Ana de Alvear (born 1962), is an artist and filmmaker from Madrid, Spain who has exhibited throughout Asia, Europe, and South America. This is her first solo exhibition in the United States. Despite seemingly traditional subject matter, the title of this exhibition invites the public to question the veracity of what they see and hear, a contemporary concern in an age of frequent misinformation. As one looks closely at her work, it becomes evident that there are layers of meanings and deceptions. What originally appear as photographs or even paintings are all achieved, in astonishing hyper-realistic detail, with the humble medium of colored pencil.
This repartee with the history of art is not new; René Magritte spoke of “the treachery of images” and artists have been using trompe l ’oeil (fooling the eye) techniques in painting for years to dialogue with the reality of the image, a conversation made more acute with the advent of photography and extended further into the digital age. Yet with de Alvear’s drawings, there is no digital or mechanical process involved.
Beyond this, de Alvear uses stuffed animals, knockoff porcelain, and plastic flowers and insects as her subjects to probe ironically the values of contemporary society. The compositions are inspired by European still-life paintings dating back to the seventeenth century, wherein artists painted such highly prized items as tulips, crystal, and imported porcelain, alongside insects and symbols of decay as memento mori (reminders of death).
Initially appearing humorous and playful, the inclusion of toys in de Alvear’s works nevertheless also embodies darker meanings of lost childhood and trauma, while the ubiquitous presence of plastic, only visible upon close scrutiny, alludes to the current crisis of the environment and impending animal extinctions, such as the artificial bee attempting to pollinate plastic flowers. Humans’ position in the universe is laid before us as we are made more aware of our physicality and scale in the presence of two dramatic galaxy murals, each comprising fifty elaborately executed drawings.
Featured at top right: Ana de Alvear, Two Hares (detail), 2014. Colored pencil on paper. Artist private collection.