IMPOSSIBLE MEMORIES: THE SCULPTURE of CLAUDIA ALVAREZ BY ALEJANDRO PEREA
Children have wisdom, and many profound things can be learned from children. Perhaps this is the reason why Claudia Alvarez creates children out of clay. They appear in every piece of her art. The work of Claudia Alvarez concerns children at play, under stress, and often caught in time in a sort of repose. Her sculpture forces the recalling of memories that are part of a greater story, of family and the repetitive nature of the child’s mind.
Born in Mexico, she moved to the United States as a young girl. Claudia Alvarez was raised and educated in art in California, earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Art at University California Davis and a Master of Fine Art at California College of the Arts. In a fortuitous twist of fate, she was on track to enter the medical field when she discovered the magical material of clay in a ceramics class. She was so captivated and intrigued by the substance that she changed direction completely. She did have a previous history in making art as a middle school student. There, her friends would ask her to draw various things for them. Today, Claudia Alvarez is steeped in the artworld and she is showing her work internationally. She currently lives in Omaha and New York, and and her most recent work can be found in a cultural exchange exhibition, “Wildly different things: New York and Dublin.”
In a video interview, Claudia Alvarez gave for the “Wildly Different things” exhibition, the artist describes her own work as a relationship of adult experiences and spirits presented through child forms. She describes her artwork as communicating a historical influence from her Spanish and Mayan/Mexican Indian heritage, creating “a link” between the two. This points to the transitory nature of her subjects that seem to be caught between spaces. They are forever passing through a never-ending childhood. This reflects the culture of Mexican American people who are forever posited between the two nations.
Claudia Alvarez conveys physical and spiritual elements of life in her ceramics. She does this by visually creating an atmosphere of basic human emotions like love and hate. Silent and overwhelmingly provocative, the clay children look up at their viewers. Gathered in groups, the life-size ceramic sculptures of toddlers are playing, fighting, hanging, and waiting helplessly in the immobility of clay. Her installations usually present multiples of these clay children in stressful and trance-like positions. Mary Day (The Reader.com) says of Alvarez’s installation, “Falling” that each figure appears to be “caught in its own dilemmas.”
They are neglected children, who to tell volumes about the human experience, and human vulnerability. According to the artist, the difficult positions and placement of the children arouse compassion and a “duality of gestural perception.” The figures are indisputably sweet and helpless. The forms are well built, look sturdy, and are simultaneously fragile. The sculptures create a divide
in the mind of the viewer. There is a complex contradiction that continually grows and then consumes the viewer in a sort of deserted island of memory and emotion. Those who see these little children made out of clay begin an unconscious journey of mind that happens all in one frozen instant. These children create a visual climate that shocks the viewer. They confront the viewer with obvious pain, nudity, and dependence. The lighting in these installations is often an isolating spotlight, each child hanging lonely on a swing, as in “Falling Rope of Silence.”
Her surface textures are dramatic and unrefined, highly worked and reworked. She demonstrates this in “Girl in Pink, ”densely packing the clay: it’s dragged, smeared, and forced into place. The glazes she uses are muted, quiet, and soft. Her methods of surface treatments further communicate the universality and difficulty of the human experience. Although the forms are of children, their details convey burden, pain, and the passage of time. These children hold a place of power, as all children do because they must be constantly watched over and observed continuously. The sculpture has a quality of durability yet threatens the viewer with a sense that these children are very breakable. They make their own demands on everyone around them. However, they are powerless and helpless all the same. This highlights the duality expressed in her work.
Claudia Alvarez’s clay children leave the viewer feeling like much remains to be understood about their experience and the experience of being human. The
universality of being a child, the transitional nature of growth and formation, and the permanency of childhood memories, all of this is captured within the physique of the children. Her works speak about memories lost and forgotten, the strange relationship everyone has with their past, as everyone once lived as a child and ultimately confronts the forgetting of childhood.
Claudia Alvarez’s art places the viewer at the threshold of consciousness and stirs questions: Who were we? Were we entirely different creatures than who and what we are today? These ceramic children demand that the viewers recall our past lives as children. There is, in the experience of viewing them, a half dream/reality, affections touching across time, of our collective hypnagogic trance called childhood. a half dream, half reality, of our collective hypnagogic trance called childhood.