In the LA Times David Pagel reports that 76-year-old Santa Monica painter Albert Contreras has cobbled together an unusual two-part career — interrupted by years as a city truck driver — that has just come full circle. “In the 1960s, 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. Then he hit the road, taking language courses in Mexico and studying at the University of Madrid in Spain before settling in Stockholm.He ended up there on little more than a whim. Almost embarrassed by the simplicity of it, he says, ‘I went for the women. I fell in love with the blond, blue-eyed girls of Sweden.’
“Living there from 1960 to 1969, he 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 Malmö Konsthall and the Göteborgs Konstmuseum secured his works for their permanent collections. Then, in 1972, Contreras stopped painting. ‘Here is what happened,’ he says with the directness of someone who knows what he’s talking about. ‘I was painting like a lot of Minimalists at the end of the ’60s: reductive. 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.’
“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. Thoughts of painting may have been lurking in the back of his mind, but art no longer played a major role in his life….As an artist, Contreras is humble and unpretentious and not at all impressed with himself. He describes his lengthy hiatus from painting as if he were Rip Van Winkle, saying, ‘I fell asleep. And then I woke up 25 years later.’
“Dealer Peter Mendenhall made only one studio visit before deciding to represent Contreras and schedule a show. ‘Albert is singular,’ he says, ‘he is obsessive and eccentric in a good way and that comes through in his work. His paintings are an extension of him. I’ve never seen anything like them.'” Read more.