Imitating Life: Posing questions to local artist Nicolas Alvarado

Nicolas Alvarado

Nicolas Alvarado

Cory Bilicko
Managing Editor

Twenty-one-year-old artist Nicolas Alvarado is a survivor– one who, rather than wallowing in self-pity, chooses to use the debilitating health challenges and brushes with death he’s faced and incorporate them into his art, not in the literal sense, but in ways that he refers to as “formative and reactionary.”
Alvarado graduated from high school in Long Beach a few years ago but now lives in Malibu.

“People hear Malibu and instantly think movie stars and fame, but really it’s a boring, quiet little town with expensive cars about 40 minutes away from anything interesting,” Alvarado said. “Although I did see [actor] David Duchovny at a gas station once. He was a little upset I didn’t fall all over myself and say hi”
Born in Torrance, he was raised between Long Beach and Wilmington for most of his life.
“I’m 21 years old, but honestly feel like I was born in the ‘80s,” he said. “I guess I can thank my parents for that. I know more about that decade than the one I was raised in, so you could say I’m an ‘80s-’90s baby. It’s a toss-up.”
Alvarado currently works for the media production department at Pepperdine University, which he says he “absolutely” loves.
“It provides a lot of interesting opportunities for outside work,” he said. “My coworkers are amazing, and I couldn’t ask for better management. Other than that, I freelance as much as I can. Just recently, I’ve had clients such as Nike, the New York Times, and the Anaheim Angels. I’m a Dodgers fan, so I had to keep that a secret.”
Currently in his senior year at Pepperdine as an art major, with emphasis in sculpture and photography, Alvarado is experiencing the mixed emotions that are often common among college students. He said his studies provide as much beauty in his life as they do hair-pulling stress.
“I arrived straight out of graduating St. Anthony’s High School in downtown Long Beach in 2011, and I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading graduating in May 2015,” he said. “What can I say? That’s just life. Blueprints for the future are a fool’s errand. One year or the next, you’re going to be somewhere else. So enjoy yourself now. I know where I want to be, and I know I can take the steps to accomplish it, so I’m enjoying the time I have now.”

“Wet Cobblestone,” photograph

“Wet Cobblestone,” photograph

What medium(s) do you work in?
I originally started to work in drawing, mostly because I loved the ability to work off pure instinct and drive to create a product that reflected the position and emotions of the artist at that current moment. I still enjoy this feeling, but I felt I had to move on. Then I started painting and realized I didn’t have the patience. Now I’ve found my two artistic loves: sculpture– as in large-scale installations– and photography. I feel like I am able to convey a much deeper artistic meaning with installation while at the same time creating something that someone may look at and appreciate it for pure aesthetics. I believe art is for everyone. You shouldn’t feel left out because you look at a Maniera painting and can’t analyze every little piece of symbolism. Sometimes art serves to be a piece of beauty for pure appreciation. However, I’ve recently been developing my photography because that’s where my true passion lies. One of my greatest artistic influences is Rembrandt, and I’ve always been fascinated by his ability to tell an entire story within a single image. I aim to do the same with my photography. I want my viewers to look at my images and know the exact narrative of the picture and all of the emotions and thoughts experienced by the characters involved. Besides fine art, the only other avenue I’ve pursued in putting these narrative pictures forward is working with local artists to create album covers. I’ve worked with one close friend for a while. He’s an up-and-coming rapper named DPL who can be found on Soundcloud, and it’s been such a wild ride seeing both of our progress over the past year. I have to admit it’s a bit surreal when you see he has 100,000 views on a song, and you know that about 100,000 people have not only seen your work but have retweeted it, have blogged it, have Instagramed it, have “Myfaced” it. I can’t even keep up with these social-media sites anymore.

Where do you work?

I don’t necessarily need a studio as a photographer. My favorite place to work is wandering the streets of the beautifully eccentric Venice from morning to night, exploring Hollywood at all hours of the night, covering house parties, recording studios, pretty much whenever my camera is in hands. That’s where my studio happens to be. When it comes to editing, I’m usually bumming around my apartment watching Bob’s Burgers and being hyper critical of every shot I’ve taken so that 500 pictures eventually dwindle down to about 20.

How long have you been making art?
I’d like to say I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember, but maybe my earliest drawing was around 6 years old. My father is an electrical engineer, so he knew technical drawing and took every chance he had to show me what he could. My draftsmanship from back then may not exactly be gallery-ready, but I’d say they were the start of something great. I’ve been making art seriously now for about four years and have been a working photographer for about three years now.

How would you describe the type of art you make?

I would like to describe my art in a few different ways because of how it has evolved and completely turned around since I’ve started creating. When I drew and painted, I strived for instinct and mess. I believed it showed the raw passion and potential of an artist. As of now, my installations have been aimed to explore existentialism and posthumanism in our contemporary society with the rise of new technologies or, essentially, how will we be able to retain our sense of humanity while every advancement we make works harder and harder to remove the human element from society? Will there still be a place for humanity or will we be left to rot as obsolete? This exploration had all been inspired by recent developments in quantum theory and the rise in artificial intelligence but more so the rise of “The Singularity” that has still not [been] positively or negatively received. As I said, with my photography, I strive for a Rembrandt level of communication with my art. I want it to not only be a viewing experience but a simple conversation between me and my viewer, in which they are able to take a message away from my art. There may never be a totally right answer, I know what I had in mind when creating the piece, but my favorite part in hearing others interpret my work is hearing all the different levels of interpretation it brings. There may never be a right answer to any art, just a guess that gets the viewer closer and closer to their inner truth. As long as the viewer is entertained, that is the only thing any artist may hope for.

“Steelo,” photograph

“Steelo,” photograph

Your website describes you as “currently Wizard-King of Malibu.” What does that mean?
Well, I was proposed with a question one day, with no loopholes and no repercussions: “Would you rather be a king who was a wizard, or a wizard who also happened to be a king?” I made my choice, and the people of Malibu seemed to have accepted me. I believe that should explain it all! Malibu seems to be running fine, so I think I’m doing my job just right. I also must add it was a self-elected position. I may have run unopposed, but my constituents seem happy.

Your website also states that you especially enjoy working with concepts that deal with formative and reactionary experiences. Tell me more about that.
Art is definitely a creative outlet that involves an individual to be willing to throw themselves entirely into their work and, in doing so, they expose their entirety. They lay their soul bare– their past emotions, their hardships and all these experiences come together to form a piece that is purely genuine. Without these factors, the art lacks a certain piece of the artist that is essential to creating a truly originally piece. I enjoy working with formative and reactionary experiential concepts because it is through these concepts that an individual is truly able to learn who they are. You may set out to work on a piece dedicated to love lost, but if you’ve never truly lost the love of your life, then the piece lacks substance. Most of my life I’ve dealt with formative and reactionary concepts not exactly related to art. I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis at 12. Without the use and feeling of my legs, I decided to relearn how to walk. At 19, I fractured my spine, which I chose to keep pushing to regain my health. At 20, I totaled a car in a canyon that should have sent me over the edge to the final period in my life story. Miraculously, I flipped the car into the middle of the road and survived without a scratch. I use these life experiences in a positive way in my art. I make colorful, joyful pieces of art or pieces that bring you down to the lowest points possibly perceived in the human condition. Life has a wide range of emotion, and I feel we should be open to them all rather than be comfortable in our bubble of safety.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I love to listen to a wide range of music, and I find the spread to be a little funny. I love listening to everything from ‘90s rap and R&B, boom bap such as dibia$e, Baroque classical with my current favorite piece being [Vivaldi’s “L’Estro Armonico 12 Concertos, Op.3”] performed by Anna Maria Contogni– a category I’m not even sure how to classify that relies on a mix of melodies and bass lines but mixes in samples from TV shows, movies and older music. It’s honestly beautiful, but artists include Brock Berrigan and Jansport J, a personal friend who’s made great strides in his career. And, finally, rap music that I can just tune out to and have fun with such as J. Cole, Drake, Danny Brown, Flying Lotus, Captain Murphy, the list can go on. I just love music that can inspire while simultaneously letting me have fun.

“Ronette,” photograph

“Ronette,” photograph

Have you ever destroyed or painted over anything you’ve created?
When I first started creating art, I constantly destroyed things I didn’t like, but I learned it was important to keep your mistakes. You learn from them. There was a period of time where I would constantly paint over things I made just to create layers, and as time went on I would tear things down instinctively and work what I had done. This process created one of my favorite pieces to date but, due to its size, I’ve never properly been able to photograph it, but I hope to soon as I believe it would make a wonderful addition to my portfolio.

Would you say you’re pretty involved in the local art scene or more of a loner artist?
As of now, I’m a bit of a loner artist, but I want to get more involved in my local art scene. I really look up to the days when artists formed collectives and worked off of each other’s vibes and creativity. I would love to see a revitalization of that. I feel our society focuses too much on the needs of the individual over the needs of the community which, in the art community, is very important in my eyes. Artists have always stuck together, and with that has come so much great work and impactful movements. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d love to see or start something like that again.​​​​​​

More of Alvarado’s work can be viewed at NicAlvarado.com .

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