Oriana Castelló

Pedro Diego Alvarado. The Craft of Being a Painter.

The skeleton of an artist’s creative process is better displayed when we can appreciate their unfinished work; when we can understand how the mind, the hand and the eye of a painter work together to create art work that we later see hanging on gallery walls.

Pedro Diego Alvarado’s studio is no exception to the rule. There is an unfinished, unnamed painting of some pineapples on the floor; a first sketch of another painting, commissioned by a family, has been completed and is about to be sent for their approval; and, two long canvases show layers of color and the texturing processes that characterize his work.

The Painter’s Craft

Pedro Diego Alvarado is one of those painters who have not lost the taste or knowledge for the true meaning of the painter’s craft. He is aware that to become a painter requires time, especially when an artist seeks to develop his own language. “In the Renaissance, being a painter was like being a carpenter, it was a craft. You entered the master’s workshop first to sweep, then to grind pigments, then prepare surfaces… If you had the talent you became a helper or an official, and little by little you were trained as a master, until you reached a point where you could open your own workshop. That’s why painting evolved so much. Michael Angelo and Leonardo Da Vinci developed their own techniques and secrets. They all created their own schools, each with different characteristics. It was another type of arrangement.

Milpas secas con magueyes, 2010, óleo sobre lino 81 x 100 cmToday, it seems so simple to buy a white canvas, some colors and begin to paint; this does not imply a knowledge of the painter’s craft however. It’s not an easy process. A lot of time and study is required for a creator to develop his own language in painting. Another difficulty is that art represents the non-materialistic side of the human being; it’s a manifestation of the spirit, and these are not values that predominate at the beginning of the twenty-first century”, Pedro Diego explains.

A Craft’s Apprentice

Alvarado’s first interest was photography. However, one day, while studying at the Academia de San Carlos, "I found some drawings of the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who in the mid-seventies stopped taking photographs and took up drawing instead. His work left such a big impression on me that soon after I left for France”, he comments.

Once in Paris, at the school of Fine Arts, the Mexican painter was lucky enough to be able to show his work to the very same Cartier-Bresson. "I was close to this great artist that I admired so much and was able to follow his advise. I thought of staying in France for two months; instead, I stayed for two and half years and worked all the time with Henri as a reference. He was the one that told me to: “Quit school”. He introduced me to other artists who went to work at the Jardin des Plantes so that I could draw beside them, surrounded by greenhouses and a zoo. I was initiated this way, mostly into drawing."

Upon returning to Mexico, Pedro Diego began working at the studio of Ricardo Martínez, where he started a series of paintings of a corner in his workshop. This experience and Martinez’ “generosity and great knowledge of the craft”, as he calls it, were what brought him closer to oil painting.

Several years later he would work in the studio of Vlady who, as Alvarado explains, had a lot of experience in this same technique: “He has done a lot of research and discovered the different ways of painting, from the Renaissance through to the invention of commercial (paint) tubes. He gives structure to his paintings by working with layers of different materials and mixing his own colors with pigments. To structure and give shape to the work, he places a layer of tempera and then another of oil, and then, to cover any changes, he reinforces with a thick white opaque film (known as pentimento)…

Understanding this technique changes the appreciation of painters’ masterpieces. It’s wonderful to see a Greco, a Rembrandt or a Tiziano and to know how they did it. The eye can see the technical variations between one painter and another; it is a terrific key to approaching them”. Sandias, 2011, óleo/lino 120 X 180 cmHis experience in the workshop and knowledge of this Venetian Technique helped him as an artist to create the mural at the Amparo Museum in Puebla. The project took almost two years.

In 1994, he also worked as an assistant to Armando Morales in his London and Paris workshops. “It was a period of great learning. Morales works with oil tubes and applies two or three layers to the painting that is scraped. That was when I changed my technique again and learned to assimilate a new way of creating a painting”, states Alvarado.

His own artistic language

Today, Alvarado’s own artistic language is a mixture of techniques, some taken from the Renaissance and others from his experience and perception. "I decided that I wanted to experiment with the idea of mixing techniques. This fusion has become a complex learning process to assimilate the entire craft. I’ve discovered that it’s a liberating process and that it has allowed me to introduce specks and rays of light that add atmosphere to my paintings”, says Pedro Diego.

Mexican qualities, light and color are also characteristic elements of his work. “In Mexico we have extraordinary light … we live surrounded by very lively colors and that reality is necessarily reflected in my work. I am a Mexican painter, not only by birth but also because I live and work here. The great Mexican painters (Orozco, Rivera, Tamayo) reflected this light, the biodiversity, the fruits, the men and their cultures in their creations…
These are all very profound things and are a part of what it is to be Mexican”, he explains.

For seven years, Pedro Diego Alvarado formed a part of the National System of Artistic Creators. His paintings, natural and full of life, have been exhibited in Paris, New York and Mexico. However, the significance of being a painter for him is the same: “To know how to interpret a legacy of knowledge with rigor and discipline. It is like a musician: without the knowledge and practice of his instrument, he will never be able to interpret well”.

Paula Magazine.
July 2001

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