Luis Alves: Collage, Celebrity, and Social Architecture

Mudon It has been my belief that the creation of art—literary, performative and visual—requires that we reveal our fetishes, our obsessions, strengths and weaknesses. Artists are of course notorious for endeavoring practices that produce everything from navel-gazing to more objective critical self-analysis and discovery. Luis Alves, a resident artist of South Orange, New Jersey, creates collage-based, visual allegories, with an imaginative, cheeky preciseness in his show, The Final Cut, currently on exhibition through October 11th at Compelling Images Fine Arts Gallery, a new venue that is partnered with (SOJAX) South Orange Jewelry and Art Exchange.

Alves generates fertile ideas in his work on the topics of celebrity, fashion iconography and material consumption that preoccupy us as a modern society. These works, the result of his exhaustive culling of fashion, tabloid and entertainment magazines, comprise an absorbing collection of thematically related collage hangings and one textile rendering of a sexy, wanting Super-model, juxtaposed against an angel who is either curiously drawn to or appalled by observations of our obscenely noisy world.



Other Alves leitmotifs explore subjects that are familiar to us for their degrees of spectacle and bad behavior in Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, politicians, the fashion industry and Reality TV stars. In a particularly quixotic piece, actress Pamela Anderson (of Baywatch fame) is reimaged holding two massive world globes in the palms of her hands and that rest against her chest. This image, Alves offered, was criticized by a visitor, offended by what she saw as his “sexist framing” of Anderson’s subjectivity, if not her body parts.

“That’s one argument,” Alves thoughtfully replied, insisting that, “I’m not interested in judging my subjects.” Yet he is drawn to “the satire and mocking,” that celebrities often handily create for themselves. Mostly he sees himself as a witness who documents “the parts and pieces” of our mediated times, through his meticulously crafted, collage process that reinforces an existing social architecture. Although trained in fashion design and illustration at Pratt Institute, Alves admits, “fashion design, graphic art and advertising, never interested me one bit. My whole focus since childhood, (when he immigrated with his family at age seven from Portugal) was always on the hand-done quality of the work—the execution that collage offers.”



Alves extends the metaphor of unnatural body features in his nostalgic depiction of an adolescent Michael Jackson, (seen in the collage titled “Jesus Christ.”) We are accustomed to the grotesque images of the adult Jackson, so he instead, allows us to ponder the features of the gifted, “Super Star” child prodigy, when he still wore an Afro and his caramel-colored skin. Then there’s the Obamas, whimsically insinuated by Alves onto a Chocolate Cheerios cereal box, into which he “packages” the racial and political implications of the nation’s first “Chocolate” family that dwells in the “Chocolate City.” Perhaps by necessity and design, they crunch and munch their way through patriotic acts of duty and red carpet appearances.

While Alves’s work does not claim that pop-culture obsessions are exclusive to the millennial era, it seems to suggest that our entanglements and fascination with celebrity are inextricably tethered to what the social and cultural dynamics that underpin these critiques are really about. To that he says, “my work has a push and pull quality to it—celebrating and questioning the cult of celebrity, but also disturbed by it. You don’t want to look, but you have to.”

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  1. It’s good to know what going on in the South Orange community and the spirit with which the article was written is very refreshing.

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