The vibrant gifts of Inheritance in Andrew Alba’s works at Material art gallery

Andrew Alba remembers the prints of paintings such as Emiliano Zapata, the leading figure of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century, and works by Mexican artist Diego Rivera that occupied a place of honor in his grandparents’ home. The grandson of Mexican migrant workers who came to the U.S., Alba says, in an interview with The Utah Review, the memories of growing up in their home — sitting at the kitchen table, watching his grandmother tend to her plants and absorbing the pride of their Mexican cultural heritage — set the foundation for curating his identity as an artist.  

Viewing the repetitive undulating rhythms and counterpoints of movement on the canvases of Alba’s works, one can feel clearly the subtly expressed organic complex of emotions which carries this Salt Lake City artist, who is now in his late thirties. When one learns about the diverse assortment of muses this self-taught artist has interacted with and curated since his childhood, it becomes even clearer for the viewer to find their own emotional parallels to the ideals, beliefs, ethics and cultural touchstones which propel Alba’s work. 

Andrew Alba, Sleeping Baby, graphite on dropcloth 48” x 53”

True to its exhibition title, Inheritance is a marvelous example of an artist’s unique crafting of his visual interpretation of Neo-Expressionism. Available through April 19, this presentation of Alba’s latest paintings and drawings is available at Material (2970 South West Temple), Utah’s newest contemporary art gallery.  

Throughout his childhood, Alba enjoyed making art and his most positive experiences with art classes were in high school and, subsequently, he decided not to pursue formal studies in a college program. He also was into music, playing acoustic and electric guitar in bands with folk and psychedelic rock influences. Meanwhile, he was attracted to the technical aspects of drawing and thought about a career in construction. He landed a job as a welder but, at the age of 24, he suffered an arm injury and didn’t work for nine months. “I couldn’t play guitar and I became really depressed so art became my form of escapism,” he explained.

Alba said that, at the time, he was dejected and mad about the state of the world but he also believed in the potential of the poetics of art to transcend the moment and capture joy, nostalgia, pride and brightness in life.  

Andrew Alba

He understood why the print of Zapata, for instance, held its place of honor in his grandparents. As Samuel Brunk, the biographer of the Mexican revolutionary hero, wrote, Zapata “stands for the lasting ability and willingness of the dispossessed to maintain their dignity and to resist.” 

As a musician, he was drawn to the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Then there was D’Angelo’s Voodoo album, which dropped in 2000 before Alba turned 14.

The album was D’Angelo’s masterpiece (which sounds as fresh as ever, in connecting to it, nearly a quarter of a century after its release). Considering tracks such as The Root and The Line, one can easily draw the parallel between the importance of this muse and Alba’s visual expressions in Inheritance

Andrew Alba, Abuela, oil on canvas, 26” x 33”

To wit, a verse in The Root, “I feel my soul is empty, my blood is cold and I can’t feel my legs/ I need someone to hold me, bring me back to life before I’m dead.” But, whatever demons of rage or despondency are in his mind and soul, D’Angelo speaks to transcending the difficult moment to find boundless meaning and hope: “From the Alpha of creation, to the end of all time.” D’Angelo reiterates this point in the final verse of The Line: “If I can hold on, I’m sure everything will be alright.” 

In works that can evoke sociopolitical sentiments, Alba relies not on rage but a judiciously mature and wise visual response. He invites the viewer to find their own terms on allowing the message, as they might interpret it, to seep into their consciousness. Thus, the viewer does not have to worry that their reaction could differ from or eclipse the focus of Alba’s artistic expression, which already thrives on its own merits.

Among the greatest 20th century artists Alba connects to is Henri Matisse. Late in his life, Matisse was commissioned to design the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence for the Dominican Order in France.  His designs started with sheets of colored paper that he cut with a large pair of scissors. Just as his Dance and Music paintings from decades earlier had captured the vibrant effects of color in motion, Matisse’s hand-cut images for the chapel design portrayed individuals moving and playing or plants and trees moving with the wind or in water. 

Andrew Alba, Dogs in Blue, oil on canvas, 58” x 58”

For Alba, a self-taught artist, Matisse’s approach resonated because he knew that art’s purpose nor its representation ever has to become didactic. Nor does it have to end up existing in an aesthetic vacuum uncoupled from the idiosyncratic experiences of life. His technique incorporates thick, gestural applications of oil paint (which he accomplishes by scratching and scraping with a knife) and he uses repurposed ordinary materials in his work. Alba’s paintings and drawings spark the viewer not to reflect particularly upon the work in trying to discern its purpose, but to connect with it by thinking about their own memories and experiences and how they might engender a similar emotional response. 

Just as relevant and resonant in fine tuning his artistic language, Alba absorbed Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, among the finest examples of magical realism in 20th century literature. When Márquez received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, be said, “poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels . . . we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.” In Inheritance, Alba shows us how he has assuaged his experiences with solitude, creating works that enlighten us and encourage fresh perspectives to overcome the fractured lines that have divided us culturally, historically and politically.  

Alba has exhibited widely throughout Utah and in the Pacific Northwest. He is a recipient of a Visual Arts Fellowship from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums and was selected to complete a residency as part of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art’s Artist-in-Residence program.

Alba will attend the closing reception for the exhibition on April 19 at 6 p.m. For more information and availability of Alba’s works for sale, see the Material gallery website.

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