Early this afternoon, the artist Ramiro Gomez was sprawled out on a hunk of cardboard on the cement floor of the Miami Beach Convention Center surrounded by a few paintbrushes. He was in the Art Basel Miami Beach booth of his New York gallery, P.P.O.W., next to one of his own paintings, and as collectors and other art types passed through examining the art on view, perhaps mulling purchases, he was making some new pieces. Or at least he was trying to make some new pieces. Intrigued by the sight of an artist working inside the frenetic fair, people kept coming up to him and saying hello. Just as one visitor departed, I did the same.
“I’ve spent a few days during the set-up of the fair observing the labor happening, everything from the truck drivers to the installers to the delivery people to the lighting to the custodial—especially the custodial for me, as my mother is a janitor,” Gomez told me, patiently. “My father is a truck driver, so this labor is not something I’m thinking of abstractly. I’m thinking of it as current, I’m thinking of it in motion.” He has been meeting with the workers on site and painting them on slices of cardboard, giving the finished pieces to them for a project he calls “Just for You.”
“Things are happening, things are moving, there’s workers here for me to spotlight,” Gomez continued, as he showed me one of a white-haired woman in a green T-shirt and black Nikes using a large mop. (His painting on the wall next to him shows women caring for children in the lush environs of Madison Square Park in Manhattan.)
Gomez was planning to make his portraits “throughout the entire fair, off and on,” he said. He has been using his makeshift floor as a palette, and it was daubed with paint. Working inside a booth is “something not very common in the art-fair circuit,” he allowed. “That’s why I’m doing it. I’m thinking of it in the context of this time period, of migration, of challenges socially and economically to people. And what better message to send out than this small kind of appreciation to something that feels so important?” A pause. “Small but important.”