Francisco Alvarado and Robert Soffian: Two Artists Riff at Shoebox Projects
By Genie Davis
Like two jazz musicians riffing off each other’s guitar licks, artists Francisco Alvarado and Robert Soffian created Coexistence, one terrific show at Shoebox Projects.
Shaping an installation from solo works and one insightful shared work, the two artists said they’d planned a conversation and exploration of new materials and techniques. That they accomplished that is a given, but Alvarado and Soffian provided something more, an insight into the work of two masters of their form. They created their work on site, inviting visitors and viewers in to watch them shaping works that defy the short weeks it took to make them. In their statement about the show, they say “meaning is in meeting.” Both artists are prolific on their own, but working in tandem, they were even more inspired.
At the closing reception, the artists invited viewers to use some of the same tools they did to create art, such as stamps, symbols, and an iPad. The inclusiveness of the show was not simply a literal interactive process, but one in which viewers wandered the tightly filled exhibition space taking in the plethora of color and form, absorbing the vivid images the way one lies on the beach in the sun – or used to, before we knew how terrible that was for us – enjoying the heat and the light.
Born in Ecuador, Alvarado says his work reflects “life experiences through…colorful abstractions.” Inspired by nature, travel, and flora and fauna, he uses vibrant colors and well-shaped patterns, working in a variety of mediums from acrylic paint to digital imaging. Some of the works on display at Shoebox Projects included pieces that combined painting and digital art. Alvarado works primarily in acrylic, and has said that he inserts texture in his work “by adding dots and lines…” noting that in his work he often creates “happy pieces,” some of which have the qualities of Matisse. His works are powerful and even daring.
Like Alvarado, Soffian uses bright colors and bold shapes, but his are perhaps more amorphous. He says he sees his art as a mythology and he creates his paintings as “psychic landscapes.” A former incarnation found Soffian working as a theater and lighting director for 40 years, and he finds himself still influenced by the idea of telling stories and visual improvisation, as well as a “negotiation between the formal qualities of paint and the conceptual.” The artist says that he wants to “paint things we all know or dream.” He works in a variety of formats, and has recently begun to incorporate elements of collage as well as oil, dye, and gouache.
The single shared work that Alvarado and Soffian created together for the show was accomplished in a true collaborative fashion: they each were allowed “15 minutes of work, no less, no more” on the piece, Alvarado says. The end result was an amalgam of colors and shapes, Soffian’s more swirled, delicate, almost transitional; Alvarado’s more fully formed and bright. It was a beautiful concoction, swirling with motion and overlapping forms. A rich peach color seems to grow, unruly, from a more stylized burgundy shape dotted with small golden circles; it is a gestation, a just-this-side of tumultuous universe being born.
An almost-mural sized work by Soffian dominated one wall of the exhibition, with figurative shapes emerging from the passionate and colorful disarray: a skinny black cat, a large reaching white hand. Every inch of this large-scale piece was crammed with motion and pattern, a quilt bursting with life.
On the adjoining wall, Alvarado hung a series of works, a green tree ripe with light and dotted with what could be fruit; works that looked like close-ups of cacti and more alien plants, the green tongue of one plant, circled in rich midnight blue, covered with small pink circles, blazed against a yellow and hot-pink background. Above these images were hung a series of smaller digital works, formed using similar patterns, but more diminutive.
Opposite walls alternated the works of both artists; geometric patterns in predominantly gold and rose from Alvarado looked as if jazz rhythms were manifesting themselves on paper. Next to it, a piece by Soffian gave us alien life forms in grey and rich blue, while a curvy peach nude figure emerges near shapes that could be hieroglyphics.
This was a joyous show, and a complex one, with images that vibrated and pulsed with energy. Two very different artists, both visually depicting the music of life in their heads and hearts. A blissful duet.
Watch for the work of both these artists ahead, and don’t miss a show at Shoebox Projects, where transformations and collaborations – coexistences, perhaps –regularly take place.