On any given day, countless mental snapshots are whirling around in Puerto-Rican-American artist Candida Alvarez’s head: an unusual hue, an intriguing sound or word, the shadow play through her kitchen window, her mother’s Bible. “I find images in the everyday world,” the painter explains of her vibrant work. “I love patterns and colors and finding things in nature. It’s the space in between that creates a ground for painting in many ways.”
How she translates these impressions, often depicted in effervescent fragments, is “kind of a mysterious process,” she muses. “I’m always experimenting, and I love that. It’s the mystery of where the painting is going to end up.” Her tools are just as varied, vacillating between acrylic, enamels, colored pencils on surfaces like linen and vellum paper, and photo collage. But really, she says, any medium is fair game. “When I get my hands on new materials, it stretches me–I love to experiment and I love things that are just surprisingly interesting.”
If there’s one constant in her work, it’s ebullient color, which Alvarez admits will usually reflect her mood or location at the time she’s creating a work. “I notice light wherever I go, so my palette changes–it’s very different in California than it is in Chicago or Puerto Rico. Although it doesn’t even have to be where I am geographically, but rather where my eyes, my head and my heart are at that moment.”
And while the titles of her works are often evocative, she cautions not to read too much into them. “I really do love words, so sometimes the titles have nothing to do with the painting and other times they have everything to do with them.” (For the record, she was actually listening to Haruki Murakami while taking in a sunset, as that particular painting’s title suggests.)
After a career spanning decades, Alvarez’s irreverent art has finally made its way onto the bigger stage it deserves. In 2017, Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo hand-picked several of Alvarez’s works to use as prints in a menswear collection. That same year, she had her first major exhibition, “Candida Alvarez: Here,” at the Chicago Cultural Center, which will be showcased in a book later this year.
For Alvarez, who has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for the past 20 years, it’s now time for a reset. Having recently commenced a one-year sabbatical, she anticipates spending more time traveling, reading and writing, but also delving further into her artistic experiments. “It’s time for me to give myself more attention–the gift of just sitting in the studio, without rushing the next day to teach,” she says. “And I hope my work evolves. It always follows me along, or I follow it along. We’re constant buddies.”