CANDIDA ALVAREZ Estoy Bien
Candida Alvarez Estoy Bien February 1 - March 21, 2020
Essay by Melissa Messina Edited by Staci Boris
This catalogue was published on the occasion of Candida Alvarezâ€™s first solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago in winter 2020.
“I’m interested in interjecting the portraiture canon with Brown and Black bodies, as well as gender fluid and queer bodies, to complicate hetero-normative perceptions of racial and queer identity and highlight intersectional identities not often discussed or represented in history and society.” - David Antonio Cruz
Introduction The work of Candida Alvarez is imbued with both personal and formal aspects which evolve through her relationship to color, light, and architectural elements. The unique paintings that comprise Estoy Bien, on view for the first time in Chicago, originated as proofs intended for an installation as part of the inaugural Chicago Riverwalk Year of Public Art program (2017). The images took on a new resolve after a series of critical events, including the passing of the artist’s father, followed shortly by Hurricane Maria, and her mother’s decision to relocate from Puerto Rico to the United States. Amidst this period of transformation, Alvarez found herself drawn to the comforts of her studio, exploring the shifting panorama of Puerto Rico. Drawing inspiration from a specific phrase widely spoken by the hurricane’s survivors, Estoy Bien (I’m Fine) and the solastalgia of the island as her muse, her proofs took on new life as a series of paintings, serving as a palimpsest of growth and fortitude. Drawing from the narrative of place, Alvarez pulls from materials in her immediate world and her travels to build dreamlike narratives existing somewhere between fact and fiction. Patterns on the floor, memories from childhood, and photographs function as ways of infusing her world into each painting. This new series of work suspends carefully within an aluminum frame, allowing the image
Light plays a crucial role; the use of a paper thin pvc mesh as a canvas allows for light to permeate each image, creating the sensation of color and form existing without boundary, as if each painting can live unrestricted, floating within space. When creating each image on view, Alvarez engaged what she calls an active search, exploring the world around her with unremitting curiosity, investing thoughtful attention into that which is often deemed ordinary. This process offers Alvarez a unique way of seeing, incorporating material from her immediate world and everyday experience, arranging it in a way that is organic and surprising. “My work stumbles through what I think of as chatty abstract spaces to reboot both light and space so that they can conjure shape shifting and dream catching. These investigations allow for my paintings and drawings to build abstract narrative structures that mix and remix themselves, interweaving the narrative with the pictorial. My aim is to expand the hybrid space of painting all the while maintaining a crucial connection to daily life.” – Candida Alvarez
In Candida Alvarez’s first exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, we are stopped in our tracks. An experiential engagement, Estoy Bien is a dramatic sequencing of seven large-scale, double-sided paintings hung from metal frameworks. We carefully weave our bodies through the abstracted passageways Alvarez has created, traversing a psychogeographic space, a place not located on a map but rather one that transpires somewhere between experience and memory. And we do so willingly, guided by her compositional sure-footedness. We are transported by the artist’s intense palette, striking tactility, and seductive imagery, emboldened by a sense of wonder. Serving as visual metaphors for the ways we navigate the obstacles of the world, these exuberant paintings, with their aluminum armatures, become signposts for that elusive place where internal and external influences converge. This painting series originates from the fragments of Alvarez’s 2017 public art project, a 200-foot long digital painting that hung at the Chicago Riverwalk. Proofs from her imagery—an index of former works juxtaposed digitally on PVC mesh, a material chosen to allow for air flow— are reimagined here as new abstract sculptural paintings. In these works, Alvarez brings her ongoing conversation between abstraction and text, gesture and shape, color and light, to another level, adding a dialogue between digital color and paint, painting’s surface and support, back and front. They began after a sojourn to India cut short by news of her father’s death and her subsequent travel to Puerto Rico for his funeral. Three months later, Hurricane Maria ravaged the island where her mother and sister remained. In Chicago, Alvarez felt compelled to make art but was too grief-stricken to return to the bustling world to locate materials. She found refuge in her studio and challenged herself with the economy of what was there. The urgent moving of her body through time and space—her head swirling with the sites and sounds of her travels, vivid memories, and layered emotions—created a feeling of liminality, of being on a threshold. This intermediate, in-between space became the impetus for the series of what she describes as “air paintings” that “hold space for feeling.” On this woven industrial material, digitally printed with details of her paintings from the past twenty years, Alvarez began manipulating, collaging, and expanding her original imagery in visual palimpsests. The resulting works are in many ways an encyclopedic view of her art making. And in the process of working with this accumulated material, the series became a conversation: an artist self-comforting while also confronting her relationship to time and the remnants of its passage. Estoy Bien, or “I Am Well,” was the quiet mantra she repeated to herself as she made the first work in the series. Alvarez also recalled this phrase as one repeatedly transmitted from media outlets that scoured the remote areas of Puerto Rico post-hurricane—a message of hope reported by survivors and one she was all too relieved to hear from her own family. Working in her studio, she began responding to the mediated shapes and colors, countering the surfaces in a call-and-response with
the layered imagery. She describes the process as a “very physical and emotional experience” in which she felt her way through to total peace. 12
The inherent strength of this work is that it conveys so much without feeling overloaded. The paintings breathe and gently sway from the air that passes through the mesh, reinforcing their openness to meaning. These are unrelenting accumulations of referents that represent the dueling forces of internal emotion and external energies. Ambient pools of color overlaid with finer marks and textures create blur and sharpened focus. Like memory, or psychological and emotional states, these broad-reaching swaths are punctuated by masterful detail. The maelstrom also suggests the daily inundation of our fields of vision—the overload of imagery, information, and conflicting feelings we filter from our many screens. They address the current simultaneity of human consciousness in which we are somehow everywhere and nowhere all at once. They feel akin to our cultural moment in which the world is both at our fingertips and just out of reach. Alvarez’s paintings, however, become places of comfort, as in them we land in harmonized atmospheres. The perforated surfaces—themselves screens—are window-like, also allowing light in. This distinction prompted Alvarez to thoughtfully respond to each side of the surface. In this intentional exposure, we witness in a painting what we often do not: process laid bare. As such, the works become a celebration of battles hard fought and hard won, in paint and in life. While carefully resolved, we intuit Alvarez’s journey through chance and plan, accident and intention, and see the result as optimistic, that she has somehow made sense ofit all and is reminding us to likewise “negotiate our presence in our world.” 13
While often map-like, the imagery does not point to specific locations. One side of a work can appear as rocky terrain with an aqueous ground on another, at once arid desert and reflecting pool. The paintings are instead psychological landscapes, created in vast arrays of colors, lines, and shapes, that recall the ways we can discover and grow in new environments. Alvarez also honors the vulnerable feeling of dislocation, of being in many places at once; and, by steadily working these surfaces she firmly plants a flag in that ever-shifting ground. For her, they embody “where I am and where I will be … stretching coordinates, and leaping over time and space.” As with past works, the imagery harkens to personal, locational references, including Roman Catholic stained-glass windows, and the colors and flora of her beloved Puerto Rico. While often begun from autobiographical inspirations, however, it is through her use of abstraction, the symbolic and metaphorical language of color, form, and texture, that calls forth our empathy. Alvarez’s keen understanding of color in particular, its ability to create not only psychological but also physiological responses, coupled with the human scale of the works, permit us to examine them with our eyes as well as manage them with our bodies, furthering a dialogue between the internal and external. Estoy Bien is a fitting title for the exhibition. In it we see an artist at the height of her capabilities. We find work that stands firm, that holds its space. And yet Alvarez’s work offers vulnerability. We see in her exploratory processes a willingness to fail, but it is evident by her developed prowess that she ultimately cannot. Her mark-making, imagery, use of scale, and materiality is finely tuned from years of raw experimentation and a passion for the painting process. Painting for Alvarez is the sieve through which life experiences and visual accumulations are filtered. The result is a polyvocal expression which conveys not only her time and place, but also our specific cultural moment. By addressing the complex inundations of filtered and lived experience through this personal expressionistic language, Alvarez makes painting feel more relevant than ever. As the world swirls, time speeds, thumbs swipe, and ads flash, in her work we find a balm. Hers is a ground where this source material
demonstrates a wisdom that comes from processing, synthesizing, and placing information. Her confident handling of paint represents a way to make sense of the scrambling, grappling, and negotiating we do in our daily lives. This series highlights Alvarez’s cultivated painting methodologies that combine binary forces—the universal and personal, the systematic and intuitive— to locate resolution. Altogether, the problem is put on a plane and dealt with until harmony is found. At a time when harmony and resolution are hard to come by, “Estoy Bien,” a visual mantra, guides the path. –
Note: All quotes are taken from the author’s conversation with the artist, January 3, 2020.
Air Paintings, 2017-2019
Uprooted, from Air Paintings (2017-2019), 2017 latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood 81 x 71 x 26 in. (205.7 x 180.3 x 66 cm)
When a Tree Holds You Up, from Air Paintings (2017-2019), 2018 latex ink, acrylic, enamel, and collage on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood 81 x 71 x 26 in. (205.7 x 180.3 x 66 cm)
Jellow, from Air Paintings (2017-2019), 2018 latex ink and acrylic on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood 81 x 71 x 26 in. (205.7 x 180.3 x 66 cm)
Here to There, from Air Paintings (2017-2019), 2018 latex ink, acrylic, enamel, and glitter on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood 81 x 71 x 26 in. (205.7 x 180.3 x 66 cm)
Lomas, from Air Paintings (2017-2019), 2018 latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood 81 x 71 x 26 in. (205.7 x 180.3 x 66 cm)
Walking in Blue, from Air Paintings (2017-2019), 2018 latex ink and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood 81 x 71 x 26 in. (205.7 x 180.3 x 66 cm)
Estoy Bien, from Air Paintings (2017-2019), 2017 latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood 77 x 135 x 26 in. (195.6 x 342.9 x 66 cm)
Puerto Rico Hurricane Collages (Villalba), 2017-2018
Puerto Rico Hurricane Collage (Villalba) no. 1, 2017-2018 photo collage 11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (28.6 x 22.2 cm)
Puerto Rico Hurricane Collage (Villalba) no. 2, 2017-2018 photo collage 11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (28.6 x 22.2 cm)
Puerto Rico Hurricane Collage (Villalba) no. 3, 2017-2018 photo collage 11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (28.6 x 22.2 cm)
Puerto Rico Hurricane Collage (Villalba) no. 4, 2017-2018 photo collage 11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (28.6 x 22.2 cm)
Puerto Rico Hurricane Collage (Villalba) no. 5, 2017-2018 photo collage 11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (28.6 x 22.2 cm)
Puerto Rico Hurricane Collage (Villalba) no. 6, 2017-2018 photo collage 11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (28.6 x 22.2 cm)
Biographies Candida Alvarez (b. 1955 in Brooklyn, NY) received her MFA from the Yale School of Art, New Haven, CT 1997. Alvarez was commissioned by the City of Chicago in 2017 to create a 200-foot long digital painting, that was installed along lower Wacker Drive on the Riverwalk in downtown Chicago, as part of the inaugural Year of Public Art, an ongoing city-wide public art initiative. That same year, she was also tapped by Rei Kawakubo, founder of international fashion house Comme des GarĂ§ons, who transformed six of her paintings into
Alvarez: Here (2017), curated by Terry R. Myers. The exhibition marked the first
major institutional exhibition, reflecting forty years of her painting. Other solo exhibitions include Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach, (2019), the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL (2012-13); Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA (2003); New Britain Museum of American Art, New
Queens Museum, Flushing, NY (1991); and Galerie Schneiderei, Cologne, Germany (1990). Her
Kansas City, MO (2017); CAM, Houston, TX (2003);
The High Museum of Art, Atlanta,
GA (1990); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (1985); and P.S.1 Contemporary Art of
ney Museum of American Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and El Museo del Barrio, New
including ArtForum, Art in America, Artnews, and The New York Times. Alvarez is a recipient of
lives and works in Chicago, where she holds the F.H. Sellers Professorship in Painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Melissa Messina is an Independent Curator and Curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate. For over 15 years, her exhibitions, site-responsive projects, and public programs have been presented throughout the U.S. and abroad. She has curated solo exhibitions for such esteemed artists as Lynda Benglis, Nick Cave, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Ebony G. Patterson, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., and Ursula Von Rydingsvard, and has authored essays on numerous contemporary artists including Chakaia Booker, Whitfield Lovell, Claire Sherman, and Nate Young, among others. In addition to recent exhibitions she organized at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, VA, and the New Orleans Museum of Art, LA, Messina co-curated Magnetic Fields, Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, an intergenerational exhibition celebrating abstraction by Black female artists—including the work of Candida Alvarez—that toured from Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL. She formerly served as the first Artistic Director of Flux Projects in Atlanta, GA; the Interim Executive Director and Senior Curator of the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA; the National Program Director for ArtTable; and was a founding staff member and then guest curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. She was a 2019 Tyson Family Fellow at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, and is co-curator of the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.
Monique Meloche Gallery was founded in October 2000 with an inaugural exhibition titled Homewrecker at Meloche’s home, and officially opened to the public in May 2001. Working with an
presents conceptually challenging installations in Chicago and at art fairs internationally, with an emphasis on curatorial and institutional outreach.
Monique Meloche Gallery is located at 451 N Paulina Street, Chicago, IL 60622 For additional info, visit moniquemeloche.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The artist and Monique Meloche Gallery wish to thank the following individuals for their contributions to this exhibition: Eileen Mueller Kristian Alanson Bruce Cecilia Beaven Braden Weeks Earp Dan Sullivan/Navillus Woodworks
Photo Credits: Cover, inside cover, pages 8, 15, 26-39, 42-47 by Tom Van Eynde, 2019 Pages 6-7, 10-11, 13, 18-23, 41, by RCH Photography, 2020
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of my beloved father, Maximino Alvarez Feliciano (1928-2017)
This catalogue was published on the occasion of Candida Alvarez’s first solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago in winter 2020....
Published on Feb 19, 2020
This catalogue was published on the occasion of Candida Alvarez’s first solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago in winter 2020....