You don’t often see girls playing with guns. It’s disturbing, but that’s what Claudia Alvarez’ work inspires many to feel.
Alvarez’ latest exhibition, “Girls with Guns,” is a series of four oil paintings on canvas and a large watercolor depicting girls playing with guns, as well as 14 child-size ceramic sculptures of children role-playing. The exhibit, which is currently featured at Scott White Contemporary Art Gallery in La Jolla, Calif. through November 3, 2012, touches on themes of bullying and violence overall.
“The gun could be a weapon or a voice, or how a girl acts,” says Alvarez explaining “Girls with Guns.” “It’s not literally girls with guns, but different encounters. The ceramic installation, ‘Perro Pendiente,’ is inspired by a painting by Goya in 1808 about war, and the person that defends freedom is getting shot.”
Claudia Alvarez, 43, was an ambulance driver for 12 years to support herself through school before she became a full-time artist at 30. She says it was through her experience witnessing children patients who looked aged, and adults who had cancer and looked like children, that inspired most of her artistic career. Since 2000, the Mexican-American artist, raised in Sacramento, Calif. and currently based in New York City, has focused on making sculptures of children.
She says many times people want to do the right thing, and fight for their rights, and end up getting hurt by it.
“My first thought was how ridiculous it is to see violence,” says Alvarez. “It’s so insane for people to hurt each other, and when I put it in a context of a child doing it, it’s even more ridiculous.”
She says often times she sees adults bothered by seeing a child with a gun, but that’s what is happening in the world, because that’s what we’re teaching them.
“Growing up, I used to defend kids who were bullied,” says the artist in her strikingly youthful and playful voice. “I used to get upset when I saw kids being teased. When I was in school, I saw how the ‘cool’ kids bullied kids that looked different. I always used to fight with them and protect them. It’s funny when I think back, I did do stuff like that.”
Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, Alvarez says there’s a little bit of psychology and sociology in her work.
“It’s funny, because when I make my work, I’m having fun with it, but when the work is made, it does have some serious issues,” she says. “As I started developing the work, I started developing different subjects on childhood and how they develop and how they act…I started thinking about how children so innocently do things like choke a cat without intentionally doing it in a bad way.”
As the years went by, she says the work developed into her thinking about all the violence in the world.
“I think art is a tool you can use to learn about a lot of different things,” says Alvarez who in her 20s worked with women in Omaha, Nebraska who were victims of domestic violence and alcoholics going through recovery programs. “It’s a powerful tool. If you apply it the right way, you can really change a life. It’s always been a part of me in some way. The paintings are kind of inspired by people I’ve worked with or things I’ve seen.”
So far, Alvarez says people have sometimes been troubled when they first see her exhibition, but when they look closely they realize the innocence in it.
“Through the eyes, through the marks, they realize the subject matter is important and needs to be talked about,” says Alvarez who is already preparing for two shows in 2013 relating to children and conflict. “It sends a message about what’s happening in the world. I really like it, because it makes me want to do something for the world…it pushes the viewer to say what they believe in.”