With the stroke of his brush, Cuban artist Pedro Alvarez revealed more about the global influences transforming the character of his native country than any politician or party pundit.
In one painting, Alvarez, 37, layered images of Spanish soldiers during the Napoleonic era over a collage of "The Simpsons." It’s a fusion of the Romantic images Europeans brought to Cuba with bits of American commercialism penetrating the island’s shores despite a long-standing embargo.
"He used humor and beauty to seduce the viewer, to entice the viewer to the painting," Marilyn A. Zeitlin, Arizona State University Art Museum art director, said of Alvarez, who committed suicide Feb. 12 at a Tempe hotel.
"The witty and engaging way he could layer meaning makes the work very appealing and it enabled him to say many different things the viewer of the painting could interpret in his own way."
Alvarez was in Tempe putting together his first solo exhibit in the United States. The exhibit, "Landscape in the Fireplace: Paintings by Pedro Alvarez," will continue through June 19 at the ASU Art Museum.
A memorial service for Alvarez will be noon Friday at the museum.
Schooled in art since childhood, Alvarez was one of a generation of Cuban artists who emerged onto the international art scene after the collapse of the Soviet Union left the country in economic turmoil. Alvarez and other artists occupied a special place in Cuban society.
They were permitted to sell their works in the international art market for hard currency. By American standards the income wasn’t lavish, but in Cuba it propelled those artists into the upper economic strata and allowed many of them to travel.
This collaboration was Alvarez’s second with the university. In 1998, he and other artists toured the United States in ASU’s first Cuban art exhibit. While preparing his latest exhibit, Alvarez interacted with the community, visited with students and produced prints of his paintings with a local atelier.
"He was certainly among the best, most important artists of his generation," Zeitlin said.
"There is a tremendous sense of loss in the world art community."
Memorial for Cuban artist Pedro Alvarez
When: Noon Friday
Where: Arizona State University Art Museum, 10th Street and Mill Avenue, Tempe
Information: (480) 965-2787