Artist Interviews 2022
By Julia Siedenburg
Alvaro MaGa is a true artist at his craft. He has a way of putting a new take on familiar objects with pen and paper being his only tools. He sets a great scene with his mostly black-and-white pieces. From loading moments of the famous Beauty and the Beast movie to a wrinkled In-n_Out Burger Joint head that touches you in a surprising way, Alvaro’s artworks are nothing short of unique.
I found his work as a happy accident online and I am grateful he agreed to be part of this issue and answer some of my burning questions.
So please, dear readers, enjoy a closer look at Alvaro MaGa.
You’re a very talented artist creating these fascinating pieces simply by using a pencil and a piece of paper. Your subjects are familiar faces and objects yet you show them in a very different light. How do you choose your subjects?
My subjects are influenced partly by my personal interests and passions and partly by the ideas I am trying to explore and express at a given time. I am fascinated by cultural icons and popular characters, especially symbols and characters that have endured within the public consciousness for a long time. Nowadays, I really enjoy working within a broader story or concept arc that has enough depth and complexity for me to create an ongoing series of drawings around it. When I first started drawing, I was mostly concerned with making something that looked “good.” I’ve always been interested in beauty and aesthetically striking composition, but it took me some time to figure out what I wanted to “say” with my art and to discover that storytelling and conceptual thought are what truly inspire me to create.
A great majority of your pieces are black and white which brings a rather sad feeling to seeing the folded and slightly torn-in smiley face. What is your motivation behind it?
I find that drawing in black and white is a simple and effective way to strip objects of distracting information and draw the viewer’s focus to the essential shapes and textures that define them. Black and white works also emphasize the play of light upon a surface and lend even commonplace objects an elegant and sculptural look that I really appreciate. I definitely think that the choice can evoke feelings of melancholy or nostalgia within the viewer, though I do not aim exclusively at producing those emotions. The black and white style also helps me to create a series that feels cohesive, since all my pieces share this essential quality.
Your series of still-loading images is such a unique idea. Please share your inspiration behind it and what these images mean to you.
The inspiration for that series came from my recent immigration to the United States. When I first got here, I had this terrible phone plan which would run out of data basically a week into every month. So for about seven days I would be able to search the internet and stream video, then I would start to have trouble getting things to load. So for the first year of my life here, I was constantly staring at a loading screen. I got pretty used to deciphering partial images and reading through a pixelated lens. This got me thinking about the minimum amount of information we need to recognize an image, especially cultural icons that are deeply ingrained in our emotional memories. I was also interested in translating a distinctly technological experience into an analog form like pen and paper, and the effect that this translation could have on a viewer. From the feedback the series has received so far, it seems that the pieces are eternally frustrating, since they will never load, but they also allow the viewer to consider their own visual limitations or lack thereof—it is amazing how much the brain can fill in from an incomplete image! I really like that each of my pixelated pieces can have these two “readings”: from extremely close-up they appear jumbled and incomprehensible but the further the viewer is from each piece, the less noticeable the pixelation is and the more complete the image appears.
Your extremely detailed hyper-realistic work is done solely through drawing and shading with pen and paper. Are there any other materials you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I am interested in other mediums, like oil painting and sculpture, and I have experimented a bit with both. But I prefer to be very controlled as an artist, so for now the precision and cohesive look of pen and paper is most appealing to me. I would like to be consistent enough in my style (at least for a time) so that my work becomes recognizable as mine. I would love for someone to see one of my drawings displayed somewhere and know right away that it was a “Maestro” piece.
One specific image that especially stands out from your other work is the greek statue with the yellow buff emoji arm added to it. Why did you decide to add the arm and make this the only image with added color?
That piece is actually part of an ongoing series, so I will have a few more forthcoming that are like it, all featuring a bit of color. The idea behind the piece is the blending of ancient and modern icons/iconography—so the black and white of the past meets the color pop of the present. Emoticons aren’t quite as recognizable without their signature colors, so including them was a fun excuse to experiment with my standard approach to composition. By completing a damaged sculpture with an emoticon, I am also playing a bit with the idea of the present trying to “fill in” or overlay the past with a new form of emotional expression. I have a few other series in the works that will also feature a bit of color, but I plan to keep it limited—just a punch here or there—and stick as closely to my black and white baseline as I can.
Tell us a bit about your childhood and upbringing.
I was born and raised in Valencia, Spain. It was a very happy childhood. I was surrounded from the beginning of my life by the colors of the Mediterranean and by the historical buildings of my city. You don’t have to be wealthy to be surrounded by beauty in Europe, it's just everywhere. I think my environment really helped me to develop a strong sense of what is satisfying and pleasing to the eye. My father was also an artist—a painter—though it wasn’t his primary career. He tried many different jobs throughout the course of his life, but painting was always a constant. Some of his work ended up in hotels and restaurants around France, but he never made enough money from it to make art his single focus. My father encouraged me in both my architecture career and in art—sometimes as a kid he would even let me finish the final little bit of a piece he was working on, so that I would feel like I’d made it too. Many seeds were planted by him, I think, though I did not start taking art seriously myself until several years after he died. It makes me glad to think that I might be bringing something to completion for him, forging a career for myself through the thing he really would have loved to do professionally if he could have.
What does making art mean to you? Is it diving into a meditative zone? Escaping the real world for a bit? Or is it letting out your current emotions?
I am happy you asked! I am in the process of developing a website. So I will be selling online there soon, but for now I am primarily on Instagram and selling at the shows I attend in person. I would love to exhibit at galleries or online, pretty much anywhere! Since I am just getting started, I am very flexible with my plans. I just want to get my work out into the world and meet other people within the LA/California art communities.
I cannot seem to find a website or any other place online where your art can be viewed and bought. Are you mainly focusing on promoting and selling your pieces through Instagram? Are you thinking about getting your art exhibit online or in traditional galleries in the future?
My first public exhibitions were at Gallery 113 and The Faulkner Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara in late 2021. After that, I exhibited at a collaboration event with DOPEHAUS Studio, Mad Rabbit, and Desnuda Organic Tequila in June of this year. I’ve also shown at Just Another Gallery in Philadelphia and at The LA Arts District Market a couple of times now. This month I will also be part of The Midnite Bazaar at The Victorian—which I am really looking forward to. I just feel very lucky to be a part of all of this; being interviewed by you is also very fun for me! It’s all been a dream so far, but I think a big dream of mine still would be to have shows within some of the iconic architecture projects/spaces of LA. For example, displaying my work within a John Lautner house would just be amazing.
You are showing your work at the art district market in Downtown Los Angeles. What other places have you showcased them so far? What would be your dream venue to exhibit them?
My first public exhibitions were at Gallery 113 and The Faulkner Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara in late 2021. After that, I exhibited at a collaboration event with DOPEHAUS Studio, Mad Rabbit, and Desnuda Organic Tequila in June of this year. I’ve also shown at Just Another Gallery in Philadelphia and at The LA Arts District Market a couple of times now. This month I will also be part of The Midnite Bazaar at The Victorian—which I am really looking forward to. I just feel very lucky to be a part of all of this; being interviewed by you is also very fun for me! It’s all been a dream so far, but I think a big dream of mine still would be to have shows within some of the iconic architecture projects/spaces of LA. For example, displaying my work within a John Lautner house would just be amazing
What is next for you? What are your hopes for the future regarding your career?
My goals for the present are to just keep creating. I’m starting to experiment with larger pieces and I hope to increase my volume of work a lot by the end of the year. Ideally, I’d love to make art my primary career in the future, though I will always value my work in architecture. I truly enjoy all the projects I get to do right now and I feel very fortunate in both my architecture and art careers. So I really just hope things continue to grow and flourish as they are now—that I can continue to live off of this work that makes me so happy and fulfilled.