JMA|…so the process is lithographic in nature, and what it is…you start with an image
in the positive you sketch it out, you decide to transfer it to the stone or plate and then
you draw it.. you etch it, then you process it…you remove the ink then you start printing,
then you have from a positive image to a positive image. My technique is different in
that I work in the negative instead of starting out with a positive image I start out with a
negative image, almost a gray on gray. And I draw with the gum Arabic on it, and I do
imprints, and texts, and whatever and then put it together.put layers and layers of
different things and then I process that. Before it’s processed <laughs> you have this
gray thing. And you can see texture and stuff but you can’t really see what its until
processed. And that’s the finished piece once I ink it I put a layer of gum and its
finished then I get to see what it looks like. Although, you know, in the preliminary
sketching, I use model a lot so, all that is arranged ahead of time. So by the time its
finished, I always have a good idea of what its going to look like but its always really
exciting to finally see the image.
AD| Do you draw males and females?
AD| ¿Hay una diferencia?
JMA| Uh, there’s no difference, I started using male models a while ago, I just kind of, it’
s a habit you know. But I have used in some of the earlier, in 2000, 2001 I started using
female models and its actually fantastic. In ’06 I did a series with a female model and
those are actually on the website (www.josemaro.com). But you know I like them both
you know it’s fantastic to work with the human body…right now I’m moving into instead
of working with aluminum because the gum painting are on aluminum I’m moving onto
other surfaces. Like gum on paper, on canvas its in the experimental stage…you will
see I’m bringing together (2) of the favored techniques which are lithography drawing
and charcoal painting and bringing it all together into one thing.
becoming the family’s first high school and college
graduate, earning a major in Fine Arts. He learned color
lithography after apprenticing with the Ernest DeSoto
Workshop in San Francisco back in the 80's.
Alvarado has been working for the San Francisco AIDS
Health Project from the beginning of the epidemic, which
he started because he needed a job and wanted it to be
for a good cause. That experience spilled over into his
already unique work with exhibitions like “Against the Tide
in Atlanta”, “Silent Echoes” and “The Inner Structure of
Circumstance in California”.
Several affirmations took place for Jose during this time.
For one, he was newly sober, which was quite a painful
and difficult process for him. Alvarado states, “There is
nothing like being heart-broken and in recovery to see
that things could not be worse. But as they say in the
program, things don't necessarily get better, they just
change and that was important”. A blessing in disguise,
in the midst of this period, was that Jose’s creative
productivity had now ten-folded.
Jose Maro started out as a photo-realist painter but he’s always enjoyed doing
lithography and charcoal. Consequently during any lapse in inspiration, he always
returns to one of these mediums, (usually charcoal) which comes very natural to him.
www.ambiente.us SEPTEMBER | SEPTIEMBRE 2009
Dreaming In Shadows |
Interview with artist Jose Maro Alvarado
story and photography by Armando Diaz Jr.
artwork by Jose Alvarado
It is difficult enough, in true artistic fashion, to capture the reality of the world around us.
So imagine for a moment capturing the “reality” of the world inside of us. The frozen
flashes of incomplete memories, the mental images produced from the shock of love’
s sledgehammer hitting your skull, or consider immortalizing the raw emotions that
come from the haunting of childhood. This is the art of Jose Maro Alvarado.
Born during the month of February in the state of Texas, the acclaimed Bay Area artist
is of Mexican-American ancestry (to be more precise), he’s the only male child in a
family of mostly female relatives. Jose Maro comes from a family of migrant farm
workers, and the family would work the fields seasonally traveling to Mississippi,
Indiana then back to Texas in the spring. They moved to California in 1969 and never
left. Jose attended University of California Santa Barbara,
Jose has been creating what he calls “gum Arabic paintings on aluminum”. His latest
series of gum Arabic paintings have been titled Probable Memory, relating to strange
childhood experiences that to this day he is obsessed with. For example, the death by
drowning, of his first teacher when he was six years old. People who came into his life,
and disappeared by choice, by death or somewhat mysteriously.
I, AD had the convenience of a phone interview with the artist Jose Maro JMA from his
home in Sonoma County, near Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco. It was a wonderful
and humbling opportunity, to tap into some that incredible dark creative prowess.
AD|Bueno Jose sounds good, te digo me encanta mi trabajo simplemente porque
tengo la oportunidad de conocer a hombres tan talentosos como a ti!
JMA| Thank you…excellent…I had a good feeling about you because I have (2)best
friends and their name is Armando <laughs>
AD|<laughs> Como decia mi abuela Armando no-se-que <laughs>
JMA| Gracias de Nuevo
AD|Don’t forget to send me those images!
JMA|You got it.
AD|Bueno, bye bye.
JMA| Bye bye.
For more information on Jose Maro Alvarado and his work and current exhibitions visit
Jose is a talented Aquarius and has been working and showing his ever evolving
unique artwork for over thirty years. He does sculpture, drawings, paintings and
Besides Probable Memory, recent work includes The Language of the Angels, inspired
by dreams and out of the ordinary encounters with certain people and the writing of
Jane Roberts; here he uses charcoal and acrylics on canvas and paper. In lithography
(as we chatted about) he’s been doing what he calls gum paintings on aluminum and
lithographic ink; abstract figurative with textures and text. In sculpture I have been doing
idea constructions using body castings on plaster and found and fabricated objects.
He works in San Francisco and lives in Sonoma County.
CLICK HERE for more Armando Diaz
Copyright 2009| Ambiente. Do not reproduce without prior authorization.
MIAMI RIVER INN
Worlds Oldest &
AD| Hello may I speak to Jose please….
AD| Armando here, hey Jose how are you,
how’s the weather over there?
JMA|It’s beautiful…I’m about 90 miles north
of San Francisco…we get really good
weather in the Russian River during the
AD| This is by the way my first interactive
interview for AMBIENTE and so far so good!
JMA| That’s cool…
AD| I just have a few questions for you.
AD| How are you today by the way?
JMA| I’m really good, on Wednesdays I work
from home…I’m also having company this
weekend…I’ve been getting some artwork
ready for a showing, so I’ve been busy all day <laughs>.
AD| These days it’s always great to be busy, that’s good.
Jose, describe your artwork to me, what is going on in Jose’s head? What feeling, what
message (if any)?
JMA|I think I mentioned that I went to Italy last year, there were a lot of things that were
kind of moving around in my head and my art journals. I had been working with this
technique called gum Arabic paintings…
AD| Yeah let me stop you right there what does “gum Arabic” mean?
JMA| Are you familiar at all with the process of lithography?
AD| I enjoyed hearing about the journey of “Man with a Hungry Heart”?
*for the brief story on this piece told by Jose see “Man with a Hungry Heart…” mini-article
JMA| It’s a charcoal figure of man, and there’s a plexi box in his chest. And there’s a
shape, and its in the shape of a heart but its also a casting of a human, part of a human
face…you can see the mouth, so it well…looks like a hungry heart <laughs>. That was
the piece that was kind of traveling on its own and it made it way back to me which was
strange and interesting.
AD| What do you feel like when you’re drawing?
JMA|You know most of these ideas they don’t really come when you want them to, they
come when you’re doing something else. When I’m at work, when I’m, driving when I’m
looking at someone else’s work or just listen to music or something…an idea comes to
mind usually ties in with something that I’m experiencing. The pieces mentioned
earlier like “…Hungry Heart”, those were very vivid emotions that I was going though, by
the time I decided to put it through a painting all those things (emotions) were
becoming a little less demanding. It wasn’t as intense but there was still a little bit
there…I wasn’t as hungry for affection or to be loved and all of that…so by that point you
know I have an idea, I sort of sketch it out, then I go to the studio and I work it out. Some
of the feelings, its kind of cathartic some of the feelings come back at another level, you’
re kind of examining them and processing them and putting them away, discarding
them or getting new energy from them.
AD| You know you’re work spoke to me on a certain level, after reading up a little bit
about you and browsing your pieces I’d personally like to know…
What was your STRANGEST childhood experience?
JMA| Oh God <laughing> There are so many! Probable Memory is a series I had been
working on just before my trip to Italy…out of the blue something happened and it
triggered this memory and I realized I hadn’t said anything about it in the art world. One
idea comes forward and then another one and another one, so there are so many
experiences growing up.
JAM| I spent some time in Mexico early on with my grandmother on the ranch, till the
age of seven there were a lot of things that had happened that were not explained to
me. My grandmother (either they were taboo), or she felt I didn’t need to know.
One experience, my first grade teacher (in Mexico) had suddenly
died, he drowned. Up to that point no one had died in my family,
so I had no idea what the process was, I thought there was some
chance of finding the man. He was a very powerful person, he
was very,very influential at how I looked at the world. In the art
world at how I paint, how I look at people…in everything he was
very, very, very significant to me.
Another (which comes back to haunt me is my sisters), they disappeared! I don’t know
why the family felt they didn’t have to explain to me what happened, its just suddenly the
person is not there and it’s like where is she, oh well she’s gone. You know my sisters,
there were three of them..one of them was just given away. She was given away to a
friend of my grandmothers or someone at the ranch. My other sister, my youngest one -
she died, so she was taken away that way. My older sister one day a relative came and
took her away…I didn’t know they had made an arrangement, they were going to send
my sister to school because she was a U.S. citizen…but nobody explained it to me it
was just this vacuum that took place that no one told me about. There’s been many,
some of them are in the artwork, in the earlier work.
AD| Wow. Did you ever get resolution to some of these experiences, especially about
JMA| It was explained to me about illegitimacy and family honor, and I don’t know
someone, I don’t know who made the decision to do this, which I felt was kind of
JMA| But yes most of all this was explained to me later on when I was in my teens. I
experienced myself as well, (they) came and took me as it was time for me to go to
school. It’s fine that I like living here on the ranch with my grandmother but it was time
for me to go. They sent me away to live with relatives that were in Texas, so I could go to
AD| So at some point before, till you were about (7) you all lived on a ranch.
JMA| Yeah well me and my sisters lived on the ranch with my grandmother and the rest
of the family lived in Texas.
AD| If I may ask what was the cuase of death for your sister?
JMA| It must have been some kind of food poisoning, because there wasn’t a doctor
available nearby so they kind of had to take care of her the best way they could and they
couldn’t, so she died. Looking back at it from this standpoint it looks like it must have
been some kind of food poisoning…
AD| Let me ask you, yo se que hablas espanol, con que nacionalidad te identificas?
JMA|Bueno yo me considero Mejicano, yo vivi alla con mi abuela los primeros (7) años,
me considero Mejicano pero despues me mude para Tejas y empeze a investigar todo
lo de la cultura de Mexican-American y de Chicano y todo esto…
Especially now where I’ve been working with Probable Memory, some of the cultural
aspects are coming out in the artwork, you know the sayings, that my grandmother used
to say all the time, expressions and ways of doing things…and that’s starting to come
out in this series.
AD| What was the first thing you thought about this morning?
JMA| Well the first thing I thought about this morning was the dream I had last night.
Dreams are very important and significant to me. So I think about the dream I try to
figure out what its trying to tell me..I often write a few notes about it or write the whole
thing down then and there.
I didn’t do that this morning though, I just made a few notes…but a lot of my ideas…how
do I say this…when I get stuck with a painting, I usually just kind of put it aside and wait
a few days and the solution usually comes to me in a dream.
AD| Your dreams seem so vivid, do you ever feel that this is a parallel life that you’re
JMA| Absolutely I feel that all dreams continue, that it’s just different reality in a different
dimension..and those dreams continue to happen they evolve into their own situations.
In dreams I feel we are connected to all of those things and its possible to meet with
parallel selves and talk about those things. Like strangers on a train…
AD| Do you have a memorable nightmare?
JMA| <laughs> Yes I do! One that comes to mind, is grandmother was part Yaki Indian,
and she did the best she could she raised her family and she raised me and my
sister…she survived she worked the fields she was a survivor she knew what to do.
However she wasn’t that ware of our emotional needs, by the time she passed away at
(101) I was very detached (emotionally) from that…she was very mean to me so what I’
m trying to say she was very cruel…and we never really resolved that.
One of the nightmares that comes up now and then is where she is chasing me with a
knife, scared the hell out of me, here I’m supposed to love my grandma but she’s
chasing me with a knife
JMA| And I know that it’s symbolism, I know it’s trying to tell me something, we’ve never
resolved the issue..you know that’s interesting I haven’t worked that one into a
AD| When you happen to see a shadow on your ceiling at night, when you want to fall
asleep at night, which I’m sure you do once in a while…
AD|…what do you see?
JMA| hmm..there was a period when I moved to San Francisco that I started working
with these shapes and figures that had like double and triple shadow sort of things,
back then I was very fascinated by that…if I could show you one of those earlier pieces it
has just the human figure it has a face, and then it has like (2) or (3) different shadows
around it. I was fascinated by aspects of the personality of that person, back then I
knew personality is not constant its not one direct line, its jagged and it goes in many
directions especially when you’re being a little bit…crazy <laughs>
Or when life affects you or when you’re in love, different aspects of your personality
come out. When somebody does something out of character I’m always surprised that
that person…the idea of that person that I had was just one aspect…you know
everybody’s capable of every side.
AD| Are you in love right now?
JMA| In love? No…I was in love for like (5) minutes and then it went away <laughs>
AD| Do you have a favorite song right now?
JMA| I was listening to “Found Affections” by This Mortal Coil, when I listen to that it
takes me back to a certain period, but these days I listen to a lot of stuff
AD| Tell me a little more about “Men Hugging Themselves”< I found a tenderness in that
I’d love to discover more about.
JMA|I got sober because you know I was having a personal crisis and I had to get
sober…I also came out about the same time I got sober. For many months I couldn’t
do any artwork and that was very sad for me…in the rooms of (AA) there was this
kindness I found this nugget that was giving me this nourishment. I had this dream that
I was in meeting and this particular person that I had met was there and was giving me
a hug..just something very tender, the dream shifted suddenly and I was hugging this
person, then I realized that it was me
hugging myself and it was just…a very powerful image and feeling, thought sensation.
And also I was sort of coming around, deciding that the best thing I could have done
was getting sober, that dream I kind of filed it away and put in my journal and I’d think
about but I never really did anything with it until recently so it’s just a series of figures of
men holding themselves…I haven’t decided if that’s what it’s going to stay at as the title
of the series but to identify it, that’s what I’m calling it.
AD | Jose, a message to all the creative
minds out there?
JMA|A message? Yeah well <laughs> sort
of what somebody told me when I was still
in Santa Barbara and I was thinking of just
not painting anymore…I was just very
disillusioned and frustrated and I was
telling my best friend at the time that I
was going to stop painting and he stopped
me and said, “I know what you’re feeling
and that’s all fine but hold on a little bit..if
you don’t think anyone’s going to look at
your work, why don’t you just paint for me
and continue working as if you were working
and let’s see what happens”. I’m glad he
did that, I did a whole series of things that
were personal art pieces that he found
very amusing and very interesting and all
of that but it also got me out of the rut that
I was in….and it changed.
So yeah…don’t give up continue to work
and eventually you’ll find that you’re good a certain technique or a certain way of doing
things, it’ll be unique to you and you’ll never discover it unless you hold on and continue
doing what you do.
Man With a Hungry Heart
by Armando Diaz, Jr.
Short narrative on the journey and return of One of Jose Maro’s pieces
There is a interesting story to one of the pieces created during this period called, "Man
with a Hungry Heart”. I loaned it out to a friend who later disappeared or moved back to
New York or something so I lost touch with him. About 10 years later, I get an email from
a stranger and the only reason I did not discard the message was the subject said,
"Man with a Hungry Heart." It turned out that this man had a gallery and he owned this
piece and was now trying to sell it and wanted to know what its original value was. Well,
this got me really angry because as far as I knew, this piece had been stolen. We
agreed to meet at a restaurant in the SOMA district and I took someone one with me for
moral support. He showed up with the painting in tow and told me the most interesting
I did not know where to start the conversation so I began with the question that bothered
me most; how did he obtain the art piece to begin with?
Ah, he says, I found the art piece at a thrift store in the SF Mission District for about $50
a few years ago. He knew it was worth more and now he was trying to sell it, so he did a
little research online and found my website which is how he contacted me.
He could tell I was getting aggravated as I explained how I happened to loose the
painting so he stopped me and said smiling, "Did you bring him to arm wrestle me?
Don't worry, the painting is yours, lets enjoy our meal. He was a Middle Easter man, first
name David, and he turned out to be the nicest guy. Apparently, the very same thing has
happened before except the art piece was turn of the century and the artist was in his
90's and there too, he gave it back accepting no compensation. I offered to give him
what he initially spent but he said no. Maybe I would one day do the same for someone
else, he said. -Jose Maro Alvarado