Ahead of His Time: The Life and Art of Ramón Contreras

About the Exhibition

Ahead of His Time: The Life and Art of Ramón Contreras will feature five exclusive works of art and a large-scale mural by artist Ramón Contreras. The story of Ramón Contreras is one of boundless talent, unrealized potential, and a life and career cut short by tragedy.

Born in Zacapu, Mexico in 1917, Contreras moved to San Bernardino with his family in 1920. According to family members, Ramón had a passion for art and drawing at a young age, and he aspired to be a mural artist. During his time at San Bernardino High School, he was recognized as an extremely gifted student by members of the faculty. Upon graduating, he attended the Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles on a two-year scholarship.

Though he left Mexico at a young age, Mexican life is a central theme of Contreras’ work. Ramón stated that he painted scenes from the many vivid stories that his parents told him about Mexico. Contreras painted during the Mexican Muralist movement which developed from the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, bolstering cultural pride and nationalism. This style highlighted both everyday life in Mexico and the country’s pre-colonial history.

Contreras ranked highly in most art competitions he entered, and his work entered into acclaimed programs like National Higgins Ink Drawing Contest with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In fact, during the San Francisco International Exposition, he was the youngest artist ever invited to attend. Contreras‘ work was also displayed at several notable art galleries such as Laguna Beach Art Gallery and Barker Bros. in Los Angeles. In addition, Contreras had several notable contemporaries that he worked alongside, including prominent artist Diego Rivera, who Ramón met on his homecoming trip to Mexico in 1937.

In 1940, Contreras’ life was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer, passing away at the age of 23 in his family’s home in San Bernardino. His immense potential coupled with his untimely death leaves us wondering about the potential of his career if he had reached adulthood. Perhaps his work would have been discussed alongside other great artists of the Mexican Muralist tradition, or perhaps he would have spent more time in printmaking and illustration. Despite these unanswered questions, we invite you to celebrate the life of Ramón Contreras, to explore his incredible work and legacy, and to share his story.