Julio Alan Lepez has been painting portraits since back when he was at Art College. I met him two years ago, for a joint interview with his best friend and fellow artist Pablo Lehmann back in 2009. So it comes as no surprise to bump into Lehmann as soon as I walk into Lepez’s newly opened exhibition at the Mundo Nuevo art gallery in Recoleta.
It is well known by now that Lepez’ subjects are always his friends. He works from photographs he takes of them, asking them to pose according to the idea he wants to portray, and even though it is evident that he has many very willing friends, after a few years of following his work one starts to recognize them, to almost feel like part of the group, like walking up to one of them and saying “hey, how have you been, its been ages!” According to Lehmann, portrayed many times throughout the years, “he is generating a strange feeling in our group of friends, it’s weird to see yourself and your friends portrayed in different strange situations, and to see the reaction of other people towards those portraits of you, and even worse, when the guy plays with the titles”.
The titles Lepez gives to his works are very important. “If I don’t have a title, I don’t have a painting”, says Lepez. Often, the title comes before the painting. A big fan of Latin American literature, works such as “Tardes sin Teresa” (Afternoons without Teresa) were inspired from situations or characters in a novel, in this case from “Ultimas tardes con Teresa” , by Juan Marsé. Other titles, such as “Retratos imposibles” (Impossible Portraits) or “Retratos psicologicos” (Psychological Portraits) are constantly re-used with different characters. “To me the title is a way of capturing the spectator’s attention, a way of intriguing him and drawing him closer to the work. The image captivates, but the title sets him thinking all the more. I go crazy if picture and title are not perfect together”, explains the artist.
Lepez not only reads a lot, but has actually written a few short stories, so his imagination is packed with strange characters and strange situations. As he explains, often he has an idea, thinks what friend would embody it best, has this friend pose accordingly, and then starts to work on the piece, eventually cutting the figure out and adding objects, and in his new series, mechanical or electrical devices. A few of the pieces in his new show have levers and buttons that when pressed actually activate the piece.
When I look at Lepez’s new work something Lehmann told me that afternoon two years ago comes into my mind: “Lepez’s ironic sense of humor always comes through in his work. His subjects are very often carrying out childish actions such as playing with a toy horse”. This irony comes through in his new work, in which his figures are not only playing, but in a way becoming toys themselves. “Each piece tells a story, and in that narrative of mine humor is very important, it’s a parody of reality”, says Lepez.
It is in this way that Lepez’ work invites the spectator to interact with it, not only due to its realism and captivating sense of humor, but also because one can actually cause a reaction by touching it, let alone the fact that the titles always set one thinking and wondering what the artist meant. The startling realism of his figures, made all the more striking by the fact that they are actually cut out and life size, is softened on closer inspection by loose brushstrokes and that particular sense of humor that turns them into quirky characters out of dreams or magic-realism stories.
Seldom, or never, using a canvas, Lepez’ figures are always emerging from the flat square surface traditionally used for portraits. Cut out of hardboard and using anything from cardboard boxes to bits of bicycles or toys, the characters are always doing something, or in this new series, becoming something, such as an airplane. Lepez’ work cannot really be called “pictures”, they are more like pieces of work that actually become people in a room. If one owned a Lepez and had it hanging on one’s wall, this character would become more like a friend, part of one’s life, not just that “painting on the wall”.
Julio Alan Lepez
Monday – Friday, 11 AM to 8 PM.