Several years have passed since Pedro Diego Alvarado last presented his work to the public. This was back in 1995 at the Galería de Arte Mexicano, around the same time when the painter, for several personal and work-related reasons, determined to fly with his own wings. My friendship with Pedro Diego goes back to the moment when he decided, not without some qualm, to promote himself and to organize abroad a retrospective exhibition of his work. This experience gave me the chance to visit his studio on several occasions, to learn about his painting and observe how he works.
Pedro Diego Alvarado’s art is very pleasurable. However, in times like these, this might be considered counterproductive. His still lifes are most certainly decorative, to the degree that they might be considered a provocation. Who, nowadays, dares to dedicate himself to a genre so fallen into disuse? What’s more: who today can brag about continuing to paint, when its imminent demise has been announced and it is tolerated only under the condition that it is based on a conceptual proposition? These debates that rattle contemporary art and are fed periodically by its protagonists (visual artists, critics, gallery owners, curators) do not appear to bother Pedro Diego. Secluded and preferring to remain on the periphery of discussions and profound questionings, Pedro Diego carries on his daily work in a studio he had built on the roof of his two-story home in the Roma neighborhood, as if to validate with this isolation a need to remain distant from the ruckus in order to dedicate himself completely to what is truly important to him: the painter’s craft.
What is traditional about the works of Pedro Diego Alvarado? Mostly, his naturalist style. The themes that have captured his attention since he first began to paint in 1974 are still lifes, landscapes and sometimes portraits. For Pedro, the pomegranates, onions and pitahayas, the bananas and tomatoes, besides being beautiful, are tasty, fleshy objects that possess obvious erotic and hedonistic connotations; artistic objects that compel one to draw constantly, to a formal search that, despite being confined to the conventional for some, in this case evokes a return to the line, which will never be considered antiquated in itself.
Pedro Diego Alvarado’s trajectory reveals a persistent struggle to learn everything about his craft. Educated at the National School of Painting, Sculpting and Engraving "La Esmeralda" and at the Academia de San Carlos, Pedro Diego traveled to Paris to continue his studies at the l' École des Beaux Arts. His most valuable learning experience, however, happened while in contact with professional artists. He joined the group of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson who met regularly with other painters to draw at the botanic garden, a short distance from Luxemburg and the Latin Quarter. Ricardo Martínez, in turn, introduced him to the art of oil painting, generously inviting him to work in his workshop in 1983. In 1994, in London, Pedro Diego was an assistant to the Nicaraguan artist Armando Morales, master of the pictorial technique, who transmitted his passion for the pictorial artifices to him. Eventually, in Mexico, he studied under Gilberto Aceves Navarro and Vlady, among others. With regards to his family, its legacy has weighed heavy on him: it cannot be easy to be the grandson of Diego Rivera, especially when one is starting out and has to face the criticism and prejudices of the art world. Critics, however, has assessed him lucidly. In 1995, Raquel Tibol emphasized his "preferred, cultivated attachment to some of the ways of the Riverian style, unconcerned with anachronisms or stylistic calendars” and recognized Morales’ positive influence of a "very complex, essentially pictorial artistic kitchen, which provokes in the young Mexican creative energies in terms of everything relating to light, color, atmosphere, distances” (Proceso, No. 995, November 27, 1995).
Today, Pedro Diego Alvarado’s most recent work displays some variants that indicate a possible (and necessary) evolution and aperture toward other areas of exploration and, why not, formal experimentation. Last year, the author created a very large-format painting called Puesto de Verduras y Frutas II (Vegetable and Fruit Stand II), commissioned by a private collector. This commission represented such an effort, considering the size of the piece and the degree of elaboration it required (inspired, undoubtedly, by the famous Fruit Merchant, painted by Olga Costa in 1951, and kept in the archive of the Museum of Modern Art), that the author came to see the painting as holding countless paintings within itself. He decided to "take advantage" of this and, cut out imaginary sections or fragments from its surface. He realized that this improvised method generated new, fruitful solutions from the semantic and formal points of view. Of course, it wasn’t just a matter of limiting himself to copying the different surfaces that integrated the original painting and reproducing them separately as simple details. First of all he needed to find other scales, new ways of framing compositions. The smaller format forced the author to “re-cut” the image; as if it were a close up, an approximation that didn’t privilege the object itself (a fruit, a vegetable) so much as it did the perspectives and the dialogue of lines that its execution on the canvas inspired. I believe I can detect, in the recent work of Pedro Diego Alvarado, three general ways of approaching still lifes: the opposition of circle-square; the saturation of the pictorial space with divergent structures; and a geometrization focused toward abstraction.
Consequently, two watermelons, for example, are placed on the canvas according to a perpendicular order and the border’s straight line mutilates their extremities. In another painting, four wooden boxes draw the eye, not because of their tasty contents (green oranges, mangos, peaches) but because of the arbitrary logic that presides in their arrangement and favors the straight angles, as if the sensual load of the fruit, the heap of colors and the sensitive textures can be assuaged by the geometric intention. This valuation of line over volume shifts the composition slowly toward design. In another one of his paintings, the vertical line indicated by a pile of grapefruits creates an opposition to the horizontals rows of oranges above a group of pumpkins. The elements invade the canvas leaving no empty space, the composition is progressively tighter, and literally concentrated in closed structures of circles versus straight lines, of struggles between connecting surfaces, vanishing points and sharp angles. We can find in this turn toward abstraction and in his most radical, synthetic solutions, echoes of paintings by Gunther Gerzso.
The landscapes also suffer alterations. It is not the “beauty” of the panorama that interests us, but the internal organization of the representations; we could almost say its architecture. This becomes clear in the symmetrical alignments of haystacks that cancel out the rural landscapes or the almost impressionist view of the bridges of Paris, which Pedro Diego was so fond of painting several years ago. The naturalist obsession is in the process of being surpassed in the paintings of Pedro Diego Alvarado, as are the Mexicanist vestiges that refused to let him loose from the historical tutelage of his beginnings.
Aware of the technical progress he is capable of, today the author prefers to study comprehensively the internal articulations of the language of painting, the economy of images and the strict organization of the spaces, without having to give up the visual and sensorial stimuli of his favorite themes. This search was already apparent in several of Pedro Diego’s earlier works, especially in a series from the early 80’s (a created in the studio of Ricardo Martínez), in which such trivial subjects as the borders of canvases leaning against a wall translated into interesting diagonal effects, surfaces and framed compositions on the canvas surface. This type of exploration was suspended for several years, though today Pedro Diego retrieves it as a significant alternative for the future evolution of his work.
What else has changed in Pedro Diego Alvarado’s work? We know for a fact that his workmanship has always been very careful and that it responds to extremely refined, complex technical procedures. The photographic model and the charcoal sketch reinforced with tempera is maintained, as is the oil ”scraped” with a blade to thin out the material, and the varnish that gives his paintings a polished, impeccable finish. Nonetheless, the author does take some liberties, such as introducing coarseness to accentuate the tactile qualities in the skin of a melon, for example. The palette itself has also been darkened somewhat: the light is less direct, less vibrant than the previous series; it has been moderated and achieved a subtlety and virtuosity that suddenly has impact, as in a group of pears that suggest to me the delicate still lifes of Armando Morales. The work of Pedro Diego Alvarado delves, with obvious pleasure, into sources of the past, into European pictorial traditions and into the old Mexican avant-garde; however, he is now set upon the path of renovating his own language and resolving those contradictions inherent in him.
Víctor Manuel Mendiola
Changing views without changing places. That is what Pedro Diego has done unexpectedly..
In this painter’s earlier work it is clear that there is a very strong relationship with two traditions: on the one hand, with that type of painting that sees an invisible structure in the proportions of the canvas, an essential weave that must remain hidden. If one observes his previous work carefully one can discover a geometry: angles, spheres, surfaces, even vanishing points hidden by a sarape or a table or a body. These forms linger behind like skeletons; they produce such an exact outline, so thought out yet at the same time so faint, that it must survive in silence. On the other hand, we can also see an intense relationship with reality in Alvarado’s work. This reality is an immediate, omnipresent ingredient. We could very well say that the representation of things and beings in his paintings carried as much weight as the drawn, colored surface. Which is why we could as easily find landscapes of the Valley of Oaxaca or a lake with a dark green, as an almost black, forest, or vases with gladiolas, a portrait of a woman in an unreal concretion, or the rooftops seen before arriving at a factory. To observe the color and the drawing represented the joy of seeing what the eyes can see everyday as well as the measurements established by the hand.
Today, in this new collection there is an almost unperceivable, despite the contradiction, brutal change. Just as in the previous collection, reality is overwhelmingly large in these paintings, just as in the previous collection; yet, unquestionably, the control of proportions is generally calculated and done step by step, in detail, with a grid. However, there is also a big difference: this reality is deliberately fragmented and the proportions have begun to be transformed into an exterior weave, into knots that we can see and decipher. In this new collection we see pumpkins, watermelons, papayas, pineapples, apples, bananas in baskets, pears next to pomegranates, peaches next to oranges, boxes of mamey and boxes of limes, all pointing to a division and at the same time toward a vision enlarged into a type of superrealism. What we see jumps out at us and almost overcomes us. All of these forms of reality are the main subject and are, at the same time, a pretext.
In these paintings, Alvarado has invented a strange rhythm between the small and the large, between amplification and reduction. The format chosen by Pedro Diego to carry out this operation is a perfect square. It is a format that often does not work well, yet it has allowed Pedro Diego Alvarado to achieve a real cut or a cutout of a theme that, though it may often sound boring and create vulgar visions for us, in his case produces a refreshing sensation that rouses us. Like someone clearing a table, Alvarado has pushed aside the common places of still lifes and landscapes and has found in these perfect rectangles, not only a form of communication between tradition and modernity, but also what appears to be the irruption of his own language. We only have to see the incredible diptych of the prickly pears to realize that there is something disquieting and truly new in these paintings. It is the reality we know, but it is also the reality that we don’t know. It overwhelms us and we can almost embrace it. We are standing in the same place, yet with a different view.
A Geometry for Reality. The optical interrogation of the pictorial element.
If cultural tradition conditions the work of an artist, then talent liberates his creative freedom. Pedro Diego Alvarado belongs to a cultural tradition interlaced with family tradition. His talent is expressed in a dimension where to seek a geometry for reality is to find a complex harmony of orchestration at several levels simultaneously.
His materially stratified pictorial surfaces find their variations of tone through a scraping that seeks associations in depth. At the same time, the themes that emerge in Alvarado’s paintings sprout from the figurative tradition—still lifes and landscapes—and appear beyond a formal pretext. There exists, in the optical interrogation of the represented element, a hieratism, where local color is manifested and fruit becomes slippery green or red roundness or course yellow.
Some oranges are cornered into the angle of a box, two pineapples peak out from the border of the frame and several tomatoes are sprawled evenly on an undefined surface. The entire surreal game has decanted and the known geometric stylizations foretell other echoes.
In the large compositions, “Nopalera” and “Arpillas de Avena I” and “II” (Prickly Pears and Oat Stacks I and II, respectively), the abstract and the figurative are equally founded. The formal intensity is transformed into a theme and the oat stacks, pushed to the limit of their own pictorial conception, move in perspective to find their own figurative weight. The three-dimensionality, the vanishing points, the traditional space, acquire the value of a metaphor whose key may be found in the pictorial creation that, similar to a text, traverses the entire flat surface of the canvas.
In the paintings of Pedro Diego Alvarado, the formal values have been materialized and seek out the density of what is unique and alive.
Arpillas de avena I, 2000, oil on canvas 38.2 x 76.8 in
Calabazas partida y enteras, 2001, oil on canvas 35.4 x 23.6 in
Plátanos machos verdes y maduros, 2001, oil on canvas 23.6 x 36.2 in
Plátanos machos y Sandía, 2001, oil on canvas 23.6 x 36.2 in
Sandía y Plátanos machos, 2001, oil on canvas 23.6 x 36.2 in
Nopales Viejos, 2000, oil on canvas 44.1 x 63.8 in
Nopalera rumbo a Tulancingo, 2000, oil on canvas
Pitahayas, 1998, oil on canvas 13 x 20.1 in
Pigmentos amarillo y verde con papaya, 1998-2000, oil on canvas 28.7 x 39.4 in
Pescados de Buenavista, 1999, oil on canvas 31.9 x 41.3 in
1999 - 2000
Óleo sobre lino
55.8 x 53.8 cm
Dos huacales, 1999, oil on canvas
Jitomates guajes,1999, oil on canvas
Naranjas verdes, mameyes y duraznos, 1999, oil on canvas