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Los Angeles artist brings immigrant labor into focus

Ramiro Gomez paints in a spare bedroom that he uses as a studio in his West Hollywood apartment.
Ramiro Gomez paints in a spare bedroom that he uses as a studio in his West Hollywood apartment.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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Inside his West Hollywood apartment, artist Ramiro Gomez paints freestyle on a large scrap of cardboard.

“I do like the fact that I’m not planning it out,” Gomez, 27, said. “I’m just literally going with it."

A life-sized image quickly emerges of a brown-skinned man with a mustache and shadows for eyes. 

This figure of a domestic worker is one of many Gomez has painted over the last several years — pool cleaners, nannies, the people who make many an affluent L.A. household hum.

“We look at them as just a worker but beyond that they have so much more to offer,” Gomez said. “They’re much more than a gardener. They have friends, families and loved ones.”

He added: “I’m trying to ask you look into them a little more.”

Gomez knows the subject. His parents are blue-collar Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. as teenagers. Mother Maria Elena is a school custodian, and his father, Ramiro Gomez, Sr., drives a truck for Costco.

A talented soccer player growing up in San Bernardino, Gomez thought he was headed for a career as a professional athlete. But given his affliction with the bleeding disorder hemophilia, he struggled with constant injuries and long recoveries.

He tried his hand at art school – he had always been talented – but it wasn’t the right fit, and he dropped out. In the same year, his beloved grandmother died. The confident, composed young man began to feel untethered.

“I wasn’t getting anything out of my life at that point,” Gomez said. “I was just so lost.”

His partner, a film editor, told him about a family in the Hollywood Hills that needed a live-in nanny for their baby twins. Gomez, who's always liked children and used to coach youth soccer, agreed to take the job. Little did he know it would change him as an artist.

KPCC's Josie Huang reports.