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Fronteras: 'Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire' — The Brief, Rich Life Of Prominent Chicano Artist

Inner demons, passions and life transformations are all recurring themes of one of the most iconic artists from the Chicano street art movement. Carlos Almaraz was one of Los Angeles’ leading contemporary artists, but his life was cut short when he died of complications from AIDS in 1989.

Elsa Flores Almaraz is working to keep her late husband’s work and legacy alive. The new documentary, “Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire,” highlights the significant moments in Carlos’ life and how these memories transcend in his artwork. 

Credit Wayne Shimabukuro
Carlos Almaraz and Elsa Flores Almaraz in their Spring Street Studio Downtown Los Angeles, 1986.

Almaraz was born in Mexico City in 1941 and after high school, he moved to New York City to pursue his dream of becoming an American artist. This new adventure came with freedoms and autonomy Almaraz wasn’t previously afforded, but it also launched a lifelong journey of sexual explorations and a constant struggle with self-doubt.

In “Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire,” Elsa Flores Almaraz documents her husband’s experience with alcoholism and mental illness, which stems from the sexual abuse Carlos endured as a child. Eventually, his drunken episodes landed him on a deathbed in Los Angeles in 1971 and Almaraz fell into a 42-day coma. 

While unconscious, Almaraz experienced a vivid hallucination where he was contacted by alien beings who took him on a journey across the universe. They answered his many questions about the mysteries of existence, the universal language and the Creator. When Almaraz recovered, he immersed himself in the cultural renaissance of the Chicano Movement and remained committed to that work until the last 10 years of his life.

Elsa Flores Almaraz is is a Los Angeles-based multimedia artist and met her husband in the ‘70s. The two artists eventually married and had their daughter Maya. Elsa continues her commitment to Carlos’ legacy by managing his estate and promoting his continued career while creating her own art daily.

WHAT: “Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire” with co-director Elsa Flores Almaraz WHEN: Fri. Oct 25, 7 p.m. in San Antonio; Tue. Oct 29, 7 p.m. in Austin WHERE: Esperanza Peace & Justice Center in San Antonio; and the Santa Cruz Theater in Austin ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Esperanza Center and Santa Cruz Theater

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren