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Review: Rendering the invisible visible

Even when a design shoot is staged to look natural--fire blazing in the hearth; dad at the dining table, joshing with the kids over Sunday night take-out--there is obviously much that is missing from the picture. The support staff, for instance, who make such a scene (and by extension its real-life counterpart) possible and pristine.

Painter Ramiro Gomez has made it his mission to render visible those invisible workers.  In the last year or two, he has placed life-size painted cardboard cutouts of gardeners on Beverly Hills lawns and stood figures of housekeepers outside luxury hotels. In his first gallery show, at Charlie James, the L.A.-based painter highlights those backstage characters from the theater of upscale domesticity by painting them into advertisements torn from lifestyle magazines. Now, a cocoa-skinned woman holding a feather duster takes a break beside that fire, and another tends to the jubilant family at its informal dinner. The painted figures have no faces, but they have names, noted in the works' titles. They are acknowledged as individuals, instrumental to keeping the mundane machinery humming and the facade spotless.

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Gomez also recasts David Hockney's iconic SoCal poolside paintings from the '60s, replacing depictions of those at leisure with those at work. He retains Hockney's tone of cool elegance, the light-drenched palette, and nearly everything about the compositions. In "No Splash," he substitutes the diver's frothy upkick with two quieter loci of action--a man cleaning the pool and a woman sweeping next to the house. The subversions are subtle, simple but affecting. They bear an ever-urgent appeal for a more humanized, inclusive vision. That's the real aspiration those ads should glamorize.

Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Rd., (213) 687-0844, through Feb. 15. Closed Sunday-Tuesday. www.cjamesgallery.com

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