If Goya’s The Disasters of War impregnated the Garbage Pail Kids, Albert Alvarez’s “La Chamba/Dirty Work” would be their child.
Thirty-four drawings from the last several years span the walls of the Bihl Haus Arts Gallery. They are elaborate, chimeric meltdowns; traces of an imagination in the dark. In 2012’s Mosh Pit, a large head in the bottom of the composition splits open. He is the dark sage to a violent delirium. He has given birth to the swarm of aggressive offspring that circle him in a panopticon of visceral disasters, both beautiful and tragic.
Alvarez’s main concern seems that our hedonism has gone totally mad. His figures are sacks of flesh, bones and blood, with little respite or response. Their expressions are both exaggerated and vacant, like the central figure in The Dead Will Rise, also from 2012. His insides are being devoured. His face shows torment, yet there is a superseding and even more profound hollowness.
Alvarez’s process appears to incorporate elements of an automatic drawing technique: one eye leads to a portrait, this face gives way to another character, then the artist’s hand moves to draw a half-eaten pizza. Like word associations, he transforms his lines into a demon holding a fork that pierces a row of sausages that chokes a man, who lies on the ground like a fallen tree. In The Illusions of the Stomach, all the figures writhe in the aftermath of their particular oblivion.
The drawings are constructed horror vacui (fear of the empty), with obsessively hatched lines and marks and only a hint of the white paper beneath. Perhaps this hint is the lightness of the world, its necessary counterpose, its exhale. It is the thing that lifts off the ground when self-indulgence is left to devour itself from the inside out.
In Alien Abduction, people again have become the willing prey of the occult. Probing, inspecting, impregnating and biologically testing, the unearthly creatures have easily taken over the empty bodies of their subjects. I read the drawings like hieroglyphs from the future: a reflection of what might happen. Each figure is a different actor in Alvarez’s allegory, a different misstep, a grand blunder, moving one inch closer to an irreconcilable social tragedy.
I often have nightmares, but not like these. Alvarez anthropomorphizes our primal fears, gives them bodies, eyes and titles. Perhaps this is our confrontation with what we might become, and in seeing the portraits, we are more aware of the choice to become other, to resist the event horizon of moral disaster. The paper is the membrane onto which all of this pours, providing Alvarez a surface on which he constructs his 21st-century ruins.
Albert Alvarez: La Chamba/Dirty Work
Bihl Haus Arts
Through May 3