Juan Miguel Ramos' work is reminiscent of the defiant, affirmative, outsider chic of Richard Linklater's Slacker and the late-'80s Gen X zeitgeist that divided the world into the clued-in and the clueless, the with it and the woefully witless.
The San Antonio-based emerging artist's solo show at Romo Gallery has some of the subversive appeal of underground graphic novels by Daniel Clowes and the Hernandez brothers, where the kind of people who play bit parts in Hollywood films now command center stage.
The exhibition features Ramos' video work, his ironic spin on the "Loteria" game (a kind of Mexican bingo that Ramos has updated with low-rider culture icons and Hispanic hipsters) and his seductive digital prints. In all of the works, his cartoon-style Mexican-Americans rendered with minimal detail but maximum flair are placed against realist photographic cityscapes and domestic interiors: strip malls, cemeteries, movie theaters, kitchens. Ramos often selects his subjects from the crop of musicians and artists he counts among his friends, as well as the denizens of San Antonio's principally Mexican-American West Side neighborhood.
His graphic portraiture style is succinctly captured in "35 La Estrelle," of Depression-era labor reformer Emma Tenayuca framed against the twinkling stars of the night sky. Though not placed side-by-side, Tenayuca would have made an ironic juxtaposition with Ramos' "Soldado," of a soldier in green dress uniform standing in front of a Target store. It's hard not to read the image as a piquant criticism of just what kind of freedom -- Freedom to consume? Freedom to cover more of the planet with parking lots? -- our men and women are fighting for.
The presence of Ramos' Mexican-Americans asserts their undeniable centrality on the American landscape. Much more than the "Hispanic" box checked on a job application, these karaoke party boys, goths, yuppies, labor activists and playboys make up a varied slice of the American pie. Part of Ramos' point is how their sheer diversity defies their reduction to a consistent stereotype or caricature.