Rodrigo Alzamora is an artist who lives in Lisbon, Portugal. He’s known for contemporary figurative paintings that are bold, colorful and expressive www.rodrigoalzamora.com Read on and find out how his life and dreams are as big and bold as his work.
MICHAEL: Hello Rodrigo. Your work is very intriguing to me. It’s very fresh and you clearly love primary colors. What’s up with that?
RODRIGO: Hello Michael. Thank you for the interest in my work and taking your time to do this interview. I’m looking forward to seeing it after reading many of your other interviews with artists. I am very glad that my work strikes you as “intriguing” because it’s meant to be a “fresh” approach to figurative painting. If it’s hanging on a wall somewhere (gallery, museum, art centre, etc) and it will make you stop in front of it for a couple of minutes, I will have achieved my goal. You can either love it or hate it, that’s your choice, but as long as you stop in front of it, I am satisfied.
MICHAEL: So what do the colors mean to you?
RODRIGO: There’s some degree of distortion and interpretation in my work. It is meant to be “intense.” I feel that primary colors help with that impression of intensity. They’re also a sign of our modern era where we can see them everywhere: outdoors, magazines, books, the internet, etc. Actually we probably deal more with primary colors than with the “traditional” ones on a daily basis. My palette is also a reflection of that modern fact.
MICHAEL: There’s something about Latin American art, including yours, that really grabs me. It’s so warm and human. I really think it’s pushing the entire contemporary art world forward. Am I right? Do you have any thoughts about this? Am I stereotyping Latin American art?
RODRIGO: Actually I am half European (from Portugal) and half South American (from Uruguay). I think of myself as European since I’ve been living in Europe for the last 15 years straight and on and off before that. It’s interesting that you point out the Latin American side of my paintings as I do get a lot of that in Europe from dealers and art collectors. They usually relate to my vivid colors. I never thought of my art as “Latin American” or having Latin American influences, but since so many people point it out, maybe I should acknowledge it. After all, being half South American and having lived there for many years, it’s only natural that I may have been influenced by it, but it’s not a conscious influence.
MICHAEL: Well, there goes my theory about Latin American art pushing contemporary art forward.
RODRIGO: The art world needs to be pushed forward permanently. If it stops, it will die. I’m not sure about the weight of Latin American art in that process since I’ve been more closely following European art. But I do feel that many “bubbles” of renewal are exploding all around the world with new approaches and very interesting contemporary solutions. Without having to go very far, a simple Facebook search for living artists will backup those words. Knowing a bit about the “Latin American spirit,” I would expect a very interesting contribution to the contemporary art world to come from such a fresh and dynamic region.
MICHAEL: Well, truth be told, I guess most people want to categorize art just like everything else. Obviously, most artists (and writers) just want to practice their art free of restrictions. Still, escaping politics is difficult. Something just occurred to me … since color is one of your strong suits, do you ever notice people making color a political issue? You know … the whole obnoxious color “matching” thing? Only “this” color can go with “that” color?
RODRIGO: You have very sharp and deep diving questions that are making me think and rethink a lot about my art. I can only thank you for your very enriching point of view. I’m proposing a contemporary approach to painting in a rather traditional country, so I have felt the full weight of “art politics,” “the politically acceptable” and certain “traditional expectations” about paintings in general. If you paint a person, exhibition visitors will expect brown eyes, not red ones, brown/white skin not orange, brown/blond hair, not blue, etc. I know for a fact that the whole color thing in my paintings can come as a visual shock/trauma the first time you actually look at them, but after a while the overall impression will soak in and you will get used to them and enjoy them a lot, probably for a lifetime, but it can be a slow process. My work asks for a certain degree of introspection and some effort of mind opening from the visitors, to accept something a bit different. The good news is that people accept them very well over time. I interpret this as a … “let’s accept what’s different” attitude. That’s always a good sign.
MICHAEL: How do you paint? Do you get inspired by a concept and then leap out of bed and go to the canvas … or do you go to the canvas with an empty mind and then just start painting?
RODRIGO: I have changed the way I paint over time and I’m sure I’ll change it several times again in the future. Right now, I try to always start a new painting with a very clear idea in mind. I could easily explain or teach 90 percent of the process, as it is a very step by step approach … starting with a drawing and very thin layers that will begin to thicken toward the end. About ten percent of the painting I can’t explain though. It just happens, usually toward the end. This is what makes an interesting painting instead of just another technically correct piece of work.
MICHAEL: That’s very cool. It sounds like art is even mysterious to its creator.
RODRIGO: After working on a painting for such a long time, it’s as if you earned the right to finally discover all of its secrets and are finally ready to capture its soul. It’s pure magic. Unexplainable, I’m afraid.
MICHAEL: Funny that you should say “unexplainable” because most of the artists I know always say this. They leave so much of their work open to individual interpretation which is really what art is all about. However, many art critics and scholars often seem determined to know everything about a painting and/or the artist. It’s as if they’re trying to prove their intelligence to people. What do you think?
RODRIGO: There’s a “primordial” question one should always ask about a painting. Do I like it or not? That’s the starting point for enjoying art. There you have your own personal connection and interpretation and there you are REALLY living YOUR painting in a way no one else can. It’s a very private, personal and intimate connection with art that belongs to you alone and no one else. But after a while, you will feel the need to learn more about that particular painting or artist who caught your eye.
MICHAEL: Paging the art critics and curators!
RODRIGO: That’s where art critics come into the game. A good art critic should be a sort of intermediary between the artist and the visitor … a person who’ll ease the visitor’s task of collecting valuable information about that particular painter or painting. Someone specialized who’ll help people learn a bit more about that painter and that painting. Even if we don’t agree with the critic’s opinion, it will always add information to the art we are trying to know better. In that sense, art critics perform or have the potential to perform a great job … probably a better job than painters themselves who are usually never very good at explaining their own paintings. There are many art critics with different abilities, experiences, skills, areas of expertise, but the best art critic for your own taste should and will always be yourself.
MICHAEL: I totally agree. That’s what I try to express to people all the time. When did you decide to become an artist? Were you born an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?
RODRIGO: I remember drawing and colouring all my life, since I was able to grab a pencil. I would have drawings picked by the art teacher to hang on the school walls when I was a kid and got a lot of similar small signs, but I never gave them much importance. Later, I felt the need to go a bit beyond this “do it yourself” approach and began going to painting ateliers wherever I could find them, always as a side thing. Then I got my university degree and began working in a regular business area. Only afterward did I realize I was deeply unhappy and needed ART in my life. At that point, I left everything, grabbed my small savings and went to study a formal art course in Florence, Italy. I simply LOVED the experience and since then I breathe art, sleep art and live art. So I guess my passage through Italy is THE point where I formally became an artist, but the “seed” was always there.
MICHAEL: You’ve traveled around quite a bit … Italy, Brazil, Chile, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. What role would you say travel has played in shaping you and your work?
RODRIGO: It wasn’t just travelling, but living in each of those countries for many years and then moving into the next one and so on. It has been a very gypsy kind of life now that I think about it. Travelling has given me a lot. It has showed me that there are many different ways of living and facing the same problem. In that sense, it has made me a lot more tolerant and open minded. It has made me value small things that I had always taken for granted … such as realizing how reassuring it is to understand what people are speaking around me, easily finding the way to your favourite magazine shop or not having to care about the new electricity voltage that could ruin your computer. Above all, it’s a magnificent journey into adventure where everything will be new … sounds, colors, smells, people’s looks, cities, friendships and so on. Travelling has broadened my horizons and has made me very aware of small differences in lifestyles, decorations but also in a very graphic way. I’m very aware now of those “daily images” that happen almost spontaneously around us every day; snapshots of pure daily life that would make great paintings.
MICHAEL: Your work is bold and expressive/expressionist. Overall, it isn’t subtle or shy. Are you also bold and expressive in your life?
RODRIGO: I take it as a real compliment when you consider it bold and expressive. But when it comes to myself, it’s harder for me to give you a description. I suppose I am not too subtle about sharing my thoughts and opinions and that I usually manage to share my point of view, especially among friends, so I guess that would place me on the “expressive” side of life. I had an idea of myself as being rather “shy,” so I asked around a bit just to make sure. To my complete astonishment, NOT A SINGLE PERSON I ASKED considered me shy, but quite the opposite, so I guess I’m not shy. The bold part is easier, as I’m not afraid to take risks and fear doesn’t really make part of my world. My biggest fear is probably the fear of failure. I suppose I do approach life under a certain “bold” angle that has helped me to overcome many obstacles so far, but has also caused many headaches and will probably give me many more for as long as I’m alive.
MICHAEL: As we speak, Portugal is experiencing a serious financial crisis. How are you managing and how is the situation there affecting your work and life?
RODRIGO: Obviously the crisis has seriously affected the Portuguese art market. We’re all enduring its consequences, but, at the same time, I see the crisis as a challenge that forces us artists, to reach new levels of excellence and find new solutions both at a commercial and technical level to overcome it. In that sense, the crisis can be an opportunity for individual growth rather than an excuse for poor results. In short, those who will manage to survive will come out of it stronger than ever.
MICHAEL: Finally Rodrigo, What are your hopes for the future?
RODRIGO: More than hopes, I have one main goal for this decade; to go international. I have set two main checkpoints in order to achieve that goal: to manage to exhibit at Art Basel in Switzerland and to be represented by a major top contemporary art gallery from New York. They’re rather ambitious goals, so here comes the “hope” part. I hope I’ll manage to achieve them. From there, my future will follow. If I don t manage to get them, I’ll keep trying until I do. If I do manage, then I’ll probably set higher goals. Now it all depends on “what the future hopes for me.”
MICHAEL: I think the future has big things in store for you. Thanks Rodrigo. This has been great.
You can check out Rodrigo’s work at his website www.rodrigoalzamora.com
Thank you for the great interview, Michael. This article and many more can be seen at his great Artbook Guy blog.