Remember when the Show Pony Ladies participated in the PAPER mag 24-hour dept store event here in L.A.? Well also in attendance were the folks from Creative Growth out in Oakland, CA. They brought a dazzling array of paintings and sculptures from various artists. Their center and gallery space are home to adults with developmental disabilities who communicate their thoughts and ideas through art. I mention all of this because my latest inspirational artist is Aurie Ramirez, a 46 year old Filipino-American woman, who worked for approx 20 years with Creative Growth! I read someplace that she may have suffered slightly from a form of autism and perhaps dyslexia. Whichever the case, she speaks to me. She expresses herself in a colorful language that is dreamy, haunting, fashion inspired and humorous at times.
These figures cluster in groups, like a theater troupe posing for a group portrait; they inhabit Victorian settings or plainer ones that suggest contemporary California. There are signs of violence and surgical scars; frequent indications of romance, sex and family dysfunction; odalisques reclining before paintings of odalisques.
Ms. Ramirez also isolates her rainbow palette in small striped abstractions. Though there are no indications of it here, the artist, who understands English, speaks in a language of her own devising, which she also writes, filling tablet upon tablet with its somewhat Greek lettering.
Creative Growth Art Center began in 1974 in the Oakland, California, living room of psychologist Elias Katz and educator Florence Ludins-Katz. With the belief that art is a universal means of expression, and one that people with disabilities could use to communicate and contribute to society, the pair provided art supplies and workspace to a handful of adults with disabilities. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Growth established a gallery in 1980; like the studio, it was the first of its kind.
For more than 20 years the studio and gallery have operated in concert out of a warehouse in Oakland’s Auto Row. Curatorial manager Jennifer Strate O’Neal calls it the “homestead” of a now-flourishing creative community. The studio itself has blossomed into a daily workshop for 148 artists working in mediums that range from pottery, weaving, and woodworking to film and painting.