Artist: Robert Nehemiah & Elmer Guevara
Media: Paint, Wood, Cardboard, Metal
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Gatov Gallery West
Instagram: Robert- @wookieewarrior Elmer- @3lmski
About the Artists
Both Robert and Elmer are studying figure portraits and are working towards their Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Drawing and Painting. Both artists originally began their education at a smaller community college and ended up transferring to California State University Long Beach. Nehemiah grew up surrounded by art, specifically drawing and writing music. It had always been a passion of his but he became stuck in the notion of getting a job out of high school and decided to pursue a career of firefighting instead. After realizing it wasn’t his true passion, he made the choice to study fine arts full time. In his paintings, Nehemiah mainly focuses on exploring his own philosophy of materialism and his detachment from it. Guevara has also grown up surrounded by art and knew he wanted to be an artist since he was pretty young. He grew up in Los Angeles and was heavily influenced by the graffiti around him. His admiration for street art evolved more into paintings as he grew up. Both Nehemiah and Guevara base their projects on people they know or meet. Nehemiah painted a lot of people he was close with including his mother, grandmother, and a friend. He also did a self portrait. Guevara’s paintings were mainly based off people he met on the streets of LA and recruited to be the subject of his art. Many of them were homeless and living off the streets.
For their exhibit, “Immaterial,” the artists alternated their paintings throughout the gallery and used paint as their medium. Although both artists used various people as their subjects, Guevara’s approach was more contemporary and abstract while Nehemiah’s approach was more traditional. In his large paintings, Guevara held an interview with his subject and took photos of the experience to later use for the painting. After getting to know the subject, he incorporated many abstract pieces around the painting to resemble their characteristics. Opposite of Guevara’s work, Nehemiah’s paintings were very traditional, displaying a very formal portrait with a plain background. The only piece that did not follow this trend was his own self portrait. Granting it was very similar to the rest, the background was different in the fact that it was decorated with graffiti. Even though Guevara’s paintings were very abstract, he painted on large, rectangle canvases. On the other hand, Nehemiah’s paintings were very traditional but were done on smaller pieces of wood, metal, and cardboard that were cut or ripped in a jagged fashion.
Robert Nehemiah and Elmer Guevara originally decided to showcase a joint exhibition after finding so many similarities in their artwork and use of figure portraits. Both of them discussed how they attempt to explore the many things that are overlooked in our society. Their portraits dive into the personalities and meaning behind the subjects. Guevara uses a lot of homeless people living on the streets of LA as his main focus. Many of these people are overlooked when we simply drive past them every day. Through his interview, he really captured the true characteristics and beauty of the people he met. His painting titled “Greg” was based off of a man he had met in LA. While interviewing him, Guevara noticed Greg was a very antsy individual. He used this information in the portrait to express movement around his environment. Greg is shown as a blurry, distorted image with many elements surrounding him. One thing that stood out was a violin tucked into his shirt that Guevara went on to explain as a symbol of the subject’s background as a musician. While Guevara went out to meet new people for his art, Nehemiah focused on closer relationships of people who have influenced his life and helped him be where he is today. When beginning a new project, he sees the process as an exploration between subject and material. A painting of his that really caught my attention was the one titled, “Portrait of a Grandmother.” Throughout his process of painting his grandmother, Nehemiah settled on using ripped cardboard for the background. He had trouble with the paint absorbing into the cardboard and used many layers of paint in order to make it stick. Although this was likely unintentional, I believe it really represents the wisdom of his grandmother. At an older age then her grandson, she has been through so much more and has greater wisdom and layers of her life. Nehemiah discussed how the process quickly turned emotional for him. He ended up finding a correlation between the cardboard material and his grandmother: both are very fragile and won’t last for too much longer. Throughout this experience, he realized people are just as temporary as the materials he uses.
Personally, I really enjoyed hearing about Nehemiah and Guevara’s work. I think it really makes a different when observing art to actually hear about the inspiration of the artist and why they made their art the way it is. I was really drawn to the portraits of both artists and getting a glimpse of who the subject is. One of my favorites was the portrait of Nehemiah’s grandmother. You could just sense a feeling of wisdom and old age through the way he portrayed the image on cardboard. I found it fascinating to learn about the different materials used and how they correlated with the chosen subject. When choosing a subject, Nehemiah chose a different material to represent them. Each one had a jagged outline with I found more personal. It was almost like a glimpse into their lives. I also admired how Guevara met new people for his artwork. I think it’s really awesome to go out and make connections with people you normal wouldn’t interact with. It’s even more amazing that he turned it into such a personal work of art.