The Art of Popular Culture With Alvaro Arts

From "I Dream of Jeannie" to Donald Trump, Alvaro has created thoughtful, beautiful works and there are no plans to slow down.
Image Courtesy of Alvaro Arts: David Bowie / Iman

Alvaro of Alvaro Arts, renowned painter/illustrator particularly in the fashion and entertainment industries, recently took the time to interview with us about his works, his connections, his interests, and what’s in store in 2017, and we’re delighted to share it with you.

Alvaro Arts, Painter, Interview

Alvaro Arts

Imbued with admiration for the beauty and strength of women, so began Alvaro’s obsession with fashion culture, pop and surreal art, and drawing the female figure. While studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Alvaro met and became the protege of the legendary fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez.

Alvaro’s works can be found in the personal art collections of many celebrities and socially prominent individuals such as Mariah Carey, Oribe, Jay Manuel, Denise Rich, Judith Regan, Naomi Campbell, and Iman.

Alvaro has been commissioned by many leading international companies such as Dupont, Chiat/Day, Loreal, Armani, Calvin Klein and his creations have appeared on packaging for beauty products, in advertisements, on billboards and several well-known books.

Alvaro’s work has also appeared in major publications such as American and Greek editions of Elle; Italian and German editions of Vogue and Bazaar; New York Magazine; Esquire; Essence; Billboard; and The New York Times. And for the August 2001 edition, he was commissioned for the first painted cover of Vibe magazine, a portrait of singer Aaliyah by Alvaro. More recently his 7-foot tall canvas portrait of Candis Cayne was presented on I Am Cait.

How did your interest in art come about and when did you find out you could draw?

My mother said I was drawing with crayons before I was two years of age. I believe that all children are born artists and tend to first express by creating with their hands on any surface. Some children eventually let it go, and some continue.

My father was and still is a painter and singer, in the early 1960’s he was also a film cutter editor. He would bring home films which he would show from a noisy projector on a white sheet on the wall. I felt inspired by the women I saw on the wall and eventually started trying to draw them. I also loved drawing “I Dream of Jeannie” and Betty & Veronica of the Archie’s. I was raised in the South Bronx.

From where do you draw inspiration for your artwork?

I have always been inspired by human nature either around me or what I viewed on television and out in the streets. Human energy and emotions of all types always drew me in. I was one of those that had to run to see something happening because of curiosity. I had to know what was happening which is why I like reality TV and know that Warhol would have been obsessed with it.

Growing up in the South Bronx was very dramatic and helped build a lot of passion and character in me, and it prepared me to be tough in an industry that could swallow you if you were weak. I use this strength in my lines…

Pop culture is a broad concept. Your works have included elements of fashion and models, musicians, and even Olympic athletes as subjects. What are some of the genres of pop culture you find most interesting to draw and paint and why?

Alvaro Arts, Painter, Interview

Image Courtesy of Alvaro Arts

I love going back into my childhood through the 60’s and 70’s and creating images that made me feel happy before having to deface culture. Kimba the young white lion was and is my ultimate animal cartoon hero because he fought for the rights of all animals and wanted peace; a message obviously for humanity.

I feel the need to combine childhood pop culture toon images with social issues like Lucy van Pelt as a teen pregnant on the cover of Parenting magazine. Aunt Jemima on the cover of Vogue magazine for the beauty issue or Miss Piggy on the cover of Glamour magazine. How about our Statue of Liberty defaced with graffiti on the cover of time or Vanity Fair magazine. I have never been one to explain why I created something I rather my art speak for itself. The writing is like silent films.

You attended FIT, and we’ve seen from Instagram you have several connections to fashion moguls and supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Iman. You’ve also done work for the likes of Mariah Carey. How did all those connections come about?

I only attended fit in the early 80’s for the sole reason to meet one of my idols Antonio Lopez who would make appearances and speak in the amphitheater. He noticed me sitting in the second row as I kept asking questions. He sent over his assistant to have me and four other students to pose with him for the school paper. He asked me to model for him, and from there I became a regular at the studio answering phones, greeting guests and models, looking at model portfolios, getting paper and things at the art store sometimes Juan Ramos would ask me to trace some drawings that were going off to the clients, etc…

Alvaro Arts, Painter, Interview

Courtesy of Alvaro Arts: Naomi Campbell

“We were never involved with each other” is my response to a question that I have always been asked. One day he called me and told me he was drawing Iman for Vogue, and Andre Leon Talley would be there and said to come in. I had never seen a woman as beautiful and regal as her.

After Antonio passed away, I myself drew Iman for the Elite Models calendar starting my career and soon after we have worked on many projects including for her cosmetics and became family.

As for Naomi, I remember seeing her at the age of 15 on the cover of Taxi magazine and saying she was going to be the biggest model, like a rock star, and set my vision to finding her. One year at a Fernando Sanchez fashion show she appeared walking, and after the show, I ran after her. I grabbed her arm, spun her around and told her that I had a drawing of her and that I was going to give it to Oscar Reyes a top booker at Elite Models. I had lied that I had a drawing just to get her attention and I ran to 14th Street to buy an extra-large t-shirt to draw her on. I spent all night drawing and the next day went to Oscar. He called her at Steven Meisel’s shoot and told her. She came after the shoot and the rest is our history.

Mariah Carey appeared on the scene around 1990 and I said she was going to have more number 1 hits than any other woman and set my energy to creating for her. I used to pray to god and ask please give me Mariah. I had created a series of large canvas paintings of mermaids for the brilliant hairstylist Oribe (“My favorite person to work for”) and his salons. The Mermaids were in his Miami salon where Mariah had seen and loved them. Her hairstylist Roque gave her my number and she called me which at first I thought someone was playing a joke on me. I finally got to create paintings and other images for her.

I have been very determined to follow many dreams as a little boy and never ever gave or give up…

Out of the younger models today, are there any you see who have supermodel potential? And are there any you have plans to draw?

Many years ago while watching the Housewives of Beverly Hills I noticed this young girl on it and I immediately called out that she was going to be the one to bring back the supermodel and bring back models on fashion magazine covers. I also noticed she had a younger sister and said she had a sharper more high fashion look. Those models today are Gigi and Bella Hadid. The other two are Hailey Baldwin and Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kai Gerber. I would love all four. I don’t do models like I used to as they just don’t have that magic and individuality of past models but now we have Gigi…

You did a seven-foot tall illustration of Candis Cayne which is a phenomenal piece. How did that project come about?

Thank you so very much. One of my dearest bonding friends Lina Bradford “DJ Lina” had an idea after I had just finished creating drawings of her for her youtube talk show “In the Dollhouse with Lina”. She said, “Oh my God! We have to surprise my sister Candis with one of your pin-ups!” She hired me again to create the 7-foot pin-up of Candis who I have known forever as well. When Lina went to California carrying this huge tube on the plane with her “haha!!”, she surprised Candis which almost sent her to the hospital! Candis always wanted me to immortalize her and so we got her good!!! Yes, Candis I know you’re reading this, we got you real good!!!

What has been your most well-received project to date and why do you think that is?

Oh my goodness. I have been surviving only as an artist since the age of 18 back in 1982 and have created so many things that it is sometimes hard to choose. I think it would probably be a toss up between works I have created for Iman Cosmetics, my Vibe magazine’s first illustrated cover of singer Aaliyah, the Oribe Mermaid series or my pop art parody paintings.

I believe the new 25-foot mural I just created this fall of famous painters owns subjects sitting at a Mondrian dinner table together in unity “because of what is going on in our country” inspired by the last supper titled “the last dish” will be among the ones. This mural can be seen at a restaurant in Verona, New Jersey called Avenue Bistro Pub. You have to see it.

Alvaro Arts, Painter, Interview

Courtesy of Alvaro Arts

Much of your work focuses on iconic pop culture figures, particularly women, but some of your illustrations appear more politically engaging such as the one with Donald Trump with the number 666 on his forehead. How politically active would you say you are with your art and how do politics and art come together for you?

I would first like to express that when I create my political art with my opinion that in no way am I trying to personally insult certain people. I have many friends that are Republicans, Democrats and apolitical. I do not consider myself to be an obsessed political person, but I sure will take a parody shot if I think it falls into place with what I believe.

My Statue of Liberty face on the cover of Time magazine, a 4-foot painting on canvas with graffiti on her and a gunshot to her head is a good example of mixing art and politics. I think she is the perfect figure and vessel to use and get many issues that have and continue to occur in our country. I truly do care for all humanity and not only the ones who agree with my paint brushes point.

With our current presidential administration will we see more politically oriented illustrations from you?

Yes! Trump is the perfect bullseye.

What projects or plans are in the works for 2017?

I am very excited to be working on creating personal paintings for clients’ homes and mansions. I am especially excited to be creating my dream painting for a client which is on a 7-foot canvas and filled with many Hollywood classic women from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.

The rest I leave up to the Rainbows to guide my brushes. I send everyone many hugs and smiles, and I thank you for this interview.


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Co-owner & VP of Operations, John is a thinker and a doer. He's a whiz at working through policies and procedures but loves taking time to explore the urban environment in which he lives and calls home. He also appreciates getting his fancy tickled.

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