Gustavo Ramos Rivera
Gustavo Ramos Rivera | Foto: Gustavo Ramos Rivera

Gustavo Ramos Rivera, Bursts of Color from the Soul

Por: Edward Rueda

5, July, 2022 en Business Concept

Gustavo Ramos Rivera

Bursts of Color from the Soul

“Memory is not simply what is remembered, but how it is remembered.” Bruce Nixon

By Heide VanDoren Betz for Business Concept

“Born in 1940 in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, Gustavo Ramos Rivera moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969 and gradually established himself as a highly respected abstract painter and printmaker. He belongs to a generation of Mexican artists who emerged between two distinctive eras: one, a society still clearly marked by Mesoamerican traditions, the mestizo land whose heritage had been both simplified and compellingly codified by the Mexican muralists; and the second, a postwar culture in the process of becoming truly international, which was moving inexorably beyond the grasp of those traditions as well as their representations, and which came of age during the early 1960s. As an artist of this subsequent generation, Ramos Rivera has demonstrated an ever greater willingness to look outside Mexico for ideas, and particularly to the contemporary art of Europe and the United States.”

Mexican novelist Juvenal Acosta, in association with the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art & the San Jose Museum of Art, 2006

An internationally respected artist who has exhibited works in galleries and museums in the United States, Mexico, South America, and Europe; Gustavo Ramos Rivera has spent the past 50 years living and working in San Francisco, Mexico and Europe.

Gustavo Ramos Rivera
Gustavo Ramos Rivera

His paintings and monotypes shimmer with the colors of his childhood which he spent in a little Mexican border town called Ciudad Acuña . He credits remembering and watching his mother cook, playing in his grandmother’s garden, and swimming in the creek. A self-taught artist whose father encouraged his talent and desire to paint by allowing him to paint murals on the walls inside their tiny adobe home, Gustavo’s paintings are saturated by these simple images of the richness of his memories, culture and family in Mexico.

Truly an artist, there are few images that he doesn’t see as art whether as mixed media, sculpture, printmaking or painting.

Former editor-in-chief of Art Week, Bruce Nixon says: “As an artist Gustavo Rivera has been receptive and inclusive, and his characteristic absorption of the world’s relentless exhilarating immediacy is one of the most important resources that he brings to painting.”

Gustavo’s art works include Paintings, Works on Paper, Monotypes and Monoprints, painted Constructions, Drawings, Collages and Sculptures.

As you enter his vast light filled studio with huge window you immediately see the city scape of San Francisco. Squint and you will see the shapes and variations of color of the cityscape blend into one; so many colors and shapes with constant atmospheric changes. The works of art, displayed on the walls and housed in huge racks (for large-scale works) greet you with an immediate jolt–a WOW jolt of joy, an exuberance–reds, blues yellows, lines, squiggles (squiggles of determination- not haphazard) all tell a story; they speak as one and separately to memories of the subconscious. There are work tables and easels, all bursting with color. The atmosphere is exhilarating and the brilliant colors and shapes are intoxicating; they are a combination of the influence of everything he sees. Nothing escapes Gustavo Rivera’s glance, no matter how much light, or how much darkness.

Gustavo has lived with these shapes of the skyline, the colors, the atmosphere, and the sounds of the city for years. His conscious and unconscious mind absorb it all and he creates; he gives visibility to the multitude of forms and shapes, images of buildings, childhood memories of sights sounds, smells and experience. He creates bursts of color and line not soon forgotten. Bruce Nixon: “Gustavo has developed a visual format that conveys his sense of the press and flow of experience into the present–a present informed and enriched, though never managed by a past that remains available to revisions of perspective and meaning precisely because it is always receding, at the same time accumulating additional substance–a sense of experience as tangible, and therefore always available and inclusive, taking into account his recollections, his immediate environment, his particular state of mind”.

Juvenal Acosta reflects about Gustavo Rivera: “Truth is not only in daylight. Darkness just as light is a source of wisdom, Chiaroscuro, the light of the dying day. Night’s darkness receding at dawn. The lover’s eyes discovering some truth in the friendly darkness. Perhaps there is no such thing as truth or lies. Or is silence the most elegant form of discourse? “

Gustavo Ramos Rivera
Gustavo Ramos Rivera

Heide Betz: You were born in 1940 when Abstract Expressions began to reign in the world of modern art.

Were you influenced by Abstract Expressionism?

Gustavo Ramos Rivera: Well, as I grew up I could not ignore it but I wasn’t particularly interested in it at first; all that metaphysics and emotions of the subconscious. I really think that my memories of my childhood and my experiences in my life are what propel me. And I love the process of painting. I love my paints and my brushes. I work with my memory and my feelings and my intuition as I approach the canvas. I respect that interaction. My compositions are organized and logical. I don’t like haphazard outbursts of paint.

Robert Flynn Johnson, former curator-in-charge of the Achenbach Foundation at FAMSF says: “We live in a world of stereotypes, and all stereotypes hold much that is false or exaggerated.” He further notes in his essay: “Gustavo Rivera is an artist who surprises, delights and sometimes overwhelms the uninitiated with his extraordinarily exuberant and colorful draftsmanship….. His is not an art of calculation, but that of an artist whose activity involves making his inner feelings visible through the application and arrangement of color and line.”

HB: Creativity and business often do not work together. How do you manage?

GRR: I have a great business manager, Jean Oppermann, who might be able to tell you.

Speaking with Jean Opperman, Gustavo’s Business Manager.

HB: Jean, what is the most challenging aspect of handling an artist’s, in this case Gustavo Rivera’s, career?

Jean Oppermann: The most challenging aspect of handling an artist’s career is the artist. Gustavo still wants to live in a world that existed when life was based on the trust of a handshake, galleries handled all things PR, and computers didn’t exist.

While extremely confident in who he is as an artist, Gustavo is a shy and humble man.

At the beginning of our collaboration, it was difficult to get his permission to put him and his work “Out in the world.” I’ve learned to do what I think is best for his career, which has meant sometimes asking for forgiveness after the fact, instead of permission before. I do consult with him, but at this point, Gustavo fortunately trusts me to take the lead in his business dealings.

HB: Can you give us an example?

JO: Gustavo has a total lack of desire to live in the “Modern world”. His time kept is not by the clock or the calendar but on “Gustavo time”. While this may sound charming and often is so, it is also maddening; the world keeps moving faster and faster and he refuses to.

HB: What the best thing about working with this great artist?

JO: The greatest joy is the spill over of his joy of life. Everyday moments become special because he sees them all as beautiful blessings. I’m a worrier who is always in a hurry; he makes me slow down and enjoy life’s simple pleasures in a deeper way.

It is also a privilege to work with someone who is simply and completely an artist from the bottom of his feet to the top of his shiny bald head. Art and invention simply pour out of him. He cannot do anything else but create.

Talking to Gustavo about his Museum Project in Mexico :

HB: I understand you have been collecting works of art for a museum project in a border town in north Mexico. Why this location?

GRR: My dream has been to build a museum, featuring the work of Mexican and International artists; a museum with an education center for children in Ciudad Acuña, my hometown–I was born there. It lies on the cusp of Mexico and the United States. When I was a boy, it was a small town with red dirt roads and no street lights. At that time everyone passed freely across the Rio Grande between Mexico and Texas. It was easy. Life was easy. This sleepy little town has become one of the fastest growing towns in Mexico, but fears about immigration along the border seem to grow faster. Even though now Acuña has a lot of industry and commerce there is little opportunity for cultural enrichment.

HB: How will the museum help the people?

GRR: The museum would be a focal point in Acuña. A place for people to come with their families for cultural enrichment, to take a class or have a meal in the café. I am building this museum and children’s education center with the collaboration and help from many people in Ciudad Acuña and San Francisco.

HB: Will some of your own vibrant works of art be at the Acuña museum?

GRR: Yes, they will. As a painter and an artist, I’ve lived and worked in San Francisco for 47 years. I’ve been so lucky. I’ve traveled between Mexico and US my whole life. I’m a citizen of both countries. Now, I want to give my extensive art collection and collected art donations to benefit the place where I learned to see, and a place that will benefit the most.

HB: So, you believe that art will enhance the lives of people?

GRR: I think when a city has more cultural and educational opportunities it brings greater prosperity to the community and increases tourism. The climate between Mexico and the United States is full of apprehension. That’s why this project is more important now than ever. I know in my life and in my heart that art saves lives. It is a bridge that allows us to cross borders and break down boundaries. Not a wall that separates us and keeps us isolated and afraid. I believe that to be able to enjoy the beauty of art, and to be stimulated by the work of gifted artists is innate in human nature.

Or in the words of the esteemed artist Diego Rivera:

“Art is like ham, it nourishes people.”

HB: What is your museum called?

GRR: With the formation of MACCA (Museo Arte Contemporaneo de Ciudad Acuña), in 2010, we created a non-profit and began fundraising. We have been able to purchase land for the museum site in the center of town. The architect who designed the original model was Glenn Rescaldo of Handel Architects in San Francisco. My brother, Gabriel Ramos who is an architect in Acuña as well as Lorenzo Rocha from Mexico City are making modifications to the design in order to adapt to the environment and surrounding.

An Art Exhibition Opening mid-June at Kim Eagles Smith Gallery in Mill Valley


Recent Paintings & Works on Paper

Recent work by Gustavo Ramos Rivera with intense emotional content and unique, personal symbology combine the palette and iconography of the indigenous cultural heritage of his native Mexico with classic techniques of Post War American Abstraction.

Rivera constructs layers of intense translucent color fields upon which he lays simple hieroglyphic markings of rich impasto which seem at once archaic and contemporary. They articulate a poetic narrative but also express the artist’s pure delight in working the medium of oil paint.

Bruce Nixon about Gustavo Rivera: “The past finds its identity in the present, whose movement into the future assures that its identity will remain unfixed and to some extent unstable.”

Robert Flynn Johnson: “Artists such as Gustavo Ramos Rivera possess a doorway into their souls that allow them to enter, then return with a tangible record of what lies within. The palpable exhilaration of this man’s talent cannot be denied.”

The art of Gustavo Rivera’s is in numerous Museums, Public and Private Collections: (partial list)

Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

De Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA

The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA

Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, CA

Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV

Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ

San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, CA

San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA

Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, AZ

Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Palo Alto, CA

Stanford University Hospitals, Palo Alto, CA

Tom Steyer Palo Alto, CA

Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA

Crocker Art Museum. Sacramento, CA

Museuo De Arte Assis Chateaubriand, la Universidad de Paraiba, Brazil.

Museo Felguerez, Zacatecas, Mexico.

Gustavo Rivera’s Selected Exhibitions include:

2022 Eagles-Smith Gallery, Mill Valley, CA (solo)

2018 Sakata Garo Gallery, Sacramento, CA

2006 San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (solo)

2005 Ex Convento del Carmen, Guadalajara, Mexico. Travel: Museo de Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez, Zacatecas (solo)

1999 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA (solo)

1998 Smith Andersen Editions, Palo Alto, CA (solo)

1996 Galerie Rahn, Zurich, Switzerland (solo)

1993 M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA (solo)

1990 Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

1988 “Mano a Mano” Santa Cruz Museum of Art and the Oakland Museum of California, Santa Cruz and Oakland, CA.

1985 “Mexico: The New Generations” San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX.