Visual artist Juan Alonso has been a fixture in the Seattle art community for many years, and his role in it has progressed and evolved as much as his artwork has. With a new but temporary gallery space in Pioneer Square, a book on the way, and events in the works, the time is now for Juan Alonso.
The space at 301 Occidental Street, operated by the Open Studio Project, provides a much different venue than Alonso’s studio on First Avenue. The spacious gallery allows for a large quantity of Alonso’s work to be properly displayed. Previously, these works were dispersed throughout Seattle or hung beside shelves of paint and supplies.
The aesthetics of texture have come to play a significant role in much of Alonso’s work. The layers of varying varnishes and paint create a differentiation in the two dimensional space of the piece. Juan Alonso’s practice of tipping these canvasses allows gravity to do some of the work, creating drip marks that add a sense of verticality and movement to the primarily horizontal pieces. The Occidental space presents an array of styles and color schemes—including Western and Ruby. These works speak to Alonso’s interest in the struggle between the man-made and the natural landscape. Layers and levels evoke sedimentary rock and fill that are the unseen foundation of cities like Seattle.
This exploration of larger geological processes is the stage for what Alonso distinguishes as the driving force in his work—humanity. Alonso states, “Our fragile existence on this planet, the way we relate, love, isolate and unnecessarily damage ourselves and the world we live in are fascinating topics, no matter how they are ultimately expressed.”
Painting has been Alonso’s medium of choice, but photography has become an alternate method of expression. Alonso’s life story has played a consistent role in the themes he explores in his artwork. His recent trip back to Cuba resulted in over 800 photographs—fifty of which are to be included in his upcoming book, Eight Days in Havana. The book—partially funded by a 4 Culture grant—is due out in late November and explores the everyday of Alonso’s birthplace. A fundraiser will also be held to support the production and printing of the photographic collection. Supporters will be able to pre-purchase copies at an increased price and receive a signed copy, as well as have their name in the final edition. The photographs included in Alonso’s Eight Days in Havana act as a time capsule—avoiding the stereotypical “Cuban” images that are often presented to the public. Alonso’s unique access to the Cuban culture allows viewers to see the commonplace beauty of Havana.
To Give In Return, a project held at City Hall that has recently ended, featured “six artists who embody the indigenous values of reciprocity and extended community.” Although the majority of the artists were from Oaxaca, Mexico—Alonso was included for his influential work in the Seattle community. Alonso chose a four part series entitled Oath—works that play with the concept of the oath of sworn testimony. The four pieces span the extremes of pigment: white on white canvas to black on black canvas. The subtle design acts as a common thread within these pieces. While the works appear to be about the same “thing,” the color variance implies that one thing can be viewed through many lenses. This overarching theme alludes to the grey space that lies between black-and-white ways of thinking—an awareness of community and city, and our roles in each.
Though the presentation of these works at City Hall has ended, the community outreach continues. Last month, Alonso held the first of four artist talks at Town Hall. These talks are part of quest to demystify what artists do and foster familiarity by bringing together the public and visual artists. The next three talks, held on October 15, November 19 and December 10, include three artists and one moderator. The artists chosen by Alonso are extremely diverse, in terms of gender, culture, ethnicity, approach and age.
Alonso continues to seek out ways to support local artists, and his upcoming “Standing Visit Project” will be an effort to equalize the way the art community works, specifically in terms of the attention brought to certain artistic methods or mediums. The project, created jointly with another artist, intends to deal with the changing gallery system—providing artists with a much-needed platform. While the project is in its early stages, Alonso expects it to stir things up and to present the first of the series of projects to the public in November.
Juan Alonso’s work will be on display through October 31 at 301 Gallery, Wed-Fri from 11AM to 5PM and Saturday from noon to 4PM.
The next Town Hall talk hosted by Juan Alonso is tonight, October 15. Learn more on the Town Hall Web site.
Photography by Christopher Reicks