Just days after Chuck Ramirez’s death in early November 2010, Glasstire approached me to write a remembrance of him. My first impulse was that this should be told in group voice, so I asked a number of people if they would like to contribute. Many did. And many who wanted to just couldn’t. It has taken these months to assemble, as for many of us it was a struggle. But at last, here you have it, presented in the hybrid tones that we in San Antonio are known for.
A repeated scenario: I can hear Chuck’s cough through the wall that separated his bedroom from the front room of Sala Diaz. He’s in bed watching the sci-fi channel. I’m painting the gallery walls or otherwise getting ready for the next opening. I can hear that cough still. Just as right now I can hear his many friends lovingly performing their impressions of Chuck and his gregarious, and at times garrulous, personality.
Since 1969 I’ve kept a drawing I cut out of a book. It is The Deluge by John Everett Millais. I like how “unfinished” it is, because this is how the world is—as are the lives within it.
In the drawing, one person leans out a window, looking for signs. Everyone else is engaged in one way or another, including one who simply quiets a dog. But they all appear to be waiting for something.
I don’t know that Chuck would’ve liked this drawing, unless maybe he thought the people in the room were waiting for him to show up and get the party started.
Here he comes now.
Trish Marcus (Chuck’s sister)
Every summer our mom took us to Portland, Texas to visit my godparents, Al and Lupe Calderone and their daughters, Lupe, Patricia and Marie. We were all about the same age. Our parents were good friends, lots of nights with card playing, cocktails and cigarettes while the kids were self-entertained in another room. There were many trips to Port Aransas where we spent the day at the beach. Aunt Lupe would load up the back of the station wagon with plenty of food, drinks for both kids and adults, folding chairs and sunscreen. We did this as long as I can remember. Eventually, we got older and the folks stayed at home and the kids, now teenagers, packed up the car with food, sunscreen, music and beer (illegally bought) and spent the day at the beach. Lots of nights hanging out in Corpus Christi seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Chuck was always in the middle of everything. The planner and coordinator. As teenagers, the drive to the coast and back was always filled with music from the Eagles, Bob Seger, Rush and Supertramp.
He always loved life and having a good time.
Chuck was a very “cool” uncle. When he would visit, he would spend time with his nephews doing what they wanted to do, whether that was building with Lego’s, drawing, talking about books or just watching movies. He gave them things that sort of represented our childhood…tinker toys, Planet of The Apes DVD collection, Converse All Stars, as well as things to inspire them…Rosetta stone for Japanese because Stephen, within the next few years, will be traveling to Japan and a digital camera to document their childhood; paints, markers, charcoals and canvases to inspire their creativity. They will truly miss him.
Most of my memories are just of the day-to-day. A few trips, numerous New Year’s celebrations and gatherings at the Botanica apartment.
For years, we had lunch every week at Olmos Pharmacy, we’d have great discussions over breakfast and many times find ourselves still there at lunch. Years later we had developed our own separate routines, but Betty, the manager, would always ask me about Chuck. I would tell her about his latest project or excursion. She would nod and ask me to tell him hello.
He called me to have lunch there on the day the pharmacy was going to close. He was running late and when he arrived, he was carrying a large photo of a table setting he had taken. He had just picked it up from the framers to present to Betty. I have lots of memories like that. Have you ever noticed that Olmos is spelled differently on the clock above the entrance? Olomos—Chuck did.
My first encounter with Chuck was clandestine. We met at Liberty Bar where we surreptitiously exchanged fonts. That’s right, fonts! We both loved fonts. Couldn’t get enough of them. Well, I was an intern art director at Anderson Advertising, and Chuck heard from a mutual friend that I had possession of the font known as Torino. He wanted that font bad, and was willing to trade Copperplate, Snell Roundhand, and many others. So I met him at the bar and we made the exchange as though we were doing a drug deal: he passed me his floppy disk (yes, floppy—it was 1988) under the table, I passed my disk back much the same way. Then we both laughed at how silly we were being, thought maybe we would be found out by the font police. I was immediately under Chuck’s spell.
That was the start of one of the most meaningful relationships in my entire life. We became really close friends. Chuck was family.
A hub from which many spokes extended and to whom many were bound.
We are spun off by the absence of your life force. But are fortified by having been held in your orbit. With your love of life, sense of adventure, passion and openness of thought still running thru those you have touched, doors are now open to invention, art and loving. We keep you in mind as we walk through them as fearlessly as you lived. We honor you and celebrate your expanding spirit as we build on your work and remain committed to each other.
Chuck was a bell-weather and a buoy. He was the lube in San Antonio’s motor. He was a saint and a pain in the ass. Seriously. God love him. He played late when he could, always, woke up early when he had to most days and bunkered when he had to catch up—fried chicken in bed with the cats and cable. He loved to play “runway and gallery” as a kid and right on through his adult life…and ours.
I always appreciated his dinners. He was a great cook and an even better host. The food always appeared infinitely late, but was delicious. The crowd was always full of all those who needed in any manner as well as those just hungry. Chuck was a patron saint with those who needed. More people have been through Chuck’s tiny kitchen than through any other art institution in town. The stirring of company was what he was best at doing. I relish the friendships I have because of his motion through our community. He survived so much with aplomb and grace. He enjoyed being in the moment more fully that anyone else I know.
I will miss him always.
Chuck was a close friend and is still a constant influence in my life. He was a great artist and a great cook. I can think of no better way to perpetuate his legacy than with a recipe. This is a recipe Chuck introduced to us all about five years ago, back when I was his next door neighbor at the compound. We ate this all the time that year. It was a great year.
Curry Tuna Fish Salad
(There are no accurate measures as chuck was a “pinch of this, dab of that” kind of cook.)
2 large cans of tuna
About 1 cup of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (enough so the fish isn’t dry but not swimming in mayo)
Several tablespoons of your favorite yellow curry powder (no garam masala)
A couple thinly sliced green onions
A handful of golden raisins
A handful of roasted almond slivers or shelled sunflower seeds
Ground sea salt to taste
Mix the tuna, mayo, curry, onion, salt and raisins together. Sprinkle with the almonds. Serve on slices of delicious bread with fresh arugula, with slightly sweetened ice tea, endless vodka tonics, bottles of Carawawa, surrounded by people you love.
When they quit giving a shit, it’s time to worry.
You don’t have to attend everything you’re invited to.
It just fucking is!!!
If the Esquire closes I’m leaving town.
Chuck added a jolt of energy, insight and fun to everything he did. There was hardly an arts organization, non-profit or artist to which he did not generously give a helping hand. His laugh was infectious and made even the most tedious tasks into an adventure. He loved his family both biological and extended and always wanted to be in the center of the action. His passion and caring along with his hilarious sense of humor are greatly missed. His legacy will continue because he is so loved.
As I write this I just can’t believe that Chuck is gone—his constant and unconditional support and love for Blue Star will always be remembered and cherished. Chuck was one of the most generous and giving individuals that I have ever known. Whether he was designing an invitation, creating the ambiance for one of our fundraisers or helping layout an exhibition, he always did it with joy and his fabulous sense of humor. As an artist Chuck was an extremely gifted and creative photographer. He had the brilliance of taking an ordinary object and raising it to an extraordinary level. Through his eyes we were able to see the beauty in the mundane, the exquisite in the commonplace. But the hardest part of this loss is losing a great friend. Ann and I truly love Chuck and absolutely hate the fact that when we wake up tomorrow he will be gone.
Chuck was larger than life—sometimes hilarious, sometimes sweet and thoughtful, sometimes difficult, sometimes caustic, but I always looked forward to seeing him, whatever the event or gathering. My favorite memories of Chuck consist of being in the kitchen with him, looking at his cookbooks and talking food. He was the best cook in our little art enclave, hands-down, and I had recently been begging him to make his mac and cheese for a meeting we were supposed have soon. He didn’t want to—“too fattening, Michele, and I need to lose weight!” I felt the strongest and warmest connection to him when we were planning events, doing decorating, or chopping garlic because his enthusiasm was contagious. Strangely enough, on the day of his accident, I was thinking about him and feeling happy just for his presence. I sent him a message asking him to come hang out with me at the Three Walls opening that night, and of course, he did. He just wanted to be loved and have his presence desired, as we all do. I’m so glad I got to spend part of his last night on earth with him.
Sid St. Ong
a haiku(-ish) to Chuck:
chuck always knew how,
to party & entertain,
mushrooms & makers.
Chuck was an unwavering reminder and the truest advocate of the beauty and vitality that arises from the unfettered act of communing over food and drink.
I will feel forever fortunate to have been at his table.
Mid-80s at San Antonio College and I meet this guy named Chuck Ramirez. We’re both waiting for a class to start and we share our interest in the graphic arts. He’s a couple of years older and shares SAC staff insight on who and what classes I should be taking. Time passes and I don’t see or speak with him, only nods of the head in passing. I knew he was good at his craft because he was under Marsha Twomey’s wing.
I’m working part-time at a picture frame shop and manage to get my first freelance design project and find that the client has someone else he is working with, it happens to be Chuck. Like the competitive designers we were, we now disregard head nods and share no communication. It was funny because we were both curious about our clients indecisiveness at which time we both acknowledged that our client was an ass that was stringing us both along, basically trying to get work for nothing. We agreed to counter with intentionally leaving the client hanging in midst of production to figure his own project out. I think it was then that Chuck and I both appreciated each other’s understanding of what we were in for in the graphic design field. From that day forward Chuck and I became friends that would attempt to tackle the art world an event at a time, I like to think we did and in his legacy will live on. His artworks surround us, we loved Chuck and I’m happy that my son Agusto could meet him.
Chuck. I first met Chuck at the opening of Temporary Things, a show at the James Gallery in Houston curated by Hills Snyder. The show featured San Antonio artists Chuck, Ethel Shipton, Chris Sauter, Veronica Fernandez, Rebecca Holland and Nate Cassie. That was before I knew I would move to San Antonio and be changed forever by the intoxicating elixir of the people and the life there… with Chuck’s being one of the main and most unmistakable ingredients.
Fast forward to 2000, when I arrived in San Antonio to begin a new job at USAA. Armed with a letter of introduction to Hills which Kathleen had provided, I moved to this unknown place where I knew no one, but which I later came to realize was every Texan’s hometown. Thanks to Hills and that introductory lunch at Liberty Cafe, I was able to slip immediately and comfortably into the warm, strong current of the San Antonio artist community. Chuck was central to this community. I encountered him up close when I sat on the Blue Star board. Being a member of the Blue Star is a rite of passage for contemporary art lovers in San Antonio. It’s where you get baptized. I was a newbie, he was long-timer. He had been around for everything, had all the history. He was of course flamboyant and funny. But when it came to his core principles, he could switch in a moment to being deadly serious. Once, after a long and impassioned board debate, it was Chuck who spoke last — like the tribal chief who weighs the arguments of the braves then pronounces the last word. He carried this authority because his motives were plain and unassailable: what’s best for the artist, what’s best for the institution, what’s best for the community. His integrity was the source of his power for good, his influence over the course of events. He also was willing to take immediate action, to just… begin; to get to work; to fill the vacuum often left by good intentions but collective inertia. He would make things happen. What a solemn side he had when it came to knowing what was right and expressing it simply and directly. Or, OK, not simply or directly; it would be yelling with his raspy, hoarse voice and doing this kind of seated dance with everything moving and waving in the air and his eyes up in his head or closed, as if he were addressing the universe — because the universe could hear him — but then he would draw everything back in and level any opposition with that intense stare, long silence and delicately cocked eyebrow. That meant the discussion was over. He was a making-it-happener, like the time he executed that gigantic theatrical set of an ofrenda to Robert Tobin’s memory for the Blue Star Contemporary Arts & Eats benefit one year, or the time he crafted the arena-scaled heraldic papel picado hung from the Blue Star building another year.
Of course I had a huge crush on him, even though I knew that he was as unattainable, by virtue of his sexual orientation if not his age. Thankfully this fancy was short-lived. I calmed down and Chuck simply became a part of my life. Just as he was a part of everyone else’s lives, it seemed… part of daily life in San Antonio that we thought would never change. But some things are Temporary Things.
So generous. He would show up and document my house. Always invite me over for dinners. Even though I wasn’t quite like the others, being new and kind of corporate and all. Or I could wander over uninvited, picking my way through the bushes and the darkness to the common backyard of the artists’ compound (a cluster of Victorian cottages courtesy of Mike Casey, landlord and honorary Mayor of King William, abutting what Hills ruefully dubbed The Restaurant Supply District), take a seat at the long candlelit table at whatever magical outdoor dinner party for 20 he was having that night. And meet amazing people there. All produced by Chuck. Drop-ins always welcome. Always enough food and drink.
He did my Christmas trees. I had heard about the Christmas window he had done at Artpace for Window Works (its first?) before my time. He had decorated five live Christmas trees which were still in their tied-up state for transport. He had noticed some workers unloading bound and gagged Christmas trees from their abduction and long ride in the back of a truck to their Christmas tree lot destination. He loved them that way. They excited him but they also made him sad. Made him think about death but also the miracles and life that can come from death. He also thought they seemed like gigantic smudge sticks — those bundles of dried prairie herbs and grasses bound with string and lit to slowly smolder and give off thick smoke for rites of purification by native cultures. He had decorated the still-bound “smudge stick” trees thematically and in different colors. One featured Kewpie Dolls I think. Chuck liked to play with lots of things of a kind. I like things of a kind also. I knew as soon as I heard about the Artpace trees that I had to have a couple of smudge stick trees of my own. I had saved my childhood Barbies and my toy horses and men all this time, had carted them with me to San Antonio. These trees would be their destiny. They would live on Chuck Ramirez smudge stick Christmas trees. What a way to display and preserve my beloved childhood collections! I mentioned the tree idea to Chuck several times and he was curious. I finally commissioned them. They would be his first Christmas trees since those at Artpace. I figured he would probably choose brown and orange for the horses, pink for Barbie. I was so wrong. He of course and as always had a fully-formed vision. He was never in doubt, never without inspiration, he didn’t have to struggle. Ideas for him flowed like a fountain, 24/7. It was to be green and white for the horses, and an English rose garden caught in a late snow for Barbie — with florals ranging from tiny pink pubescent sweetheart roses to huge wilted dowagers of dying roses, their pink-tipped petals splaying out just before their fall. I got the roses in snow for Barbie, but I didn’t get the green and white idea. Spearmint and white? Sounds so boring, like high school sports team colors. Or: you forgot the red? But I trusted Chuck. Thank goodness, as one always should, I trusted the artist. We mere collectors often can’t see Santa Claus standing there right in front of us, or Captain Hook’s ghostly galleon disappearing behind the clouds on a moonlit night.
It took him three trips to Garden Ridge Pottery, three full pick-up loads, to complete the shopping. Naturally Chuck shopped the entire store, not just the Christmas section. Lorne Greene, as he dubbed the green-and-white cowboy tree, was a skinny 10-foot tall and smudge stick — the same width from top to bottom. Taking the narrow portions of several trees he had extracted with a hacksaw, he then fitted the narrow sections together, prosthetically. He heavily (I mean very heavily) festooned the tree with plump silver tinsel garland and snow-covered pine garland. Snow-tipped desert sage brush burst forth. The horses and their TV personality riders circled upward and around in the garlanded maelstrom, amongst a forest of small pines affixed to each bough. I said that the tree was “Lorne Greene meets Dances with Wolves” — because it reminded me of that last scene of the film, where Kevin Costner and Stands With A Fist leave the tribe forever, disappearing up a steep ascent astride their horses as snow begins to fall.
Chuck had delivered the trees late one afternoon in December. They were to be completed in time for the annual King William Christmas Home Tour, when my little 1856 caliche block cottage on South Alamo would be on show (South Alamo Street was the former route of the Acequia del Alamo, also known as Acequia Madre, part of a 45-mile network of gravity-flow canals channeling water from the headwaters of the San Antonio River to the Missions, strewn every 2.5 miles or so to the south). The Christmas trees were now complete except for attaching the horses and men and the Barbie dolls. Chuck apologized that he was too exhausted to finish them that night and said that he would come back next day. I said that would be fine while I turned on some Christmas jazz and asked him to please join me for some milk punch. With these new stimulants he miraculously revived, wanting more milk punch, and before you knew it, wanting my ladder so he could “just put one of the horses and men on to see how it will look.” Well, he got so excited that he finished Lorne Green that night!
We laughed and played and listened, Chuck alternating between standing back to assess the total effect with each new addition then rushing back up the ladder like some kind of St. Nick to make an adjustment or fluff some garland. I dressed my Barbies for their final and permanent (or is it recurring?) coming out party. He he allowed me to place them.
I filmed some of the evening. My drunken and erratic video camerawork shows the artist, often alone and in a world of no time, making hundreds of split second decisions — some right, some wrong, some wrong that turn out right, some right that turn out wrong, not knowing but trusting anyway, not being afraid to make a mistake. Not giving up. Making something from a bunch of parts in the back of a truck that comes alive, and in real time. I saw it. I saw him do it. I saw the magic being made. But having my magic trees is not enough, Chuck. No, it’s not enough.
I am privileged to have spent a large chunk of the last 7 years of my life with Chuck Ramirez. We traveled the world together, from Port Aransas to Paris to Iceland and he rocked the world, wherever he was. He, more than anyone I have ever known, experienced every place, every moment to its absolute fullest. Whether we were at a market in the South of France, shopping furiously for cheeses and squash blossoms, or decorating my Christmas tree to the Charlie Brown Christmas Special soundtrack while drinking eggnog, he was there, 110%, loving life for all that it is… profound and mundane! He had an enormous impact on me and my family (our children also traveled extensively with Chuck and consider him part of our family) and what he taught us and what I am determined to hold onto is his legacy of seeing the beauty in the mundane, of feeling the joy in the everyday, every moment, that we are alive. The last time I saw Chuck was Halloween night at my house. We were all hosting a group of German artists that were in town with an exchange through UTSA (they had been at his house two nights previously) and Chuck showed up, as always, early, dressed to the nines, as a lumberjack with a clever prop he made minutes before. I was running late, as always, and was just starting the risotto. He, as always, jumped right in to cooking mode, shortly after making a crisp vodka drink, he took over the risotto, stirring lovingly and inhaling deeply as fragrance filled the kitchen. I went on, preparing other things and side by side, as we had so many times before, created a beautiful meal together. Later that night he wowed various people at the party with his knowledge of art and imagery (we have nine of his artworks) and he planned on collaborating with another photographer who he met that night at our house. He loved the lasagna I had made and we had a lengthy discussion about Bolognese sauce (he was somewhat disenchanted and confounded that I had bought sauce in a jar because he thought the process of making the Bolognese was so beautiful in itself, yet he thought mine was so delicious). After everyone left, we retired poolside to discuss life and everything it had in store for us and under the moon of October 31, 2010, we broke into renditions of our favorite TV theme songs from the 70s, including the entire rendition of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and ending as we always did in the duet, “I am sixteen going on seventeen” from the Sound of Music, it was his favorite. He was the last to leave, armed with leftovers, and as I look back on our final night together I will never forget the lessons he taught me…to love where you are and who you are with, completely…to embrace the moment as if there is no tomorrow…and to see beauty in the everyday and the commonplace. What a gift he was to everyone who met him. We loved him so. It is with deepest sympathy and regret that I release our Chuckie into the immortal ether where he will continue to inhabit a rarefied place in our collective memory. We love him so.
In the 90s, whenever Chuck and I would have some pocket money, we would throw one of our infamous bashes at my Botanica shop overflowing into his apartment upstairs. Eventually, all the art crowd would leave, all the cute boys would leave, and even all the hardcore partiers would leave. Chuck and I would be left alone with his cats and a fantastically messy post-party shop and apartment. All alone, we felt like happy, content spinsters who just threw a successful punch-and-cookie cotillion. However, we would be drunk and starving, never having bothered to have eaten at the party. This is when we would dig out from the back of Chuck’s refrigerator, a deluxe H-E-B prototype ham that Chuck would have left over from a photo shoot. It seems we never had a shortage of fancy hams. We would affectionately refer to the fancy ham du jour as “the boyfriend” and would spend the rest of the wee morning hours eating ham and recounting the glorious, outrageous and glamorous events of the evening.
Musings on the subjectivity of hindsight in our fond remembrances:
This is not a journalistic account. Nor is it a poem. I’m terrible with writing, so this is just my contribution to the discussion on Stieren St. about the item from Chuck’s estate that inspired the organic/social sculpture known as The Long Table of Love.
During the mid-nineties I was very much a part of the emerging activities around S. Flores and Cevallos, especially at the Infinito Botanica and Chuck’s swanky pad upstairs, even before Chuck moved in, as Brent Widen had hired me for much of the initial woodwork restoration. Eventually, after settling himself into the space, Chuck was directing me personally to custom install things around the place. The last job I did for him there, besides photographing his Santos series, was to build a 3 x 12 foot banquet table out of yellow pine.
Chuck showed me the legs he had milled for it and asked if I would help him put the rest together. I picked up the lumber from a local commercial lumber store and assembled it on site using 15-gauge D-head pneumatic finish nails and glue. The skirt was fashioned so as to allow the legs to be hammered into their sockets without the use of additional adhesives or fasteners. I remember allowing him to enjoy the novelty of this as his own invention, even as he later boasted of the table’s ability to be easily disassembled, a feature that was merely inferred by it’s construction and never actually demonstrated. This became obvious later in his recollection of the drama that played out when the time came to move ‘that sucker’.
This raw pine table was built on the cheap has, however, grown over the intervening years into a sacred relic through the culture that developed around it. Like layers of wax growing upon a religious shrine, over time it became imbibed with the energies, emotions and grandiosity of Chuck’s eclectic social world, giving it a meaning and purpose that would ultimately transcend and subvert any historical account of its origins. This table can be remembered in ways that would appear to be in contradiction; the dominant viewpoint veering toward a sort of mythologically charged sentimentality that betrays the data represented by a comprehensive collection of original stories about him and the things he loved, including those engendered by Chuck himself, unembellished by the context of his untimely passing.
I was there during many of the most magical, emotional events that took place around that table, in that apartment, as well as the surrounding grounds and know first hand the various species of mystical energies, karma, Feng shui, what have you that could have been flowing through the air or through the minds of the people breathing it or both. I recognize these phenomenal qualities as something precious and rarefied, and despite the psycho-social challenges/errors of intuition that stand in the way, believe they represent a large spectrum of the human experience that deserves our attention through rigorously open, rational and compassionate discourse. It is against this apologetic caveat, however, along with my humble recognition of the sanctity of his memory in the hearts of those who loved him that I now profess that any sober appraisal of Chuck would readily reveal that he was no saint, so to eulogize him with such glorified visions of him at the center of (maybe levitating over) this Great Long Table of Magic Mojo Love is just ridiculous.
I love Chuck Ramirez along with anyone whose heart goes out to him. I love Nate and appreciate the work he put into this über-profound token of remembrance. I just wanted to make sure to share my opinion on the matter in case anyone cared. No offense intended.
Chuck and what he gave me:
My Tia Chuck….
1993 or we met in 1992—I am not fully clear on the date, and it really doesn’t matter because once we met we became friends.
The first time I’d ever met Chuck was at a fundraiser. He was standing in front of me at the bar, turned around and asked “Who the F are you?” I simply answered, “Nina” and he said, “Oh, nobody,” waving his hand and turning away. That was some time ago. After meeting my son Noah a couple of years later he would often say hello to him and ask me who I was while laughing saying “Oh, nobody.” It was an ongoing joke between us. The very last time I had a moment alone with Chuck was last year’s Dia De Los Muertos, we were both driving in my car drinking, smoking and laughing.
Noah Collins (age 12)
My next door neighbor has died. This is no lie. He was named Chuck. You might of seen it in the newspaper. It was not that recent but he lived an adventure. He was a best friend to a lot of people in S.A. Many were very sad, me too. I did not have the guts to go to his memorial or maybe it was a funeral. He is missed by a lot of people in the San Antonio art vibe. Like my mom and me.
I wish he was still here. It is not the same without Chuck’s parties at the compound.
When I Am Empty, Please dispose of me properly*
That an extra-large plastic fast food drink cup could hold such poetic potential is a subtle grace that Chuck envisaged through his lens. On the one hand the formula is simple—most usually, a gorgeous, large-format photographic print of a particular object isolated on a white ground. His striking formality became his signature, and they are arresting—arrested on the border between art and advertising, subverting the latter for the former. And within that space between is where his work lives and unfolds. Chuck’s work activates that space through isolation, isolating the everyday through the codified language of our mediated worldview—transparent rubbish and opaque rubbish—form and content.
But perhaps that is all the obvious, which overlooks the intimacy imbued in much of his work. One could call it portraiture, though a kind of portraiture that operates within that term on various levels. His pieces are curious, inquisitive and contemplative in their “present-ness”; they are as well dry (and wry), cynical and humorous in their “deadpanned-ness.” Pairing formality with informality, Chuck’s work reveals the “inside” often through the “outside.” T-bone (2002). Is it a portrait of a steak, a cow, the body, flesh, the carnivore, consumption, mortality, the after-life, destiny, all of the aforementioned and more, and/or is it simply just a piece of meat appearing larger than life?
The piñata series, like the purses or suitcases, speaks most directly to portraiture even in their innocuous setting. The fuzzy orange headless creature, Ethel (2002), is a battered yet celebratory remain of Ethel’s birthday. It’s a happily beaten figure of joy suspended in decapitated display. Bludgeoned for its contents through an act of tradition, the emptied remains of the disposable papier-mâché vessel in Chuck’s staging becomes a content laden relic, both cultural and personal, that marks the ephemerality of being there in one fell swoop. The poetry of the arrest.
Chuck himself was arresting, his presence never a secret, he’d activate any ground and permeate it with his trail of smoke, scoring voice and cackling laugh. And he could arrest you too; in the way he’d call your name, as though he were isolating you in your own frame, calling you out and to attention often with such an incisive tonality that did more than just single you out, it rather laid you out on your own white ground. He was very much the stage director in art and life—the two never distinct—wielding a spotlight that he trained on himself and the community, the political and the personal, the obvious and the overlooked, the profound and the mundane. And in this way, Chuck, like his work, lived in that in-between space—that “messies” borders while highlighting them.
One of my favorite series Chuck staged was of the moment after a healthy indulgence, the remains of a party or a solid hearty meal. No longer isolated, the object of display—the remnants—spills over borders and things get messy here. As in TexMex (2004) where the leftovers of a typical tex-mex meal litter a red, white and blue themed table set-up. And due to the closely cropped bird’s eye point-of-view, Chuck positions us right smack in the middle of the aftermath with no way out.** In a way, it is a similar strategy to arrest, “completing” the theatrical space by activating yours—a deadpan standoff.
Much of Chuck’s oeuvre exists in the afterwards, so-to-speak, staging what comes after the climatic moment with a more subtle potency. In their post-coital pretense, the vestiges in such images remain potential in animated suspension. Thus, an image of a phrase on a plastic fast food cup—When I am empty, please dispose of me properly—becomes laden with poetic potential that in light of Chuck’s no longer being here is prophetic afterward.
* From Chuck Ramirez’s Whatacup (2002), the phrase on the drink cup for the Whataburger fast-food chain, delivering the best hamburger meals in Texas (according to this author).
** For posterity, it’s worth noting one particular late night, long after the party proper had ended, Chuck and I started talking about his new series he was working on. We got off discussing the ingénue of the bird’s eye view and its effects in relation to the new table series—being “in” the center of the table while having not been seated at all. I can’t recall all the details of our varying tangents and awe-inspiring conclusions, but there were many, of course, readymade.