Words by Megan Martin
In junior high there were these handball courts. They were in the very back of the play yard, past the field where we ran the mile and beyond the locker rooms where we discovered our insecurities. The handball courts were about 20 feet high and divided up into three sections on both sides. For a teenager looking to escape the penalties of rebellion, it was the most seclusion you could ask for.
Needless to say, these handball courts became synonymous with all the best things about junior high: smoking joints, making out, ditching class to hang out with friends and have a laugh at an unfortunate teacher’s expense. The walls were graffitied with adolescent gossip: scribble, rumors, phone numbers, stickers and drawings. Maybe it’s the southern California upbringing or the cholos in their Dickies and Nike Cortez’s who also spent their days hanging around the courts, but The Date Farmers—a creative collaboration between Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez—and their artwork bring me right back to that time.
Their exhibit, The Crying Playboy, at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea which ended on May 16, is a beautiful montage of memories, culture, politics, and good times. With a mixture of found objects, like unrolled cans of flammable gel and Cracker Jack boxes used as a raw canvas for paints and sketches, they bring you home to their barrio.
The walls are also part of the installation process. The Date Farmers around each city and find memorabilia and scraps, to add to their collection. At Jonathan Levine, they painted the walls a bright yellow, pink and lime green. They scribbled notes and pasted nude-y pictures from an old Playboy they found on the streets of Manhattan, creating their own fortress of memory.
“We began the installation process by picking some colors for the walls and then arranging the artwork so that it filled the space,” the Date Farmers wrote in an email, “After playing with the arrangement of art and finding something we liked we started to mark the walls with stickers, markers, pencils, spray paint.”
The pieces discuss environmental issues as well as political ones, utilizing re-usable materials to create something beautiful out of something thrown away. A series titled Playboy includes the iconic bunny symbol underneath other animals: from the peacock to the unicorn to the ravenous jungle cat. One of the largest pieces in the exhibit called Time Machine, spans the wall as well as decades in time. Covered in painted poker chips and pieces of old comic books, images of Jesus and ladies in sombreros, and a note that reads:
‘Religion is some times a joke religious people and churches are arigent mulipitive and single minded, They say one thing and do another…’
In other pieces, men stand side by side, shirtless in high-waisted khakis and wife beaters. Knives and weaponry are as prevalent as Latin and American pop culture symbols. Nike, Ritz, Nestle, Superman comic strips and pictures of pretty ladies. Class struggle is also a reoccurring theme, as is violence and religious freedom. It’s a rather epic example of art imitating life, hard work aligns with play.
The artists themselves, have their own interesting background. Armando Lerma’s father owned a date farm in Coachella Valley, near Indio, CA, and Carlos Ramirez worked on the farm. The two met at an art gallery in the area. Their differing backgrounds bring a deeper meaning to the art work, as does their similarities. Carlos’ mother was a migrant who worked with Cesar Chavez during the grape boycott of the 1970s. Armando’s father left the migrant life to raise a family, and both of his parents worked extremely hard to ensure that he and his brother received an education and comfortable life.
“We have too many experiences of class struggle. We are class struggle. Ever since we were kids we have recognized something really unfair going on in this country – not much has changed. As kids it was hard to understand. We chose to create art that reflects class struggle – a history of struggle that went beyond the history we were forced to believe as kids. We now know the other side of the story and what a beautiful story it is.”