Like many sculptors, Emil Alzamora is fascinated and preoccupied with the human form, a form that everyone, from any culture, can relate to on many levels. His new exhibition at London’s Pontone Gallery is dominated by figurative sculptures that are both anonymous and androgynous, being allegories and metaphors for the human condition.
His figures appear in a variety of media – bronze, stainless steel, resin, ceramic and plaster – as well as a range of colours. Sculpture is something of a contemplative process for Alzamora. Many of these works on show have developed over a period of years, worked upon only when the mood seemed right.
Take Animist, for example, above. It had a five-year gestation, often worked at inches at a time. It’s a fascinating piece that typifies Alzamora’s style and thought process. The body form is shaped by a single coil whose point of origin is at the top of the head resembling a whorl in the hair. The piece reflects the human psyche in that it is restrictive, insulating and limiting yet there’s a wonderful symmetry and simplicity to it that contrasts the negativity. This internal balance is also reflected in the physical balance of the seated pose.
Animist, originally constructed in plaster, has been cast in a composite stone-like material, finished with graphite acrylic paint before being wire-brushed. The natural balance between dark and light within human consciousness runs like a vein through this show. “I think a good work of art has beauty but also has horror, ” he explained to me. “It has that whole range of experience which can be challenging but can also be compelling, like life.”
The balance is almost literal in Abyss, in which the figure, cast in bronze this time, is bent like a swimmer waiting for the starting gun to fire before a race. Below, she (I see it as female but it’s not identifiable) is contemplating not water but an undetermined abyss, accentuated by her elongated arms. Her toes are tense as they grip for dear life. The sculpture was begun in 2008 in the wake of the economic crash.
“It was a sort of contemplation of what is an abyss, what is the bottom, being on the edge and reaching into it, not being terrified of it but having a curiosity about that darker, deeper aspect of our psyche. It could be any kind of abyss that we create is worth contemplating.”
Emil Alzamora was born in Peru, grew up in Majorca, Spain and in Florida where he studied Fine Art at the State University there. He now lives just north of New York City in the Hudson valley. He retains UK citizenship through his father.
This lengthy-titled work, above, refers to Marcus Aurelius, being one of the more noble emperors towards the end of the Roman Empire. It’s painted resin mounted on a marble plinth, the plinth required to support its head in appropriately classic fashion. The body appears as if it’s being lifted, resurrected perhaps, giving it a kind of quasi-religious supernatural quality. Once again, there exists that balance between ideals and altruism on the one hand implicit in the elegance and grace of the form, and the savagery for which we know the Roman Empire was capable, all inherent in the human mind.
Gullfoss is the name of an Icelandic waterfall and this bronze sculpture is part of a series of eroded figures, both in bronze and ceramic, rendered in a style reminiscent of sculptors like Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick. Some of the works feature figures in pairs such as Close, the picture at the top of the article. Alzamora references a waterfall since seating beneath such a powerful one would not only be eroding in a physical sense but a cleansing experience in the spiritual. It’s much more of an emotional piece than the more naturalistic works mentioned so far. The slight lowering of the head conveys that sense of melancholy. It’s the ability to convey a deeper sense of the self that makes sculpture, in his opinion, the perfect medium.
“There’s something really powerful about a contemplative, internal focus that seems like a natural place for a sculpture because sculpture inherently has a stillness to it, a stillness figuratively associated with pensive, restful, and all these things that can be seen as melancholic or sad.”
Expanded Present also comprises dark ceramic warriors, as if lifted from the Star Wars set. His sculptures are not all smooth. Some ceramics are loosely constructed while others are decked with gold and platinum overglazes. Neither is the exhibition confined to sculpture. There are works on paper both in ink and oils all relating to the human form in one way or another.
“If there’s a purpose behind my work, there is an effort to communicate some of these emotions, ideas, potentiality. What can we be, what are we, who do we want to be? What is humanity as an entity? All these things are components about how we see, how we think, how we feel about ourselves and about life on a deeper level.”
Expanded Present is showing at Pontone Gallery, 43 Cadogan Gardens, London SW3 2TB until 7 July 2019
All images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.