Inadequate, Just Inadequate
A series of lyrical paintings produced in Portugal, which draw inspiration from the isolation of ‘social distancing’ and Portugal’s fascination with the concept of saudade – the yearning to escape what you cannot live without, to possess what you know will do you harm.
Inadequate, just inadequate cements Alvestad’s growing international reputation as a painter of tender, tragi-comic scenes of male confusion. A painter of great technical intelligence, with a gift for treading the fine line between humour and pathos, his previous works explored contemporary masculinity via recognisable types; celebrated characters – such as his heavily-moustachioed, perennially bemused policeman – but characters nonetheless. His latest works are explicitly autobiographical. The same humour is present, but more closely controlled, the stakes tangibly higher. The figures are grounded – or trapped – in a much more tightly circumscribed environment, denied the release from fears and preoccupations provided by the back-slapping camaraderie of uncritical friends.
He may not paint them, but Alvestad’s paintings are filled with shadows, conjured through dynamic composition, movement, colour and the subtle use of narrative suspense. He mixes his paints directly on the canvas, blending the forms and colours to create a sculptural effect, but deliberately flattened. In comparison to his previous works, the figures here seem painfully aware of their predicament, conscious of scrutiny but still unsure of how to behave. Alvestad has fun with the still-life elements in these paintings – providing narrative clues in the form of skateboards, plants, books and discarded clothes – but keeps the number of objects in his interiors to a minimum. Locked-down in their small, relatively spartan apartment, a couple are forced to rely on their own inner resources. The emphasis Alvestad places on the wide areas of ‘negative space’ reinforces the sense that these are moments of performative calm – of insincere intimacy – which precede calamity.
Alvestad’s paintings – the tenderness with which he evokes his figures – provoke a protective response in the viewer, an urge to impose order on their unsettled mood, to look for reasons to hope the calamity might be avoided or – hopelessly – to anticipate what form it might take. Alvestad’s protagonists might be inadequate, but that only makes us worry for them more. None seem eager to lose what they have and yet they teeter precariously on the edge. If they’re not careful – more careful, we suspect, than they know how to be – the abyss will soon claim them.