Esteban Ramón Pérez combines the remnants of an American flag with leather—a staple material choice within his practice as the son of an upholstery shop owner—with boxing glove cotton interior, silk, acrylic, and wood to construct an abstract language that both reveals and conceals personal and cultural signifiers. His painting titled Star Spangled (2019), establishes a language that maneuvers and pivots according to the viewers' ability to read and decipher certain materials and processes that he incorporates into the work. Even before he stitches and fuses his materials into a singular entity, he sketches and maps out the leather body—methodically laying out every stitch and point of connection. Ramón Pérez creates a navigational map for how the body of his work is to be composed and subsequently read.
The American flag is one of the most widely recognizable symbols globally and is ubiquitous with Americanism or American patriotism. Ramón Pérez questions and references the complications of Americanism and offers the cultural codes and signifiers from his subjectivity and distinct material choices as a response. He uses remnants of the heavily infused patriotic emblem of the flag to deface and reconstruct the object and its symbolism into a patchwork composition of disjointed and fragmented scenes that perhaps alludes to the socio-political reality of 2019 in the United States, where impeachment and immigration were pervasive issues.
Ramón Pérez follows a long line of artists who critically analyze the same emblem and the question of “What does it mean to be American?” His sculpted painting recalls the flag works of Jasper Johns and David Hammons but in differing ways and with different connections. John’s Flag (1955) functioned as a conceptual tool to question what a painting is and how it differentiates itself from the object it represents, which aligns with Ramón Pérez’s work that also contemplates the nature of painting. However, Star Spangled engages more closely with Hammons’ African American Flag (1990) in the ways Hammons discusses the complexity of being othered (specifically being Black) in the United States. In a similar line of thinking, Ramón Pérez synthesizes the American flag with his personal and cultural subjectivity. His intentional choice of materials, particularly leather scraps sourced from his father’s shop, fuses the resourcefulness of being Xicano into his reinterpretation of the American flag, while also highlighting the fragmentation that occurs when existing as a Brown person in America.
Artist texts by Marissa Del Toro
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Esteban Ramón Pérez (b. 1989, Los Angeles, CA) received his BFA in Art from the California Institute of the Arts, and his MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University School of Art. Pérez lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Pérez’ practice utilizes his experience as a professional upholsterer and intertwines cultural and artistic sensibilities of his Chicano heritage with the visual language of postmodernism as well as issues rooted in postcolonial history. His work embodies facets of art histories, subjectivity, spirituality, and social issues.