RF. Alvarez: Tender is the Heart

RF. Alvarez

Artwork’s Title: Tender is the Heart

Material Used: Acrylic on canvas

Studio Based: Austin, Texas

RF. Alvarez, Tender Is The Heart, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 84, 2021

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

My studio practice has taken a turn recently away from controlled, graphic brush work on raw canvas towards a more emotive, broad and blended process. I work off of a mixture of photographs, sketches, collages and often paint in one sitting – quickly, fully engaged, sweating and crying and sort of exploding onto the composition.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Romantic, mnemonic, hopeful.

Could you share with us some insights on your recent work ‘Tender is the Heart’ (2021)? Is there any particular story behind this new painting?

This work is part of a series of paintings that deal with the expectations of masculinity and the male identity, and how those expectations shape emotional expression, intimacy, and the self. This work in particular was actually taken from a photograph, one that was almost accidentally snapped in a moment of intense personal connection. I found it to be a beautiful expression of the potential for male relationships – romantic or not – when the coldness of machismo is allowed to thaw out.

Intensive hues of green colour dominate this recent painting. Taking into consideration the work’s development as well as its story, was there any particular reason for picking up this colour?

A lot of the paintings in this series (as well as my previous works) are dominated by a single color. I see color as a tool for context or even emotional communication. The dark, emerald greens of this one felt most appropriate for the emotional tone: somewhere between somber and joyful – somewhere between deep blues and bright yellows – yet occupying both those spaces.

Sometimes in works such as “The Call of Semele” (2021), “The Departure” (2020) or “The Dinner Party” (2020) it seem that there is a sort of vagueness regarding your painterly lines when depicting figures on your canvases. Are you, anyhow, interested in showcasing gender-fluid depictions?

I am interested in showcasing gender-fluid depictions, yes. Gender and its constructs, like any societal structure, can be oppressive. Previously, my works often depicted “a world that could be,” and I used vagueness and abstraction as a tool for distilling the narrative to its essential parts. I wanted to focus on, say, the way a group of bodies relate to each other and how to communicate closeness or distance. Or what it means to be swept up into the atmosphere of a night. Gender wasn’t necessary for those narratives. And if you call them utopian, then yeah, my vision of utopia doesn’t exist within the norms of gender.

But in these recent works, the figures are more photorealistic – and gender plays a role in the narrative. Norms of masculinity strip boys of their emotions on their way towards adulthood. I’m trying to sort of declare a space or a vision in which those emotions, that tenderness, is reclaimed. Hopefully to break down the masculine ideal. Maybe as a reaction to that oppression I just mentioned.

Could we describe your recent works as alternative forms of contemporary still life?

Most of these works are figurative, so no.

Where do you draw inspiration in order to build up your imagery? Is your portraiture only related to personal memories or are you also into more random figures on your canvases?

Most of these images are personal. Photos of me with my husband or with others. Some, however, are references. In another work, titled “The Reader,” the figures are drawn from a photograph by Crawford Barton, taken in San Francisco in 1976. I was really moved by that photograph; a depiction of male comfort and intimacy in a pre-AIDS landscape. Like all of his work, there is an exaltation in the freedom of expression shown, which becomes achingly beautiful within the context of our history. I find imagery of men being casually intimate with one another – holding one another, leaning on each other, naked around one another – can easily be dominated by a culture of sexualizing. I am looking for compositions that don’t objectify the subject but focus instead of that exaltation Barton captured in that photograph.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Yes. I think some of these will be obvious but: Lynette Yaidom-Boayke, Anthony Cudahy, Doron Langberg, Louis Fratino, Alex Foxton, Juliusz Lewandowski, Seung Ah Paik, Somya Netrabile, Caleb Hahne-Quintana, Justin Liam O’Brien, but also Felix Vallotton, Luchita Hurtado, Georgia O’Keeffe, Henri Matisse and Patrick Angus.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

My studio is an open room I share with a jeweler on the east side of Austin. I just moved there, no longer painting out of the second bedroom of my house. It’s bright and sort of industrial and full of opportunity. I finally get to splash around a bit.

What do your mum and dad think about your art?

My mom grew up in a family of ranchers in a small town in Texas. My dad grew up in northern Mexico. These works address masculinity and they both grew up in societies with pretty astringent versions of it. I think they like the work from a technical standpoint but also from the fact that it’s an expression of mine. I think they see me emoting, processing on the canvas. I’m also depicting love. While the body of work revolves around love between men, in opposition to the hardness of masculinity, that’s just my experience with love. I think – I hope – the underlying conversation is relatable regardless of your sexuality, gender or background.

What are your plans for the near future?

Oil! And sculpture!

Additional Paintings

RF, Alvarez, The Homesteaders, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48, 2021
RF. Alvarez, The Cardsharps, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60, 2021
RF. Alvarez, Self Portrait with Grandfather’s Hat, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60, 2021
RF. Alvarez, The Reader, acrylic on raw canvas, 84 x 60, 2021


All images courtesy of the artist

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