Virginia Jaramillo (b. 1939, El Paso, Texas) studied at Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, from 1958–61. Jaramillo lives and works in New York.
Born in El Paso, Texas, Jaramillo spent her formative years in California before moving to Europe and settling in New York City in late 1960s. Central to a career spanning six decades is Jaramillo’s drive to express materially our sensory perceptions of space and time in what she describes as 'an aesthetic investigation which seeks to translate into visual terms the mental structural patterns we all superimpose on our world.' Whether creating bold abstract paintings, sculptural mixed media compositions or meticulously formed handmade paper works, Jaramillo has forged a unique voice, experimenting with material and process to pursue her ongoing explorations of human perception of reality.
Taking their inspiration from Jaramillo’s rich and varied experiences and influences, the intensely worked textures, colours and forms which shape Jaramillo’s paintings emerge from sources that span history and cross cultures. These include contemporary fields such as science fiction and modernist industrial design (during high school, Jaramillo and a selected group of other students would make weekly visits to the celebrated designer Charles Eames’s studio) as well as Celtic and Greek mythologies, pre-Hispanic and non-Western systems of spatial organisation, and classical and sacred geometry. Each of these sources represents structures, conceived by individuals and societies, in order to organise our sensed experiences of the physical, spiritual and mental worlds. Underlying Jaramillo’s works is a powerful sense of geometry, an understanding of space and surface and the organisation of the world around us. This geometry is combined with a strong aesthetic engagement with material. Throughout her career, Jaramillo has relentlessly innovated with new processes: manipulating found materials, experimenting with earth pigments, creating texture and depth in the painted surface.
Jaramillo began working in Watts, Los Angeles, where until the mid 1960s she was immersed in the growing artistic community of the West Coast. Presented under the gender-neutral name 'V. Jaramillo', the artist’s early large-scale canvases received immediate critical acclaim and a wide audience when they were accepted into the prestigious annual exhibition of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for three successive years (1959–61). During this period, the painful events of the Civil Rights Movement and heightening social and racial tensions can be powerfully felt in the darkened palette, division of space and textural contrasts of Jaramillo’s paintings.
Following the 1965 riots in Watts, Jaramillo and her family relocated to New York City (following a year spent in Europe), where she became immediately involved in the burgeoning and dynamic arts scene. Her work evolved in response to this new environment of bold creative experimentation, particularly in the field of abstraction, and began drawing the attention of other artists, critics and curators. Her early 1970s ‘curvilinear' abstractions, vivid painted colour fields cut through by precise lines of colour that curve and intersect, were selected for inclusion in the 1972 Whitney Annual and the now-famous 1971 DeLuxe Show in Houston. The DeLuxe Show was one of the first racially integrated exhibitions in the United States supported by the Menil family, also including artists such as Sam Gilliam, Al Loving, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. As Jaramillo’s work has continued to evolve, she has been involved in numerous other significant, politically-engaged exhibitions and projects, contributing to the legendary feminist journal Heresies (she was on the editorial collective for the 1979 issue ‘Third World Women: the politics of being other’, and contributed visual work to this and a 1982 issue of the publication) and participating in a 1984 exhibition at the all-female A.I.R. Gallery in New York.
Jaramillo's work was featured in Tate Modern's blockbuster exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, London, UK (2017); which subsequently toured to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, AR, USA; Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; and the Broad, CA, USA; de Young museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA, USA; and The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX, USA (2018-2020). In 2017, Jaramillo exhibited in We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85 at Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; which toured to Californian African American Museum, CA, USA; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, NY, USA; and Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, MA, USA (2018). In 2021 Jaramillo was included in the touring exhibition Women in Abstraction at Centre Pompidou, Paris, France and Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain. The first major retrospective exhibition of Jaramillo's work, Virginia Jaramillo: Principles of Equivalence, opens at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art on 1 June 2023.
Jaramillo’s work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions at prestigious institutions, including the El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY, USA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art Annual, CA, USA (1959 & 1961); Los Primeros Cinco Afios, The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA, USA (1980); Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, USA (2011); MoMA PS1, NY, USA (2012); Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA, USA (2013); Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, the Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA (2014); Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire (2014); Blanton Museum of Art, TX, USA (2015); Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD, USA (2019); Going Global: Abstract Art at Mid-Century, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA, USA (2022); Modern and Contemporary at the Menil, The Menil Collection, TX, USA (2022) and Sensory Poetics: Collecting Abstraction, Guggenheim Museum, NY, USA (2022), among others.
Selected public collections include the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Guggenheim Museum, NY; Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, AR; Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Mexican Museum, CA; Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, CT; Dallas Museum of Art, TX; El Paso Museum of Art, TX; Kemper Museum, MO; Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, KS; The Menil Collection, Houston, TX; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; the Peréz Art Museum, Miami, FL; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, all in the USA; and Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico, among others.