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Review: Ramiro Gomez ‘On Melrose’ at Charlie James Gallery

Nine new paintings by Ramiro Gomez continue his project of representing workers in Los Angeles — either invisible or merely taken for granted — whose labor is instrumental to making the city go. His focus now is “On Melrose.”

In the basement room at Charlie James Gallery, Gomez’s 11-panel mural “Melrose Avenue, Eastbound” records buildings as if seen in a drive-by. The format loosely recalls Ed Ruscha’s 1966 photobook “Every Building on the Sunset Strip.” The book’s accordion fold-out is roughly the same width as the 27-foot mural, but like the shift in the city’s art scene in the intervening 50 years, this painted pictorial landscape is headed east.

Though he often begins with photographs, Gomez’s painted street slyly begins and ends with more specific references to the painter’s art. It starts in the upscale design neighborhood of West Hollywood, signaled by a small, Beaux Arts mansard roof above a shop entrance, as if the ordinary store were a baby Louvre; it ends at Hoover Street on the edge of Silver Lake in an anonymous, graffiti-covered wall.

Making art is labor, and Gomez, the San Bernardino-born son of immigrants in the country illegally, connects his work to that of the gardeners, nannies and restaurant workers of Los Angeles. The orange-vested gardeners attending to a massive hedge in the nine-foot “Paramount Studios” painting retain their anonymity, even when one of them has stopped to look straight out at the viewer: His face is a soft blur, abstracted like the crosshatched brushstrokes of the tall green hedge behind him.

Above, the triumphal mountain peak in the historic Paramount Pictures logo emblazoned on a water tower looms far beyond reach, sequestered inside what amounts to a medieval walled city. So does the paradise implied by the cluster of Washington palms peeking up at the opposite side of the picture’s clear, blue sky.

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Stylistically, Gomez plays off the flat, simplified shapes of David Hockney’s 1960s pictures of an idealized L.A. Nowhere is its animating abstraction more effective than in “Paul Smith Store,” where a hot-pink parallelogram representing the famous store facade is punctured by a doorway’s black rectangle, while the sky above and the sidewalk below are triangles of bright blue and light gray.

The ’60s-inflected landscape is alien, reverberating against the foreground figure of a baseball-capped maintenance worker, who wields the hose of a backpack leaf blower to clean the sidewalk. Adrift in the blank field, he looks like space-suited Neil Armstrong walking on the surface of the moon — taking one small step for a man, yet awaiting one giant leap for mankind.

Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 687-0844, through May 28. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. www.cjamesgallery.com

christopher.knight@latimes.com

Follow me @KnightLAT


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