Community Heroes: Ramiro Gomez

The Los Angeles-based artist says his bleeding disorder influences all his work
Author: Caitlin Kelly

Few young artists will ever make the sort of leap that Ramiro Gomez has in less than a decade. In 2013, he had his first solo exhibition. Today, his paintings have been acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and shown in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, and at the prestigious Whitney Biennial exhibition. Since 2011, his work has been included in 39 group shows in the US, Mexico and Ecuador.

At 33, Gomez has attracted national media attention for his work that focuses on the mostly minority men and women who work as nannies, cooks and gardeners for wealthy people in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He knows that world well, as the son of two Mexican immigrants, Maria Elena, who works as a school custodian, and Ramiro Sr., who drives a truck for Costco.

Gomez learned he had hemophilia at age 10, after his maternal uncle was diagnosed in his mid-30s, which led to other family members being tested. It was difficult to manage his condition when he was younger, he says, with parents whose English was limited, whose budget was tight and who didn’t fully understand hemophilia.

Gomez, who grew up in Los Angeles, says if it were not for his bleeding disorder, he might not have become an artist at all.    

“I dreamed of being a pro soccer player, and even at 22 or 23 still hoped to play in the Olympics,” says Gomez. “But every time I played, I got injured, and every time I got injured, I needed treatment, which my parents couldn’t afford.” Eventually, the guilt and frustration of seeing his parents take on extra work to pay his ongoing medical bills with each subsequent bleed became too much.

Gomez had been encouraged in his art since elementary school, and a high school art teacher put him into advanced classes. “It became a sanctuary,” he says. “There was a seamless transition from soccer to art, since during my injuries I would draw and watch TV documentaries. I channeled everything I wanted to do with soccer into my artwork.”

Gomez’s visual commentary on social justice, immigration, race and labor was prompted by reading luxury magazines with images of ease and leisure, with no acknowledgement of the labor force underpinning it.

“Workers are often erased and dehumanized,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m trying to inject back the humanism. I’m trying to create a space of contemplation.”

Gomez credits his husband, photographer and filmmaker David Feldman, with getting him to seek consistent treatment for his hemophilia. Once he started regularly going to the hemophilia treatment center in downtown Los Angeles, his life and health quickly improved. Gomez has such a close relationship with his primary physician, hematologist Doris Quon, MD, that he’s given her some of his paintings.

While most of Gomez’s work has not specifically addressed his hemophilia, it’s never far from his mind. “As an artist, what I’m trying to do is to create something that can serve as a record in some way, shape or form—even if it’s not direct—of my vision of what it is to live with a bleeding disorder.”


A Conversation Between Two Artists with Hemophilia

When artist Justin Levesque first learned about Ramiro Gomez, it wasn’t just Gomez’s artwork that caught his eye. The Portland, Maine-based co-founder of FOLX, an arts organization for people with bleeding disorders, was surprised and pleased to learn that, like himself, Gomez has hemophilia. The two recently connected to discuss art, hemophilia and where the two intersect.

 

Levesque:

Ramiro, I first came across your work in 2017 in an article that first appeared in The Guardian, and I was really stoked to see the work. And then after reading that you had hemophilia, I thought, “Holy God, that’s so freaking cool that someone with a bleeding disorder is in The Guardian for their artwork.”

 

Gomez:

Hemophilia is so much a part of my life as I’m going through the process of working on my art. There are times when I’m working in my studio and I’m making a painting and something happens, like I cut my finger with the box cutter, and I have to go home, put in the medication and come right back. That’s frustrating—and really, that’s where the hemophilia comes into my work.

 

Levesque:

There’s one piece you did, as part of the “Sorry for the Mess” exhibition in Las Vegas, where your hemophilia was very much on the surface. When I saw photos of that piece—the factor box, and a pair of cardboard crutches next to a soccer ball, and the rain clouds with raindrops that kind of look like drops of blood—I thought, “Wow, this is really powerful.” Were you nervous about bringing a piece so explicitly about your bleeding disorder into the conversation?

 

Gomez:

No, not at all. That exhibit was a collaboration between the artist Justin Favela and me about our childhood memories of life in Las Vegas. I would often travel there for soccer tournaments. For me, it was liberating to be able to include something about the challenge of being a child with a bleeding disorder.

 

Levesque:

I was particularly moved by those cardboard crutches. They really killed me. I think because I thought about our healthcare system and about how we have to navigate that in such a different way due to our bleeding disorders. I thought about the uselessness or the nonutility of those cardboard crutches and what it would mean to someone if they actually had to use them. It’s such a perfect metaphor for how folks have experiences with their health insurance.

 

Gomez:

It was the only piece in the show where I had complete liberty to bring it together, but it was also the most raw. At first, it didn’t really have the rain clouds, but I knew that part was going to be important because I wanted to convey a feeling of sadness rather than the lightness of childhood. A year before the exhibit opened, Justin and I were in Las Vegas for a research trip and I had a full-on bleed and had to cut my trip short and return to Los Angeles. And so Justin saw my struggle firsthand. And so when we started building the show together and I told him I wanted to make something about my hemophilia, he knew exactly why.