Contemporary Madrid artist Ana de Alvear’s colored pencil drawings challenge reality at the San Diego Museum of Art.
Even if we were standing right in front of one of Ana de Alvear’s works, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but what you see is not real.
The San Diego Museum of Art has just installed a major exhibition by de Alvear, a contemporary artist based in Madrid.
The exhibit is titled “Everything You See Might Be A Lie”, and upon entering the gallery on the first floor of SDMA, the progression of lies begins.
âOne of the things that happens when you walk into the exhibit is you think it’s all a photograph. But it’s not. So that’s the first lie. And then you see stuffed animals and you think it’s a toy show but it’s not. We’re talking about world hunger. We’re talking about child abuse, “de Alvear said.
âWhat I’m trying to do with this title is explain to you from the start that whatever you see, you should think twice. That maybe your pre-established thoughts are not what you are thinking about. would have to work, that you should think about the meaning of the things you see. “
The exhibition presents dozens of massive, complex and photorealistic drawings. De Alvear’s work is done entirely with colored pencils and paper. That’s it. And it looks so real.
I was even berated by a museum keeper for getting too close – an attempt to bend over and look for pencil lines.
âWhen you first see his drawings, you think they must be photographs – or it looks like a photograph of a still life, or maybe a painting like a copy of a still life painting. You absolutely can’t believe they’re drawn in pencil, âsaid Anita Feldman, the museum’s deputy director for curatorial affairs and education. “It’s a little unsettling and surprising at the same time, you know how incredibly talented she is in this technique. It doesn’t seem humanly possible.”
At first, de Alvear’s drawings resemble traditional still lifes, like a painting by Bruegel the Elder.
There are flowers in a vase, insects crawling nearby. Hanging animals. Slight reflections on an engraved crystal goblet. A feast of crumbled pastries.
There is a kind of fraying when you realize that what you are looking at is not a photograph, not a painting. Then you start to see that the things depicted are not real in the first place. Lie number two.
They are stuffed animals. Fake flowers. Plastic insects. Toy food.
There is a depth to de Alvear’s work beyond the first layer of deception, and Feldman said it was a form of humor.
“It’s almost like looking at the values ââof society and making ironic little statements about them using stuffed toys and bits of plastic and things – that you don’t immediately notice, but you get your eye and you say, oh, no, it’s not a real bug. It’s actually a stuffed animal. And your first response is to find it really funny. And then she comes up with these other pretty dark meanings, “Feldman said. .
The fake objects and toys she draws play a bigger role in understanding the world, she said, whether they represent disinformation, hidden and silent abuse or the climate crisis. De Alvear wants viewers to reflect on the dual nature of the seemingly mundane objects, animals, and scenes in his work.
“It is also about hunger, hunger in the world, mistreatment inflicted on society in general on other societies which are not of our color, of our flag, of our anything” said de Alvear. “And also what legacy do we leave to future generations? Everything is plastic. So one day we will not even have these rabbits or these flowers to be able to cook them, because everything would be dead.”
One of de Alvear’s works, “Two Hares,” shows two stuffed rabbits, hanging like freshly hunted beasts, ready to prepare for a feast.
Every tuft of fur on the hares – faux fur, that is – is amazing. But while a viewer questions hyperrealism, there is more at stake.
âSo actually it’s child abuse, because what if you kill a stuffed animal? What are you killing? You are killing innocence to play the game,â de Alvear said.
If the 24 still lifes in the exhibition represent the problems of a society, de Alvear also offers a way out. Two gigantic galaxies drawn in pencil each occupy an entire wall of the museum.
Each galaxy contains 50 small designs patched together. One galaxy is dark, the other bright. Up close, each swirls with color and light. From afar, it’s a reminder.
âOne of the things you can do is you can go very far with your mind, and then your problems are so small that you can just jump over them. And that’s how you can take the distance to these problems and try to find a solution, âsaid de Alvear.
Although de Alvear’s work resembles a decidedly modern touch of still lifes, with modern themes, hyperrealism has been used by artists throughout art history, as has the technique of “tromp. the eye “, or” trompe l’oeil “.
It is a way of inviting the spectator to wonder about reality, different from surrealism but not totally dissociated from it.
SDMA has recently shown other contemporary works that push boundaries but also seem to dialogue or play with art history, notably Cauleen Smith’s homage to Juan SÃ¡nchez CotÃ¡n, still visible.
âI find seeing something radically contemporary after seeing old paintings by European masters is also very refreshing, but they communicate with each other,â Feldman said.
In many ways, Ana de Alvear’s work invites you to take a closer look to unravel some of the lies. You might be wondering if it’s a plastic ant crawling on pastries. Or a drawing makes you think of hunger in the world, or of lost innocence, or of the vastness of the universe.
Or maybe you are looking for pencil lines.
âEverything You See Could Be A Lieâ is on view until September 27, 2021 at SDMA. The museum is open to visitors every day except Wednesday.
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