the football players in a bad light but rather pushes the viewer to see the football player’s masculinity in a new way.
In Pink, Ramirez once again skews the viewer’s interpretation. In this piece, Ramirez imposes the word “pink” on top of an image of a full pink trash bag. As a result, Ramirez causes the viewer to search for the pink in the picture. The viewer sees pink first and the trashbag second as opposed to the other way around. In this way, Ramirez leads the viewer to associate the trash bag with beauty rather than with waste. This association comments on consumerism, a theme often explored by Ramirez in his work, by transforming the trash into something more beautiful. Ramirez’s word association causes the viewer to take a step away from their consumerist lifestyle and see trash in a new light, as something that may be worthy of being more than just refuse.
In other pieces, the text seems to parody the image behind it. For example, Chicken has the word “chicken” superimposed upon a photograph of chicken on a grill. This sort of redundancy caricatures the chicken and draws attention to consumerist nature once again. Enhanced by the deliberate depiction of cooked chicken on a grill, seemingly ready to eat, the work seems like an overly blatant advertisement. The photo – no doubt – could have been used as an advertisement or on a menu, but the bolded text adds an edge to the photograph that allows the satirical quality of the work to shine through.
Following a similar satirical nature, Mad Cow depicts the words “mad cow” on top of a photograph of a mounted cow head. The cow’s head is shown straight on, and the cow’s horns and nose ring are still visible above and beneath the text. The choice to use the term “mad cow” most likely refers to mad cow disease. However, this word-image relationship seems a bit odd. The image does not show a sick cow or even the aftermath of the disease. Instead, the image is a mounted cow head. Thus, the relationship between the image and the text is strange, adding a satirical side to the work.
Ramirez’s use of text to comment on and parody consumerism is reminiscent of artist Ed Ruscha’s work. Although Ruscha’s text is often paired with ombrés in the background, both artists use text to cause the viewer to reflect on their own lifestyle.
These works will be on view September 14th through October 14th.
Written by 2017 Summer intern, Katherine Gaard