“Just Between Us: New Works by Alejandro Diaz Ayala” is the current show at Deep Ellum’s Kirk Hopper Fine Art gallery.
Alejandro Diaz is a Dallas visual artist in his mid-twenties who has produced 11 pieces for the show. All but one of them are paintings – oils and acrylics with other sketching media incorporated.
Every boy who aspires to be an artist draws familiar cartoon and comic book characters as a part of his technique development. Alejandro is clearly no exception – his otherwise realistic traditionally rendered portraits are embellished with fragments of Popeye, Porky Pig, Olive Oyl, Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio – an arm here, ears there, perhaps a whole face here. Looney Tunes, Walt Disney, and Max Fleischer Studios would be ecstatic to find that their seventy-year old cartoon images are still captivating and influencing young artists.
While many of us move onto other imagery in our paintings as we get older, Alejandro successfully explores a potentially awkward inter-relationship between very tightly rendered traditional portraiture, comic and cartoon imagery, underpainting, over-drawing, and abstract expressionism. That he is still exploring, refining, and maturing a personal technique is obvious (and expected), but that he is in control of the process is evident too.
In addition to all of the above, Diaz adds another rich layer here and there - traditional Latin cultural imagery with a particular predilection to “día de los muertos” skulls. Dallas is certainly the beneficiary of so many artists who proudly weave elements of a very rich heritage into their art.
Cristina by Alejandro Diaz Alaya
Diaz demonstrates a really fine realistic portrait technique. In Cristina, a delightfully rendered portrait of a young woman showing us some personality and moxy in her expression is embellished with an overlay of a skull, a Porky Pig head, Popeye’s forearm, parts of three semi-circles and what appears to be red crayon drawings. Diaz shows us that if he draws those three semi-circle lines just right, we immediately see Mickey Mouse’s head. A bulging forearm with an anchor tattoo? Popeye of course. Is the portrait defaced with these images? Or are they an integral part of the portrait? Diaz leaves this up to the viewer to decide.
In his artist statement, he writes, “… I fight with my paintings, layering paint, scrapping ideas, editing, and re-working each element until it is just right.” Anyone who has painted knows that the most precipitous time in the entire creation process is to know when the painting is finished. Painters like Diaz, who are bold enough to leave blank canvas and incomplete images in his finished work already has mastered one of the hardest disciplines in art – that is, stopping when he knows the work is finished.
The Outsider by Alejandro Diaz Alaya (image courtesy of Kirk Hopper Fine Arts)
In another portrait piece I really like, Diaz paints a sensitive portrait of a young man. Particularly notice the subject’s posture, his naked chest and shoulders, and his mouth. This is a tenderly painted portrait of a real person. What Diaz has painted over the top of the man’s head is another of his sort of signature elements – you’ll find this motif on several of the paintings. This spontaneous, colorful flow of party colors – blobs and loops of yellows, blues, pinks – becomes a way for the subject to both show us his thoughts – and to hide behind them. Without seeing his eyes, we’re not sure we’d recognize him and this is the way it’s got to be right now.
Other portraits in the show use a similar technique. In Communion, a young boy in his Sunday suit, palms together in prayer, his face left in an unfinished underpainting, nonetheless allows some of these quickly laid-in brightly colored thoughts to ooze down his forehead as well. And in Maximilliano, a knight in shining armor’s thoughts are actually exploding out of the top of his head in a confetti blaze with – oops – Popeye’s head popping out as well.
Diaz has a signature color that appears in many of his works – an unlikely Pepto-Bismol pink color. Often it’s a background, laid in quickly with thick wet brushstrokes after the portrait is complete. He also uses a glossy neutral gray in this way. This technique makes the figure “pop” and is another example of knowing when an element is finished before you overwork it.
Thumper by Alejandro Diaz Alaya (image courtesy of Kirk Hopper Fine Arts)
The biggest and most stunning piece in the show grabs you when you walk into the gallery and doesn’t let go until you’ve fully examined it. Thumper is a diptych ten feet wide by 6 feet tall. Here we are witnessing a sexual tryst over linear time. On the right, a loosely but realistically rendered sensuous nude woman who has repositioned herself here and there – each movement caught over time by Diaz. She wears the bright party-colored thoughts as sunglasses and thus successfully hides her identity from us, although her nude body reveals much. On the left side of the painting, her paramour’s lower body is left in gesso and underdrawing – all except for his huge orange/pink tinted erection, which Diaz depicts twice due to the couple’s position changes. Cartoon explosion-clouds are painted black on black under the woman, perhaps indicating the fury of their passion. There’s a faint but ominous-looking animus image leering at the female above her partner, but she either doesn’t notice or isn’t bothered by its presence. Thumper is the strongest and most “unposed” painting in the show.
The Kirk Hopper Fine Art gallery is a really nice gallery – it’s bright with natural sunlight, high ceilings and clean concrete floors. The gallery staff is friendly and welcoming. Go through the gallery and you’ll find a door to an enclosed outdoor courtyard gallery space. Make sure to check it out.
The American Beast by Michael Christopher Matson and Kevin Obregon
The outdoor gallery currently houses a massive metal sculpture, The American Beast by Michael Christopher Matson and Kevin Obregon. When this piece is positioned in a more public place (as it certainly will be), cars will be crashing as drivers come upon it - it is that imposing. It looks for all the world like something from our collective ancient consciousness or a piece of the Stargate Destiny. It’s a stunning, huge, domineering, powerful work.
It’s a joy to have discovered Alejandro Diaz Alaya early in his career. Figurative painters are a special breed. We shall all enjoy watching his interesting and unique voice evolve and mature.