Perhaps the most high profile coverage Peruvian-born, New York-based artist Emil Alzamora has ever received is on Jared Leto’s blog. Along with posting pictures of himself amidst various celebrities, as well as positive reviews of his projects, Leto occasionally posts the work of artists he admires — Alzamora is one of them. It could be that Leto himself loves Alzamora’s material-driven, surrealist sculptures, which feature distorted human figures that look as if they were made from silly putty, and pulled apart to create elongated, unnatural forms. Or it could have been his intern.
Either way, it doesn’t faze Alzamora, who doesn’t need Leto to legitimize his work. He has a slew of collectors, museum curators and art critics who have done that for him already. In the past few years, his sculptures have been exhibited widely around the world at venues such as Mauger Modern Art in London and Krause Gallery in New York, and have been featured in publications such as the New York Times and The Brooklyn Rail.
Alzamora studied art at Florida State University in the mid-1990s, which he said had a very “choose your own adventure type curriculum.” After graduation, he moved to Mallorca, with the intention of sailing a boat in the Mediterranean, but soon after returned to New York, where some guys told him about an incredible foundry. He hitched a ride up to it with a friend, and found his destiny.
The place was called Polich Tallix, and he began working there in 1998. Over time, assisting on other artist’s projects, he learned to master materials with disparate qualities such as gypsum, ceramic, glass and resin. The process of working with each informed his own practice. “The possibilities and limitations of art are embodied in materials,” he explained over the phone from his studio in upstate New York. “The more you know about materials, the more doors open up in your own work.” He found that he was drawn to the human form because it communicates so much to both himself and to his viewer. “We immediately recognize it, and we can almost inhabit it,” he explains. “There is a strong emotional bond between the object and the viewer — or at least a potentially strong emotional bond.”
By altering the forms — elongating the necks, suspending them in the air, making them impossibly fat — he is allowing a form we can relate to (our bodies) to enter a different realm. In doing so, he finds a sort of balance between the right and left sides of our brain — we recognize the forms in his sculptures, but we also take pleasure in seeing them interpreted in strange ways. They are both scientific and creative.
For me, Alzamora’s sculptures are redolent less of other sculptors, and more of illustrators like Shel Silverstein. Reading Silverstein’s poems as I kid, I was always vaguely creeped out — characters’ heads fell off, or they were turned into televisions – but in the same token, I couldn’t get enough of them. There’s something enjoyable in the discomfort of seeing another person’s body do things it shouldn’t — be stretched too long, squished too tight, suspended in air, broken into pieces — that feels very elemental to human nature. (Arguably, in this place the act of torture is born.) In Alzamora’s work, viewers can experience strange, fantastic things happening to other bodies, and leave assured that nothing will happen to our own. There’s a pleasure in the dark undertones.
Alzamora is represented by Krause Gallery in New York.