New digital art series on Metro Blue Line: Artist Eric Almanza

Metro Art has been piloting a new digital art series, and the inaugural exhibition is launching at the Blue Line stations. More People Than You Know features portraits of transit patrons created by local artists. To celebrate the upcoming reopening of the refurbished rail line, we are featuring an interview with each of the commissioned artists. Make sure you look for these portraits displayed on the newly installed digital customer information panels. This is Metro’s first transit corridor with this new cultural amenity.

Eric Almanza
Lives and works: Long Beach, California

Where do you live and work?
I was born in Downey and grew up in Rancho Palos Verdes. In 2004, I moved to Long Beach and have been here since. In addition to making my own art, I am also a fine arts teacher for LA Unified School District; I have been teaching drawing and painting at Harts Academy of Los Angeles for the last 5 years.

How were you introduced to art?
I got into art through comic books in the sixth grade. Initially I drew exclusively from those examples. I was self-directed and credit comic books as my early teachers since I didn’t have a formal art teacher to guide me. When I first started painting, I didn’t have an in-depth understanding of the human anatomy. This led me to a lifelong quest to study and depict the human form. I learned to paint technically at UC Berkeley – how to use paint and color, for example. I really honed my ability to paint and draw the human form while attending Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD). My mentors at LCAD were Peter Zokosky and F. Scott Hess.

What is your primary medium? How do you see yourself as an artist?
I consider myself a Chicanx figurative painter who uses oil paint as my primary medium. I have been interested in the low-rider culture and Chicano rap music from an early age. In college, I immersed myself in Chicanx history. My figurative work now focuses on the issue of immigration; my art questions what it means to be Chicanx. I want my artwork to stand for something, to be subversive, and to challenge the status quo. I credit John Valadez, Carlos Almaraz, Los Four, and Vincent Valdez as my influences. The music and lyrics of Rage Against the Machine have also been hugely inspirational.

What were your ideas for this project? Any visual strategies you wanted to convey?
For the project, I rode the Blue Line to observe and develop the main protagonist of the portrait, a female passenger, from a similar cultural background as me, representative of the community and ridership, and a regular Metro passenger. So, I selected my friend Maricela. While riding the train, I took many photographs of the train and also Maricela from different angles. I worked from photographs as source materials and built a Photoshop composition from them. I wanted to paint someone the viewers could relate to; transit passengers could look at the portrait and see a reflection of themselves. 

What are you working on now?
Some of my prints are in a group show—dealing with the issue of immigration—at the border wall in Mexicali. This show is going to travel to Los Angeles later this year. My new paintings continue to focus on humanitarian issues. I am dedicating a painting to Óscar Ramírez and his daughter Valeria, who both recently drowned crossing the Rio Grande. I don’t want people to forget who they were.