In the 1960s, Albert Contreras made a name for himself as a painter. After graduating from Hollywood High and serving in the Coast Guard, he used the GI Bill to take a year of painting and ceramics classes at Los Angeles City College.
He lived in Stockholm from 1960 to 1969, and became a highly regarded artist. He had five solo shows. Collectors bought his austere, often single-color paintings. And curators from such prestigious institutions as the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art, the Malmo Konsthall and the Goteborgs Konstmuseum secured his works for their permanent collections.
Then, in 1972, Contreras stopped painting. “I was paintings like a lot of Minimalists at the end of the 60s: reductive,” said Contreres. “We wanted to finish off painting. I painted myself to where I wanted to disappear. And I succeeded! I had come to the end of the line, and it was all over. There was no use for me to paint anymore.”
So after moving back to Los Angeles (by way of New York), he shut down his studio and went to work for Santa Monica. For the next 20 years, he was a full-time employee, driving garbage trucks, operating heavy equipment and working as a crewman on a front-end skip loader, resurfacing asphalt streets.
After retiring in 1992, Contreras spent five years in therapy. In 1997, he was done with that and went back to painting. “I don’t know exactly how I took up painting again. One day I said, ‘You know, I think I can paint again.’ I picked up exactly where I had left off, making monochrome paintings with little gestures in them. The first paintings I made were nearly 30 years late.”
Acrylic gel on panel, 2010
36 x 36 inches
Gift of Peter Mendenhall