Inside the Studio

RF on natural pigments

We visit the Austin, Texas studio of RF Alvarez to learn about the specific histories of the natural pigments he used to paint his figurative series ‘Elegy’.

Photos by RF Alvarez and Mackenzie Smith Kelley

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“Red Ochre is one of the first pigments used by humans: it shows up in cave paintings and on ceramics around the world. It gets its compound from iron oxide, the same compound that colors our blood, and that carries a whole suite of implication with creating an artwork. I like the idea that I'm painting with a life source.”

— RF Alvarez

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“Raw Sienna is similarly a pigment that shows up in many of our earliest art-making as a species. I use this pigment as a base for compositions in direct reference to the caves of Lascaux and other similar prehistorical works.”

— RF Alvarez

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“Ultramarine blue is traditionally made from lapis lazuli mined in Afghanistan. The Italians used it throughout the renaissance and gave it the name oltre il mare or beyond the sea because it would arrive in ships from the east. This pigment carries with it a representation of the interconnectedness of cultures, the worldwide trading that defines us, but also an emotional weight as its intense color is heavy, dominating, and luminescent.”

— RF Alvarez

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“The bodies in this series no longer have a symbiotic relationship with nature, they become a part of it, permeable to it, vulnerable to it and exist in a careful balance with it. ”

— RF Alvarez

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“Terre Verte is a green pigment derived from a celadonite and used throughout the Renaissance as an underpainting to flesh tones. I like to depict bodies in my works that appear made of clay, and this fact helps emphasize that motif. Underneath the skin there is green earth, which is to say we are a part of our environment. ”

— RF Alvarez

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