Virginia Jaramillo is a Mexican-American artist who is known for her bold abstract paintings, sculptured mixed-media works, and her innovative pulp paintings.
Jaramillo was born in Texas but grew up in East Los Angeles. She graduated from L.A.’s Manual Arts High School and attended Otis Art Institute in 1958. While still a student there, her work was exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Annual Exhibition. From 1959 to 1961 she showed her work with established California artists in annual exhibitions. She used the name ‘V Jaramillo’ to keep her gender unknown.
In the early 1960s, she was working in the Watts section of Los Angeles and made very large, 3 to 4 foot high, monochromatic paintings, punctuated by a different dense color. These grew out of Jaramillo’s family visits to the desert and cross-country drives with her African American artist husband Daniel LaRue Johnson (1938-2017) when she would look at the earth and see that, “It was all cracked.” Her paintings Terra Seca” 1963 and “Divide” 1964 reflect this vision of the landscape.
In the mid-1960s, Jaramillo’s husband won a Guggenheim fellowship which allowed the couple and their two children to move to Paris for a year. This year “changed my entire way of thinking.” She felt connected to Paris and Europe and in particular to Gothic architecture.
In the late 1960s, Jaramillo used the Japanese aesthetic called ‘ma’. ‘Ma’ was the harmony between line and space; the space within a space; the negative space around space. What she did with this aesthetic was to eliminate all unnecessary elements in her paintings. This led to her being left with only a line. This single line led to her “Line Paintings” or “Curvilinear Paintings,” which featured a single line – or two or three – against a monochrome background. Moving permanently to New York, her work evolved in response to her new environment and her new artistic community. In a studio on SoHo’s Spring street, she was reacting to the gestural nature of Abstract Expressionism by making paintings that were bold in scale, composition, and formal experimentation.
In the series that came next, her “Stained” paintings, Jaramillo used thin washes of oil paint as well as acrylics for her abstract art. The flatness of her paintings’ surfaces and the precision of curves demonstrated Jaramillo’s affinities with hard-edge abstraction and minimalism as seen in her “Tau Ceti” 1970. In 1972, her work was shown in the Whitney Museum of African Art’s annual show, the precursor to the Biennial.
In 1979, Jaramillo was co-editor of an issue of “Heresies,” a journal that looked at the experiences of women of color in the art world and in the mainstream Feminist Movement. That issue “Third World Women – The Politics of Being Other” featured her work “Visual Theorems #170,“ which came from her series “Visual Theorems.” The works from this series were made from natural linen fibers and earth pigments. Geometric lines, that were taped on paper-making molds, were used to draw multiple veils of colored pulp thrown onto the mould’s surfaces as layers of color were added to the underlying geometry. Paintings from this series as well as other large-scale paintings were shown in the group exhibition “Women Artists in the 80s: New Talent” at New York’s A.I.R. Gallery in 1984.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s Jaramillo moved away from painting and worked on handmade paper and linoleum compositions. She made paper by hand, fixing strands of linen with pigment to make clocklike shapes that she would press together into a sheet.
In the late 1990s Jaramillo returned to painting. In 2011, her work was included in “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980,” previously on view at the Hammer Museum in 2011. She has had major exhibitions in 2017 at the Brooklyn Museum and Tate Modern, London. Her work was also recently shown in a group show at the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles. Currently there is an exhibition of her work – her first solo museum show – at Houston’s Menil Collection, “Virginia Jaramillo: The Curvilinear Paintings, 1969-1974,” on view until July 3, 2021. She will have a retrospective at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 2, 2023
Her work is in the permanent collections of Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City.