Artist Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.): The Krome Drawings at The Norton Museum

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Artist Jose Alvarez discusses his experience at the Krome Detention Center in Miami and the compelling portraits he created there, on view in the special exhibition Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.): The Krome Drawings at Norton Museum of Art.

The talk of the Palm Beach art scene over the last few months has been the the remarkable work of Jose Alvarez. D.O.P.A.: A Wondrous North Star presented at GAVLAK Palm Beach opened January 23rd and continued through February 21st. This was the artist’s seventh solo presentation with GAVLAK and coincided with his institutional solo exhibition Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.): The Krome Drawings at the Norton Museum of Art, which runs thorough May 30th.

Over the course of the past two decades, Alvarez has developed a lexicon of forms that he employs to create visually and conceptually complex works that mine his own interior landscape in an effort to connect to the basic human experience. This new body of work explores the transcendence born from grieving the recent loss of Alvarez’s partner, internationally renowned magician and skeptic, James Randi (“The Amazing Randi”). Alvarez envisions this new series as an experiential moment, assisting in his own passage through grief and towards a rebirth into a greater, expansive and cosmic understanding of life and death.

Jose Alvarez (D.O.P. A.), Our Magic Garden (Second Movement), 2021. Acrylic, colored pencil, handmade paper, quills, feathers, and collage on mica on wood panel. 60 x 72 x 2 in (152.4 x 182.9 x 5.1 cm). Courtesy of the artist and GAVLAK Los Angeles / Palm Beach.

Alvarez’s saturates his works with organic, found materials like porcupine quills, feathers, crystals and minerals. The sensory plane becomes activated through this Maximalist approach, melding haptics with rich, chimeric dreamscapes to expose new modes of consciousness. His use of these materials originally derives from his dedicated study of the contemporary writings of Carlos Castaneda when he was a very young man and pre-modern and mythic shamanism from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.) (Venezuelan, born 1961), Jose, Mexico, 2012

Alvarez’s artistic career began with an elaborate performance in which he toured Australia with James Randi, pretending to channel Carlos, a 2,000-year-old spirit. Posing as a seer, Alvarez sought to explore the notion of both inhabiting and espousing belief by publicly debunking the notions of soothsayers and charlatans. This early work from Alvarez was dually inspired by his own artistic muses and his partner Randi’s lifelong project to expose paranormal chicanery of all forms. Jose Alvarez D.O.P.A.: A Wondrous North Star operates as a cartography of what occurs following loss, what the artist describes as “charting a psychological, spiritual, intellectual and emotional journey.” Work titles such as “I Wish You Were Here” (2020) complicate traditional ideas of presence and absence, imbuing the organic materials Alvarez uses in his paintings with a ceaseless energy force.

Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.) (Venezuelan, born 1961), Roberto Q., Guatemala, 2012

Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.): The Krome Drawings showcases a moving selection of nearly thirty in portraits created by Alvarez during his time in Miami’s Krome Immigration Detention Center in 2011. The artist, who was arrested for imigration violations after his vias expired, completed a series of portraits of fellow detainees while fighting for his freedom. The subjects’ personal histories will be presented alongside their portraits. At the time of Alvarez’s detention, his large scale, site specific installation Vibrating Strands of Energy was on view at the Norton as part of Altered States (April 2- July 17, 2011) a major group exhibition.

In February, teachers were invited to join the Norton Museum for a virtual inside look  at the exhibition Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.): The Krome Drawings and María Berrío (Waiting for the Night to Bloom). Alvarez and Berrio use art as a means of exploring their personal histories with immigration, but in two very different ways, reminding us that immigration experiences are varied and multifaceted. Staff from the Farmworker Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County then offered comment on how they work with families to access human and social services. This is just one example of all the wonderful programs now happening at the Norton Museum.

Alvarez (D.O.P.A.) has performed and exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Kitchen in New York, NASA Johnson Space Flight Center, Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia, Gavlak Gallery in Los Angeles and Palm Beach, Marlborough Gallery in New York, The Moore Space in Miami, Ratio 3 in San Francisco, Jeffrey Deitch in New York, the Yerba Buena Center for The Art in San Francisco, The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Beth Rudin DeWoody’s The Bunker Artspace in West Palm Beach, The Kemper Art Museum in Kansas City, and the San Antonio Museum of Art in San Antonio, Texas, among others. In 2020, he was included in A Very Anxious Feeling: Voices of Unrest in the American Experience at the Taubman Museum of Art, he created for the Sarasota Art Museum, an impressive 10 ½ X 78 ft vinyl mural, his largest vinyl mural to date, he was included in a group presentation by GAVLAK at The Armory Show as well as creating his largest painting to date “ The Life Within You” a 9’ L X 24 ‘ W tour de force for The Core Club in NYC.

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