Douglas Alvarez and the Art of Illusion
You want to eat it, don’t you? Well, gluttons: refrain. For what look like glistening, glazed doughnuts and savory spaghetti are in fact artworks so lifelike they’ve earned Douglas Alvarez a spot in the “Masters of Illusion” group show at bG Gallery at Bergamot Station starting July 19th.
The Los Angeles native sat down with Nepotism to talk about hidden messages in food, his upcoming solo show, Pretty Pollution, and why it’s so exciting to be an artist in Los Angeles.
You were born and raised in L.A. and the city heavily informs your work. Why is it exciting to be a painter/mixed media artist in L.A., right now?
L.A. is exciting because my inspiration can appear from any street corner, through any alley. Neglected sidewalks, weeds, urban wildlife, contrails present an endless supply of ideas. It’s unnecessary to plunge too deeply into my imagination to find subject matter. Everyday facets of this city may not be very interesting to all Angelenos but that’s where I find beauty. One day the city may offer a surviving 70’s strip mall with textured walls and vintage signage. Is it an eyesore? Not to me. I see a monument. My excitement mounts as I rush to the studio to spend countless hours recreating what I documented with a camera. My inspiration can manifest as a painting or an interactive installation. I truly feel like tourist in my city.
Comfort foods, idyllic settings, dreamy colors, or all three (as in the painting of the ice cream truck) feature prominently in your work. The composition of comfort food provides physical comfort, but also comfort by way of the association, usually, with cozy, homey memories. All of this is evocative of escaping. How does nostalgia and its subsequent emotion escape(ism) feature in your work?
A few years ago, I had a solo show called Comfort Food. The reasoning behind that show was an acceptance to a physical intolerance to many childhood treats like donuts and ice cream. Today these foods represent something far different. For the audience, memories naturally attach to food. I love to see the audience respond to a delicious sculpture but my work does not always offer escapism. A cupcake brings instant joy and a temptation to over indulge in that joy. I might add text above the image, tossing a different perspective to food, challenging escapism. For instance, above a delicious painting of a chocolate cupcake, I wrote hooked. Now it represents something a little less nostalgic and possibly something challenging like an addiction.
Some of your food sculptures look very real. Apart from this, how does your work fall under the description of illusion?
When food inspires me to make art, I don’t take a visually impressionistic approach with the subject. The sculpture must look real to generate the illusion of taste. When the viewer reaches an instinctive desire to eat the art, I have achieved my goal. Sometimes I can even fool nature, especially when gnats and flies start hovering above the art in my studio.
Has anyone tried to eat your imitation donuts and cakes and things? Would ingesting the art materials be any less healthy than ingesting the real thing?
Yes, sometimes people mimic eating the art for a photo opportunity. I keep warning them about the poisonous ingredients. Whether junk food is any less healthy remains debatable.
You have a solo show coming up at BG gallery on October 11, 2014, called Pretty Pollution, which features work that finds beauty in the decaying parts of the city. From your perspective, what other elements of L.A., besides the physical, are decaying? Is this good or bad?
Wow! That is a very encompassing question. Where do I start without getting political and long-winded? In this city, I can easily detect economic decay. The cost of living is increasing at a rate that’s faster than what’s offered by an average working wage. People are struggling to find housing in spite of a city rife with new luxury apartments. Human communication/interaction decay is also prevalent and technology is one direct cause. In L.A., most of our daily interaction with strangers involves a freeway. When we’re not driving, communication devices now occupy our attention. There’s little need to acknowledge strangers walking down a street or waiting in line for coffee. I’m old enough to compare decades and a significant shift happened but I can’t answer if this decay is good or bad. Noting is absolute, however, that does not prevent suffering and that can be real bad for an individual. Collectively, L.A. is changing and what I can do is visually document this evolution and endeavor to find beauty in unlikely places.
What else would you like the audience to know and understand about your work?
I hope the audience will see their own surrounds with an added appreciation. Beauty exists everywhere and it’s not by simply admiring what’s obvious like flowers or a sunset. Stunning compositions and hues can appear in a weathered telephone pole, a slice of pizza, a pigeon, or discarded furniture. Why wait for the next opportunity to travel for inspiration? Take time to be observant in your own city, and I guarantee you will feel like a tourist.