In The Studio: Alex Achaval

Posted on October 22, 2014, 7:41 pm
6 mins


Alex Achaval creates a unity between disjointed elements, as if they were always meant to exist together. His works can be described as painted collages and range in subject matter and theme, but almost all feature a strong female form with a world of imagery colliding around her.

Alex Achaval was born in 1986 and raised in Ellensburg, WA—no doubt the origin of the rustic, western imagery in his work—and his hot, vivid palettes feel like they are from the other side of the pass, the deserts or the tropics. Bold colors and figures are merged on a solid ground, or cut through by one solid line or dripping legs of paint. His abstractions are anchored by a strong graphic quality, that is playful with its most familiar forms.

“I’ve always been a creative person—always playing on paper as a kid,” Achaval says. “But I didn’t get serious about art until after high school. I moved to Miami and got into my first gallery there. I created my first real paintings for that show….fifteen in two months.”

After spending a year in Miami, Achaval returned to Seattle where he has continued painting and studying graphic design. He has been featured, most recently, at Island Port Gallery in Friday Harbor, Brooke Westlund Art Gallery and Studio, Geddis Gallery and at the RAW artist group show in both LA and Seattle.

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“By applying abstraction and surrealism, I touch various overlapping themes and strategies…I try to develop forms that do not follow logical criteria, but are based only on subjective associations and formal parallels, which incite the viewer to make new personal associations.”

These personal associations often come from commonly confronted icons, imagery and phrases, drawn from all episodes of art history. The word “enjoy” rendered in a lurid neon cursive—in isolation, it conjures Coca Cola—allows for instantaneous, generic, yet personal association. The female figure in Enjoy peeks from a cascade of longhorn skulls. The bed of flowers in the background, paired with these skulls, evokes Georgia O’Keefe with the volume cranked up to eleven.

Achaval’s work also has rooted references to the Pop Art movement. Those who visit Seattle Art Museum’s Pop Departures exhibition will probably notice the resonance in Achaval’s paintings, in which the fetishization of the everyday is prevalent, a la Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. While Achaval’s work and its team of idols exist in the world of pop art, it does not bear the same heavily tread stigma. Instead, Achaval’s body of work represents an artist’s understanding of the zeitgeist of our time.

In Dog-Faced Liar, Achaval uses neon signage from hotels and road-side bars and diners to immediately conjure an air of seediness. The use of neon signage also calls to mind the recent work by Seattle artist, Dylan Neuwirth, who also draws on pop culture. Individually, the signs are emblems of an age, a place, motion and emotion. Piled up in a field of pure color, eerily jarring graphics in pink, grey-blue and red find a unity and become almost monumental in form–sprung from a haunting female figure, spliced with the image of a dog. Achaval seamlessly merges these disparate images into something primal and totemic, despite the modern and unseemly associations of the individual parts.

While each piece is centered around a theme or idea, the various references allow the viewer to find their own meaning. Violet’s Highway was inspired by the artist’s recent trip to Las Vegas. Each image surrounding the central figure acts as a two dimensional souvenir—a reminder of a personal journey, but a journey that is also accessible to the viewer. This collection of superimposed figures and fragments has a cinematic quality, documenting a lengthy experience in a single scene. This strong, film collage is a technique one sees increasingly in practice. A salient example: The dark undertones and female imagery found in much of Achaval’s work can be compared to the slow, meandering (and symbol rich) credits for HBO’s True Detective.

"Blank Stare" Image courtesy of Alex Achaval.

“Blank Stare” Image courtesy of Alex Achaval.

The work is not explicitly morbid, however. Commonly confronted image of skulls, native flora and Native American references are rooted in history. Skulls, a traditional memento mori, speak to the transitory nature of our organic world, but in Achaval’s work they almost pulse eerily against bright, unnatural colors. Using Native American imagery carefully, Achaval questions connotations and expectations of Native American culture. The bold face of a tribal leader in Blank Stare confronts the viewer—with anything but a blank stare. The figure is imbued with hundreds of years of stereotyping and mythology. This collaged environment of colliding representations creates a novel context for this imagery. With work as strong and circumspect as this, Alex Achaval is an artist to watch in years to come.

For more information on Alex Achaval, visit


Claire Reiner is a writer, artist and recent graduate from the University of Washington’s School of Art with a major in Art History. She is interested in recent art movements and subcultures (1950s, 60s, 70s) and how they have shaped present perceptions and practices of art. She grew up in Southern California and moved to Seattle in 2010. She is quite influenced by the unique geography of both places and enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. Reiner covers visual art exhibits in Seattle and seeks to contribute to a profound and positive artistic community, as well as encourage people to come out and experience art moments for themselves. Reiner is also the Executive Assistant for VanguardSeattle and handles any press related needs.