Candida Alvarez Makes Her Mark

Candida Alvarez Makes Her Mark

Candida Alvarez Makes Her Mark

Candida Alvarez Makes Her Mark

Candida Alvarez, Son So & So, 2001, acrylic, pencil, flashe on wood. Collection of DePaul Art Museum, gift of Chuck Thurow. Image courtesy of DePaul Art Museum

Candida Alvarez, Son So & So, 2001, acrylic, pencil, flashe on wood. Collection of DePaul Art Museum, gift of Chuck Thurow. Image courtesy of DePaul Art Museum

by Bree Witt

From her 2,500-square-foot, sun-drenched custom studio on a six-acre plot of land in Michigan—complete with a chicken coop—artist and School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) Professor Candida Alvarez is as productive as ever.

Candida Alvarez, 2016, photo by Chester Alamo-Costello

Candida Alvarez, 2016, photo by Chester Alamo-Costello

It’s the perfect place to create her expansive, colorful paintings. “It just gives me some freedom, you know? To breathe and to kind of just be in nature,” Alvarez shared. She moved in at the start of 2021 after a year that was monumental for the artist in myriad ways.

Just weeks before the pandemic shut down the world, Alvarez opened her first solo exhibition in Chicago, titled Estoy Bien, at Monique Meloche Gallery. The exhibition, featuring seven emotionally charged abstract paintings suspended in aluminum frames on the gallery floor (Estoy Bien is her first exhibition without wall-mounted work), was created from the sense of loss she felt with her father’s death, followed shortly by Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico, where members of her family live. The exhibition’s title references the stoic answer Alvarez kept hearing from survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria: “I’m ok.”

Candida Alvarez, Estoy Bien, from Air Paintings (2017–2019), 2017, latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood, 77 by 135 by 26 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

Candida Alvarez, Estoy Bien, from Air Paintings (2017–2019), 2017, latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood, 77 by 135 by 26 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

Candida Alvarez, Estoy Bien, from Air Paintings (2017–2019), 2017, latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood, 77 by 135 by 26 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

Candida Alvarez, Estoy Bien, from Air Paintings (2017–2019), 2017, latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum and wood, 77 by 135 by 26 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

“One of the things about trauma is, you don’t know what it’s like until you live it,” Alvarez said in a March 2020 interview with ARTnews. “You don’t know how you’re going to be. It felt like I had lost this connection to family, to the land. I just knew I had to work, but it was driving me nuts that I couldn’t because I had to deal with finding my mother and sister, and I was teaching. But when I walked into the studio, I devoured what was there. I just knew I had to find solace.”

Though the galleries were soon forced to close, Alvarez continued to work. In January 2020, she began creating a series of 20-inch by 20-inch paintings—as a second child born on the second day of the second month, twos are very meaningful for Alvarez—known as the Vision Paintings. Inspired by the brilliant colors of the frescos and paintings of early Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca, Vision Paintings features gestural lines and pops of brightness to represent a desire to communicate in ways that writing or speaking cannot. The 20-painting series was completed by the end of 2020, and though galleries and museum spaces were continuing to negotiate how to stage exhibitions, the demand for Alvarez’s work didn’t waver.

Candida Alvarez, Vision Painting No. 10, 2020, acrylic on linen, 20 by 20 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

Candida Alvarez, Vision Painting No. 10, 2020, acrylic on linen, 20 by 20 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

Piero della Francesca (–1492), The Resurrection (detail), between 1463 and 1465, mural in fresco and tempera, Museo Civico di Sansepolcro

Piero della Francesca (–1492), The Resurrection (detail), between 1463 and 1465, mural in fresco and tempera, Museo Civico di Sansepolcro

Several of Alvarez’s new 20-inch by 20-inch works are on display in Latinx Abstract at Brooklyn’s BRIC. She is also part of LatinXAmerican, a nearly 40-artist-strong group exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum running through August 15, and to come full circle, her work is included in El Museo del Barrio’s Estamos Bien, a name borrowed from Alvarez’s work. 

“Reflecting aspirations of change, and being a place of change, we thought that title would have so many different levels of interpretation,” El Museo del Barrio’s chief curator Rodrigo Moura said in an interview for WWD. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is all right for everyone [all the time], but let’s get together here, and see what’s next for us.”

“This whole year—it changed all our lives, and in some ways very profoundly, and in a way that reminded us that we are going to pass and we’re not here forever.”

In addition to her numerous exhibitions, including an upcoming solo show at Gavlak Gallery in Los Angeles, Alvarez is finally being recognized for her more than 40 years as a professional artist. In 2019, she received the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s prestigious Painters and Sculptors Grant; she was also named that year’s F.H. Sellers Professor in Painting at SAIC, an endowed position offering resources for artistic and academic pursuits. Most recently, she received the Foundation of Contemporary Arts’s Helen Frankenthaler Award for Painting, a $40,000 gift that recognizes innovation and experimentation in contemporary painting and can be used in any way the artist chooses.

Candida Alvarez, Vision Painting No. 10, 2020, acrylic on linen, 20 by 20 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

Candida Alvarez, Vision Painting No. 10, 2020, acrylic on linen, 20 by 20 in. Image courtesy of Tom Van Eynde

“It was a joyful feeling because this moment—I mean, this whole year—it changed all our lives, and in some ways very profoundly, and in a way that reminded us that we are going to pass and we’re not here forever,” said Alvarez. “Just to get this little ray of sunshine was such a really beautiful thing. Unexpected.”

Throughout her career, Alvarez has found a way to innovate and make meaningful work in a field where public appreciation and popularity often comes far too late to be enjoyed by the artist. And from her studio in Michigan, with the world around her acknowledging her incredible contributions to art, there’s no doubt she’ll continue to make her mark.

“I have not been a sought-after artist all my life,” explained Alvarez. “Recognition has been coming slowly, but steadily, without expectation for over 40 years of a committed relationship to painting and drawing within a studio setting. I’m grateful to have it with me now, to keep me company as I continue in health on my path.”


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