The Date Farmers

by Gabrielle Wooden

Milk and Honey
In 1998, while everyone was celebrating the Jackson Pollock Retrospective opening at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez—two Mexican-American artists from Coachella Valley—were collecting scrap metal and building an aesthetic vision that would come to represent the duo’s distinct collaborative identity known as The Date Farmers. Self-proclaimed storytellers, Lerma and Ramirez share the visual narratives of their upbringing and experiences through paintings, installations, murals, and sculpture. Their artwork reveals colorful expositions of Mexican-featured caricatures against a backdrop of religious iconography and corporate logos, creating an echoing polarity between traditionalism and urbanism. It’s a quality that seems to be inherently Californian, and even more intrinsically Indio (Indian in Spanish), a city residing in the now infamous Coachella Valley. Being Mexican-Americans—there is no eschewing the Catholic influence: the Messiah unhidden in the recycled artwork and graphic stories, sui generis objets d’art filtered through rust, agape, struggle, and the hybridization of mestizos in the land of gold.

How do you both integrate your individual creative aesthetics into each installation? We have been working together since 1998 and have developed a style together. We come from very similar backgrounds and have many shared experiences that have shaped our approach to artmaking. At this point I don’t believe there is a personal aesthetic, but rather a shared one that we continue to build upon.

You seem to gravitate towards scrap or corrugated metal—what about recycled material influences your art? Using recycled materials works for us on many levels. On the most basic level it is the rejection of the art establishment and everything we were taught about art growing up (oil on canvas). Recycled materials are the alternative to expensive art materials. They allow us to be creative which is the most important aspect to our art.

What is your connection to religious iconography? The art we were most familiar with growing up was the art of the Roman Catholic Church—both of our families being very religious, very Catholic. So naturally it found its way into the art. The art we create is based on our experience, and religion is a major part of that experience.

The small-headed, box-bodied caricature in your 2011 Windwood Walls project seems to be a trademark in your work. What’s his significance? The characters that we create are variations of characters we grew up with and still see around. They are family members, friends, enemies, and loved ones. They reflect feelings of alienation, redemption, love, hope, forgiveness, and basic instincts. We are storytellers.

Has your creative process changed over the years? Over the years we have developed as artists and storytellers and strive to continue to grow, yet the creative process is basically the same. It is time spent alone—working and reworking—and I don’t think it’s ever going to change.

What do you draw inspiration from? Inspiration comes from anger but it also comes from love and everything in between. The teachers lied to us in school, the history books deceived us, and they continue the lie.

What are you currently working on? How do you feel about it? We are currently working on a mural project called The Coachella Walls. We have invited artists to come to Coachella to paint murals in the historic downtown area. The launching of the project [will] coincide with the Coachella Music Festival. Participating artists include: Albert Reyes (Los Angeles), El Mac (Los Angeles), Nunca (Brazil), Saner (Mexico), and Liqen (Spain). We are also working on a show that will open this summer at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills. We feel honored to do this work, as well as obligated. Coachella and Beverly Hills: The top and the bottom, and we are not too sure which is which.