People of Color

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On color. It always feels funny to me attempting to write about serious subjects when admittedly, my paintings are essentially portraits of mostly professional runway models—uber attractive people that seem far removed from real life. As I’m sure has been pointed out—what can be more superficial than the world of fashion and pretty things? I am, however, unashamedly a fan of fashion, and as Sandro Botticelli, Vermeer and many others (including designers) have done before, I search for the most striking and ideal earthly symbols of the absolute and infinite.


When considering the infinite, I sometimes like to wonder what it would be like for a visitor to earth observing the human obsession with the ultimate superficiality: color —not as debated by art writers, scholars and critics, or children sifting through bags of M&M’s, but rather skin pigmentation. The visitor might have special powers to see into our genes and understand that melanin protects cells from ultraviolet light and DNA damage.


Also in the realm of possibility, our visitor might be well acquainted with much of life being exquisitely and miraculously capable of adapting to environment and changing over time through natural selection. Having an understanding of how life evolves, it wouldn’t surprise the visitor to find many examples of xenophobia in the animal kingdom and ultimately also in humans.   Although suspicion, fear and fear-aggression have no doubt been useful to the survival of species, nature has very little to do with love, compassion and higher consciousness.   Extraterrestrial species that have managed to avoid self-destruction would understand this too. Perhaps the ET’s would simply sigh and affirm, ‘We’ve seen this many times before. It all turns out okay in the end. Love always wins over nature,” or so I like to tell myself.


But what do we as humans do about our inherited anti-social bias, prejudice and all the strife it creates in our world? Every nation on earth has a problem with accepting people who are different.   According to a world map graphic created for a Washington Post article based on a Swedish study in 2013, some countries (in bright red) appeared to be more tolerant than others. To one extreme, India stood out as the most racist country, while The Americas (in blue) were the least racist (which seems impossible to me because some of the nicest people I’ve ever met were from India).   Yet, if you’re like me, living in the great melting pot of the US scrolling down a Twitter feed, you might deem even a minuscule amount of hatred and ignorance to be disturbing, intolerable and unacceptable.


The current meaning of ‘people of color’ in the US has more to do with replacing the terms ‘minority’ and ‘non-white.’ As an artist that loves painting people, I see mostly in shades of pink and sepia.   Although, there’s probably nothing I can do to change those who are inherently fearful of differences, I think it needs to noted, at least from an artistic perspective, that we’re all people of color, even descendents of Europe.


Perhaps, every color of the spectrum needs to be imagined or somehow perceived when we consider the totality of who we are as individuals. Paintings of ‘white’ and ‘black’ people saturated in deep reds, purples, yellows, oranges, blues and greens may just help us realize how little race and ethnicity matters or makes any sense. As has been the tradition for art to disorient and provoke thought, painting an unnaturally colorful person may just be an ideal way of mocking our fixation with ‘color.’ And if it does absolutely nothing to affect hearts and minds in the short term, it may all— every distortion and exaggeration ever created by an artist’s hand—be getting absorbed into our collective unconscious, ethos and even the human genome.


I like to imagine that once we graduate from this world and enter into the infinite, we might find ourselves, with great fondness, remembering that the M&M’s were all beautiful and thankful that they were not one color. Or perhaps we’ll discover that the next dimension has many more colors and the mysteries are even greater. Or as in commander David Bowman’s last transmission in the novel 2001: a space odyssey revealed as he fell completely into the infinite, “My God, it’s full of stars!…” I suspect something like this will be our experience one day, and we’ll realize that everything is made of hues and fascinating variety, and that we were quite fortunate to live in a universe that wasn’t dull and boring, but beautiful.   My God, it’s full of color!


Top graphic: Left to right, Aryuna Tardis, Elysse Lawson (Reference photo by Zach Sutton), ‘The Comedian’ (reference photo byNicolas Nova), @arianna.419 (Instagram)
Bottom graphic: Left to right, Rajab, Francesco Buzi (Reference photo by Mattia Cecchetti)

Is Painting Dead?

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Painting ‘Elysse’


As one would, out of sheer curiosity, occasionally check the postseason picture of a team or sport they no longer follow, I like to keep up with the buzz in the art world from time to time. Most disconcerting—and I’ve heard this one more than once—is that painting as an art form is dead. Even more astonishing is the assertion that video is the new, more valid form of expression for the visual artist.

Having spent a couple of decades behind a computer, designing, prototyping and, yes, creating videos, I can only look back at those days and conclude that it all felt like floating in a sensory deprivation tank, but without the feeling of relaxation. Even the act of drawing on a tablet with a stylus seems to me as unfulfilling as reading a menu, but never actually tasting the meal.

Although there have been many times where I genuinely enjoyed creating with a user interface, truly I say to you, there is nothing quite like working with your hands and getting covered in paint. Besides the heath, mental and emotional benefits of working with your hands, painting is as important to artists as playing a piano is to a concert pianist despite the existence of electronic music.

Humans will always want to dab, scrape and splatter paint onto a surface they can touch. So painting is not dead. Curators, collectors and critics will simply have to accept that no form of prohibition or disdain will keep the addicts at bay.

Kwan Yin and the Sound of the World

‘Kwan Yin’ © 2018 Carlos Aleman



In the spring of 1984, Byzantine and Renaissance art was permanently searing itself into my subconscious as I visited church after church in Rome and Florence. My college overseas study program in Italy seemed like the logical and perhaps obligatory artist’s pilgrimage I needed to make.   At the time, I had very little interest in religion. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the saints and angels painted onto fresco or sculpted from marble. Of particular interest to me was the depiction of halos, as if the artists were somehow gifted with the ability to see auras or electrical coronal discharge like Kirlian photographers before there were cameras.


The shrines and temples I visited decades later in China and Japan reminded me of the saints and angels of my youth. The religious iconography was quite similar even to the extent of the revered and holy being honored with halos. Perhaps there is something poignant about humans portraying other humans as special or somehow enlightened with higher consciousness, namely one person’s recognition of another person’s wonder and magnificence.


Kwan Yin (or Guanyin) is an East Asian goddess of compassion and mercy. The name literally means ‘the one who perceives the sound of the world.’ As a Christian mystic, I’ve long been fascinated by Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and eastern thought, especially seeing and perceiving beyond labels and surface appearances. To me, Kwan Yin ultimately represents non-judgment and the ability to see another’s divinity and not their current psychological state or mental activity. Perhaps she serves as a reminder, to be kind to others, for despite our hard outer shells (arising from fear and suffering), within, the breath of God still lingers from our birth. If you can see such a halo in another person—the radiant light overflowing from within—you have gone beyond the noise and heard the faint sounds and murmurings of the world—the hidden world of people and their loves, passions, wounds, dreams, heartbreaks, joys and delights.








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This Crisis in the studio


Crisis, who? What crisis?


In the not so distant past, it seemed to me that most people were generally wired to participate as productive, responsible members of society with the exception of a few misfits that were often classified as artists, creative types or criminals.   This would be even more the case in an eastern, collectivist society in which people assume roles like tiny pieces of elaborate machinery. And of course, it must be noted that western individualism is the slightly more yang side to the collectivist yin. I think you’ve heard this all before.


However, technology is doing strange things to us. I can’t help but notice that people are processing—content, stories, media, life—faster, albeit with a considerable attention deficit, but leaving many feeling ill-suited to assume a role as a team player in a corporate cubical farm or any type of life devoid of self-expression. For those mercifully blessed with the ability to conform, patiently check all the boxes required to flourish in academia, industry and save money for retirement, life can be lived out in relative satisfaction, free from the claustrophobia a growing number of people feel, as square pegs are forced into round holes.


One might shrug and simply expect the robots and AI to eventually free humanity from the tedious, boring and practical, but the distress or contentment we feel says a lot about us.   This is a pivotal moment for our species as we reflect on what it means to be happy. The melancholy many inventors, artists and innovators have felt just prior to their breakthroughs has been referred to as a type of divine discontent. Misery can serve a purpose, but much emotional pain is a needless form of suffering.


So I ask, will the Internet and social media eventually make the masses so fed-up and despondent that geniuses will inhabit every corner of society like blades of grass? Will emotional imbalance be commonplace?   Will there be many van Goghs and Hemingways creating beautiful things and then taking their lives as their thoughts and emotions get the better of them? And what about fame? There might just be too many brilliant people in the near future for anyone to stand out or be honored or recognized. A future of sad, unappreciated amazing and talented people?


The greater question one might ask is how do we adapt to what technology is doing to our brains, to our human genome, the next generation?


Despite all of my phobias, father and mother issues, delusions of grandeur, psychological problems and all manner of foolishness, I’ve come to realize over the years that what the mystics, spiritual masters and gurus have been saying all along might be the perfect bypass for years of psychotherapy. Be content.


The longer version goes something like this:
If you no longer attach significance to so many things, you won’t value those things so much that you’ll be convinced that you need them. When you no longer want anything, you’ll no longer be a needy person. If you’re not needy, you won’t feel the need to be special or interesting, the need for friends, the need to search for some perceived missing piece of your life, or the insistence on fame and adoration.   You’ll essentially have achieved emotional freedom.


The ‘crisis’ can be averted. The artist can look at old photos of themselves in beautiful or exciting settings and not be ashamed of the person in the photograph, their minds, turbulent and desperately needing, wanting, desiring, and in essence, ruining the splendor of living. With the crisis resolved, there is only time to create, and not to waste a moment listening to the mind and all it’s negative attacks upon the ‘self’.


When you notice me, Carlos, you’re observing a walking, living, breathing crisis. That’s what I am, and I suspect most of us are. But beyond the shallow identity, the superstructure of the personality and all our psychological baggage is a happy person, filled with laughter and amazement at how crazy ‘I’ really am. This observation makes all the difference, when eliminating drama and realizing how much fun it is to create.


Destructive Art

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‘Kristopher’ © 2018 Carlos Aleman
Model: Krystopher Perry
Reference photo by Aaron White


When I first started Googling Gerhard Richter years ago, I considered his blur paintings to be ‘destructive’ (Although Richter is adamant that they are not, merely a ‘balancing’). As I’ve come across many other artists, seemingly ruining a perfectly good work of art by painting abstract over realism, the word, destructive, always comes to mind. The first few times I attempted this, I have to admit, it did get my pulse up a little—the apprehension, I suppose is natural. Why would an artist want to spend so many hours attempting to render a subject realistically, only to obscure it with severe and harsh brushstrokes and paint splatter? In the same way an institution evolves whilst maintaining reverence for the past, sometimes art progresses in more than one direction. Who can deny that the delicate edges between the rectangles of a Rothko painting taught us volumes? Why not revisit Pollack and Pop art? What will we include in our art omelette? Perhaps the evolutionary fossil record of painting will, if you look hard enough, include the love of many muses and the love of many methods.




Luna – All It Really Is

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‘Luna’ © 2018 Carlos Aleman


Luna is wearing a Marie Antoinette inspired costume. It seems fitting to go back in time, in a sense, and consider the rise of Neoclassicism in a painting that perhaps encompasses all of art history. I say this because I’ve never been able to let go of realism as I respond to modern and contemporary movements. The bright, colorful works of Superflat in all that is Pop and Post Pop, the love for Takashi Murakami and Romero Britto, and the destructive renderings of Lionel Smit and Mario Henrique all get processed somehow in my psyche. And yet all it really is—the most profound subject in all existence—a beautiful woman gazing deep in thought, in the manner of Vermeer and Ikenaga Yasunari, or atleast my take on it.





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‘Remain’ © 2018 Carlos Aleman


‘Remain’ (Aryuna Tardis No. 2)
Acrylic on Canvas – 30” x 48”

‘Remain’ is a project that I’ve wanted to work on for almost a year. The first painting I did of Aryuna Tardis, entitled, ‘Gimme Love,’ seemed to be well received by the model, but when I asked if she would give me permission to use another of her images as a reference picture for a painting, I never heard back, despite several follow ups. Upon a closer look at the painting, was she displeased or upset with the rendering or proportions? Was she secretly adamant that I never paint her again? Oh, the angst and drama! I checked my measurements and found to my dismay that I had made the distance between her nose and mouth ever so slightly off—maybe a sixteenth of an inch.   Such tiny miscalculations are major catastrophes in portraiture. Oh well!

But after many months, I decided to ask again. Aryuna, who is Russian—and I’m not sure how good her English is—responded:   Hi! Sure! followed by five heart emoji.   Game on, I thought.


A Beautiful Boredom

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Underneath all the technology, the radiant displays and electric colors of our online profiles, social media presence, friends, friends and more friends we’ve never even met —underneath all the sharing, posting, commenting and ‘likes,’ underneath all the things we admit and all the things we hide, all our loneliness and insecurity, successes and failures, exaggerations, and moments of laughter and pain, there is somewhere underneath all those pixels, the image of ourselves we try so hard to create, ordinary people living in boredom, an almost unbearably beautiful boredom.


The Second Layla Ong

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‘Layla Number 2’ © 2018 Carlos Aleman Acrylic on Canvas
Diptych (2 panels, 40″ x 30″ each, total size = 40″ x 60″)


This second version of Layla Ong is very similar to the first except for eye color, green halo and angle. (Photographer, Lenne Chai, was kind enough to allow me to use her work as reference images) I think the influence of Japanese woodblock printing is even more apparent in the lines, and perhaps, flatness of the painting. There’s also an Art Deco feel to it, nothing intentional, just how things look to me afterwards.

Working on two large panels, I find that the color and detail are quite satisfying, but not so much as a jpg on a device. I suppose it’s the same as writing music to be performed at a stadium as opposed to a smaller venue. (Ever watch David Byrne’s TED Talk: How architecture helped music evolve?) I wonder how artists paint enormous murals on the sides of buildings. Anyway, I was in the mood for a larger work and another portrait of Layla—now on to something different… maybe.