"I think art essentially is this: the basic belief in the future. Because otherwise, why make it?" artist Jose Alvarez D.O.P.A. posits to New Times over the phone from his home in Plantation.
He's just arrived back from a couple of days in New York City, where he was promoting the new documentary An Honest Liar, based on his longtime partner, James "The Amazing" Randi, a renowned skeptic and expert debunker of psychics and faux soothsayers. The film was buoyed by a Kickstarter campaign and opened earlier this month to a wave of critics' head nods. Alvarez, age 53, and the 86-year-old Randi are a little tired as a result, but in the best possible way.
"It's been having a phenomenal reception. The Q&A's with people have been very beautiful, and we are very pleased and very tired," he says with a laugh. "Everything is good." Alvarez's own belief in the future is apparent as he gears up for a large-scale showing of his works at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood that opens Friday.
It's the interplay between skepticism and the possibility of belief, between exploring mysticism and embracing inquisitiveness in a time of complacency, that is at the forefront of Alvarez's works. This was true in the beginning of his career in the late 1980s, when Alvarez played the part of a performance artist who conjured up a 2,000-year-old spirit named Carlos to expose both the vulnerabilities of the media and the public's need to believe in the spiritual.
The interplay proceeds with his latest show, "As Far as the I Can See," an impressive undertaking at the Art and Culture Center. The show transforms four first-floor galleries into a site-specific, multisensory habitat outfitted with the artist's works of wall murals, archival TV performances, collages, animations, large-scale paintings, and works on paper.
This show will be the art center's first time allowing one artist to fully occupy all four areas. "As Far as the I Can See" is a continuation into Alvarez's line of visual inquiry into the unknown, which he says takes on many forms, whether through scientific and theoretical physics or anthropological research, and is influenced by everything from DJ culture to cosmological episodes.
The aim is to embolden the viewer with a sense of what is possible, an anti-apocalypse, as he explains it. "I want them to feel hope or even the antithesis of the apocalypse. We are surrounded by this constant narrative about how we are doomed and how we are going to destroy ourselves, which it might be true, but I also believe in the capacity that we have to care for one another and to do what is right to move our own selves forward."
Alvarez's bold use of a kaleidoscope-like color palette for his large-scale wall murals indeed instigates a feeling of an ecstatic hopefulness, and his vibrant, ethereal efforts are grounded by earthly materials like porcupine quills, feathers, shaved mica, and crystals and serve to show this push and pull between the tangible realm and otherworldly.
"As Far as the I Can See" is partly based on Alvarez's conversations with Randi over the years as well as his visits to Houston's NASA Space Flight Center and investigations into the construction of systems of beliefs.
"It's just been a constant there," he explains. "Since Randi has a very specific, rational way of thinking as part of the skeptical movement, his friends were Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others, so he has a very particular, scientific take on things. I came into the picture with a much more mystical point of view, and it's been kind of an evolving relationship between those two forces, so that has been the genesis of the work all throughout... I try to find a unifying feeling for both of them."
Alvarez, who was born in Venezuela as Deyvi Orangel Pena Arteaga, has gone by Jose Alvarez D.O.P.A. since a 2012 court case related to passport fraud in which federal authorities claimed Alvarez had used a New York man's identity to obtain a passport to stay in the United States more than 20 years ago. The incident ended with a six-month house arrest and probation. It was during this time that Alvarez began to work with the cultural center and when its curator of exhibitions, Jane Hart, got to know Alvarez more closely.
"I just have nothing but admiration and respect for him," Hart says of Alvarez, "and I just know that that episode took an emotional toll on him, but it did not stop him from producing the best possible work that he can."
It is Alvarez's adeptness at transformation both in his life and in his artwork that resonates with fans of his work, including Hart.
"It's one of the things that draws me so strongly to his work... I think anyone should be able to encounter a piece of work and have some sort of experience that elevates their consciousness. I think that Jose's work is the gateway to expanding one's world." Hart cautions against assuming you must be hyperintellectual to enjoy it, though, pointing to the colorful, whimsical nature that lends nicely to a child's eye. She also sees the anti-apocalyptic theme poking through.
"You watch the news around us and you see that there are many dire circumstances that will define the survival of all living creatures and the life of the planet itself... I believe through certain kinds of behavior, we can elevate the state of our collective being, and I think his work definitely speaks to that possibility."
An artist talk is scheduled for April 18 while a screening of An Honest Liar with both Randi and Alvarez in attendance is scheduled for May 7.
Alvarez admits that his long-standing conversations with Randi have changed and morphed over the past few years but says the inquisitive nature remains a constant in the personal and the resulting art.
"I believe art has the ability to transport you into an alternative universe or dimension that can provide you with the possibility of transformation," he says. "There is an exuberance in the creation of the work. There is a belief. I think the belief is embedded within the power of the object to transport the viewer... The essential belief is because we do, we think there is something better up ahead."