If you’re a fan of digital art, classic horror flicks or anything retrofuturistic then you’ll love the work of Chilean artist Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo. A graphic designer, filmmaker and illustrator, Hidalgo’s series of mixed-media portraits, greatly influenced by classic film and popular culture, are disturbing, vibrant and entirely addictive. The distorted expressions of horror and fear imprinted upon his subjects’ faces, juxtaposed with his vivid use of colour and contrasting textures, results in a collection that is impossible to steer away from.
Currently living and working in Granada, Spain, Hidalgo has spent the last ten years working as a professional designer, art director and video editor. He has directed two short films, created a series of audio-visual animation pieces, experimental video art and motion graphics. His move to Manchester in 2007 saw his interests turn to illustration, a natural progression in his work triggered by the new, alien environment he found himself surrounded by: “Opposite my flat there was a club. Every night it was very noisy, you could see very strange, drunk, drugged people, out of their mind”, says Hidalgo. “In a way, I feel that this continuous scene redefined my style and I have continued working on it since then.”
It is this unique style, and his representation of the human condition, that has people around the world taking notice of Hidalgo’s work. His interest in perverse human expression, apparent in his ‘Portraits’ and ‘Cinema Tv’ series, is motivated by artists such as Francis Bacon and L.S. Lowry’s portrait, ‘Head of a Man,’ as well as the ever-changing environment and stimuli that surrounds him, even through childhood: “I think that the genesis of these images might be in the religious images that I was constantly exposed to while in Roman Catholic school- suffering saints and virgins that I think are still deeply engraved in my head.” His work explores the contradictions and liberation that comes from great emotional tension, striving to “discover beauty in the grotesque.”
Beyond the inspirations for his work, it is Hidalgo’s highly skilled and personal approach in expressing these ideas that make his work so engaging. His illustrations combine traditional techniques with digital processing, an approach that emphasises the retrofuturistic quality of his work. Ink-splatters and the use of watercolour are a thoughtful contrast to the hard, expressive lines that form the skeletal features of his subjects. The mergence of classic and modern is further amplified by Hidalgo’s focus on film icons and prolific painters, musicians, directors and writers as subjects for his modernistic, graphic portraiture. In these works, Hidalgo explores his attraction to dramatic, sinister expression by redefining those of whom he most admires and draws inspiration from. Most notable of these distortions are the eyes, which are non-descript and blank yet at the same time convey feelings of anguish, disbelief and rage. Even his use of colour strikes a balance between his own modernised, personal interpretation and a respectful thoughtfulness to the subject’s traditional identity, a harmony that Hidalgo has somewhat perfected in his captivating illustrations.
Words: Olivia Durst