Ideal forms open to the senses: the painting of Pedro Diego Alvarado.

by Jose Manual Springer
Translation: Andrew Kline

Frank, passionate, visionary, the painting of Pedro Diego Alvarado is an island in the sea of artistic images. The objects he chooses to represent are common and the form in which he works is conventionally realistic, far removed from any notion of the vanguard. Before criticizing it or falling into the mode of facile praise, it is important to discern how his treatment of form is essential to his artistic proposal, which is to say that painting itself is the question at hand and fruit--or nature--are but a pretext, just as it was more than a century ago for Paul Cezanne.

Limas, 2003, óleo/lino 90 x 90 cmIt is difficult t separate painting for what has been painted. How can one fix upon the essence of representation without losing sight of the result?

In conversations with the artist, one realizes that the passion he feels for art derives more from form than the themes he paints. His love of art is Platonic: for Pedro Diego, form, color, light are more acutely present than the nopal cactuses, the agaves and stones.

The works of Pedro Diego Alvarado make us think about the essential function of painting within the historical context of XX century painting: the flight from figurative art, the appearance of the concrete versus pictorial illusion and the reduction of reality to pure form are compelling problems still--far from being exhausted--and are constantly reconsidered through painting. The work of Pedro Diego Alvarado is concerned with the materialization of form. How is this so?

It is obvious that his work is realistic, that it appeals to a Kant's notion of beauty in nature. It is also evident that his compositions are produced through direct sketchings and photos, framing gestalts and a recurrent selection of forms. What is not so obvious at first glance is that within each image there is an obsessive desire to fix the manner in which color is produced in our eyes. This is the work-a-day obsession of the painter and it is, in my view, what is most interesting his art.

I came to this conclusion when Pedro Diego described to me the process through which he creates his paintings: three stages consisting of his construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of his visual realm. Paint, efface and paint anew to create a way (a form) of seeing.

How we see, what we see, what we remember what we see and what we know from what we see are reflections that arise from an artist's work. The compositional hermeticism (as in Limas, Mazorcas and Tunas) facilitates the job of investigation, because content is not the dominant axis of reflection. Once the eye falls upon the image, consciousness, observation--the connection between sight and the mind's memory and judgment, follows. Herein lies the mystery of pictorial vision. Pedro Diego's artistic proposal moves in this land between vision and memory.

A ray of light, a highlight, a contour line of a piece of fruit superimposed on the dark background--red that explodes in the grains of an open pomegranate, blue-greens surfaces of the cactus--repeated in myriad hues, allow us to smell the color, discern the sound of form, intuit the time of day from the light that illuminates a palm tree.

This happens because of the intensity with which the painter has carried out his office. Upon receiving his light, we perceive its color as a manifestation independent from the object, like a luminous shaft between the fruit's peel to the retina. Without the honed eye of the artist, the painting would fail to vibrate, a pale reflection of the world.

Daturas Horizontales, 2003, óleo/lino 81 x 130 cmThese painting animate the world, ordering it for us to see. They clean our vision, rendering the world's forms diaphanous. Accessories are striped away, leaving behind the pure immanence of color and form. And it is here that Alvarado's painting links up with the history of visual form.

Transparent form vs. opaqueness of content.

History tells us that Plato taught his student that form exists in and of itself, crystalline and perfectly alien to this world, a world view he learned from Egyptian priests in Heliopolis and which continues to attract adherents, not the least of which is art critic Clement Greenberg, an early defender of American abstract painting.

After scrutinizing Plato's ideas for twenty years, Aristotle was unconvinced: if form is crystalline and without a referent, then is must be invisible, despite the fact that it can be "seen" in the mind's eye. Aristotle's rejection of Plato's idealism led him to have his students classify cabbages in the vegetable patch. For Aristotle there could be no such thing as an abstract head of cabbage: differences existed and these can be perceived and classified. Cabbages had to have a form that made them individual and another that made them recognizable.

Through Alvarado's painting, we can see the Aristotelian theory at work: the agave cactus's form on the horizon is reduced to a purple cross (a general abstract form), that later is embodied in the sharp contours of leaves and blue-greens that--through the illusion of perspective--approach the eye: there is no form without content, nor content without form.

A piece of fruit of itself encloses a mystery and a painting of the same allows what is memorable to control what we see and register. In a list of visible things that he would take to his grave, Woody Allen wrote he would take the apples from Cezanne's paintings. I would keep Pedro Diego's nopal cactuses.

We constantly project memories onto what we see, making it more noble and acute in our minds. Few things are remembered with more affection than those that appear picturesque or movie-like (The common exclamation, "It's like a postcard!" evidences this tendency). Images are a medium of evocation and those who paint from passion know it.

Piña, calabaza y melones, 2002, óleo sobre lino 60 x 92 cmsThe paintings of Alvarado are part of a collective process to recreate the visible world. They are intimate in so far as they connect with our experience of the world, leaving an imprint of sensation in our consciousness.

After years of practicing his trade, the painter realizes one day that he has painted only one painting, a single image: the ideal form that speaks for itself. When he reaches this epiphany, the painted image becomes a remedy, a consolation before the absence that is death: It means that the body of painted images have fused into a single vision.

The paintings in this show are the tracks Pedro Diego leaves for us to follow. There are those who will see not only correctly represented fruit, but also ideal forms that our senses can access and, moreover, synthesize into a reconciliation of realities.

José Manuel Springer

November 2003

Salomon Grimberg
José Manuel Springer
Luz Sepúlveda
Gilles A. Tiberghien
A Detail and an All
Victor M. Mendiola
Miguel Fabruccini
Silvya Navarrete
Raquel Tibol
Miguel A. Muñoz
Olivier Debroise