Coachella Valley artists Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, a.k.a. the Date Farmers, led an ambitious project earlier this year that brought together a dozen international artists whose murals raised awareness for the "anonymous farm workers" east of Palm Springs.
Now Lerma and Ramirez are in the throes of installing new paintings for their second solo exhibition at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills, opening Saturday. They survey the cavernous main gallery in tandem, where 6- and 8-foot-high canvases bathed in bright, poppy colors line the walls. Despite the tonier ZIP code, the new work is no less a commentary on social and political issues facing blue-collar communities.
"A lot of it has to do with everyday struggle for the working class," Ramirez says. "I think that's relevant all around the world."
Adds Lerma: "All of these paintings are stories that we've seen."
The Date Farmers have collaborated for more than a decade. Both of the self-taught artists grew up in the Coachella Valley, where Lerma's family owned a date farm and where they met in 1998. Their ties to the area -- and each other -- are deep. The new exhibition includes more than 50 pieces, which have been in the works for about two years.
A blend of pop and assemblage art reminiscent of Mexican revolutionary posters -- much of it painted on sheets of corrugated metal or large wooden boards -- the art is screaming with color and meaning. Canvases are rich with pop cultural references, like Disney characters or mass media advertising symbols, and are often layered with objects such as photographs and stickers, all toward offering satire and commentary, frequently on behalf of the oppressed.
The work also is personal, featuring people and happenings the artists have witnessed day-to-day in the Coachella Valley: migrant farm workers, a big-box store shopper. One painting features a vociferous preacher at his pulpit, gripping a Coca-Cola can and with a snake wrapped around his neck. It was inspired by a tragic incident Lerma witnessed.
"He was under this tabernacle-style tent and showing faith with the rattlesnake," Lerma says. "But it bit him, and he died. It made me feel like I knew I wasn't going to live forever."
If the two artists are prone to finishing each other's sentences, that's indicative of how they work together creatively. When they create work at their studios in the city of Coachella, they sometimes work on the same canvas at the same time, painting and drawing on top of each other's lines, with music blaring in the background. After 16 years working together, the artists' aesthetics are totally blended, Ramirez says.
"It's not so much personal, but a shared aesthetic that we have now," Ramirez says. "It's a harmonization that we do, that's the only way to describe it."
Adds Lerma: "It's as if we're pushing forward, towards one goal."