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Alvin Zafra

Selected interview excerpts from Artinformal’s ALT 2024 Publication–“Materials of the Artist”

by Stephanie Frondoso

Is the eve series your recent solo show “Passerby” your first time to portray night scenes?

Around the year 2000, I made a series of portraits with the chiaroscuro approach. These were large 4 x 4” portraits based on photographs I asked from people. I drew only the faces and removed the background. In the mid-2000s, I drew portraits of journalists who died, with permission from their families. I used bullets to draw them on square-shaped sandpaper to represent TV screens.These were shown at West Gallery; the show was titled “Killing Box.” The bullets were live bullets, so I had to place a rubber mat under the sandpaper while drawing to prevent the bullets from exploding.

Your drawings are clearly based on photographs

My lolo was a photographer. When I was a child, he taught me how to take pictures and develop them in his darkroom at home. I would see the prints drying around his house. In those days, photographs were black and white. I was too young then to seriously pursue photography. In college, I bought an analog camera, mainly to document the process of my art making. I also had a video cam for documenting, and I sometimes used it to take photos. My videos were very raw. I liked punk and metal, which influenced me not to follow any rules.

I know the basic ideas of photography—composition and use of light. My reference photos are really taken at night.

I adjust their values and contrast on my computer to help me draw them.

Point of No Return, 64.77x53.34cm (framed) white stone, sandpaper, 2023

They also appear quite cinematic.They remind me
of film noir.

I used to work as a production designer for ABS-CBN and GMA 7. I worked on a TV show with the indie film maverick Jon Red. But the biggest director that I have worked with was Chito Roño.

Many artists used to work in film production, like Poklong Anading, Lena Cobangbang and Gary-Ross Pastrana. Artists can make props, design sets, that sort of thing. Patrick Flores wrote an essay for a 2008 Southeast Asian group show in Taiwan that I was part of. He mentions cinema as an influence in our works.

You play in a band. Is music related to how you make art?

I’m a drummer for the band Pastilan Dong. Aside from the filmmakers, I am also friends with musicians. Their communities are connected. Some of my artist friends have made covers for albums. 

The influence of music is that I am more faithful to what I feel, not to what I see.

Mirage, 84.46x104.78cm (framed)

white stone, sandpaper, 2023

Where do you find the stones that you use for drawing?

While walking or biking. Sometimes I visit garden supply stores. It was there where I found the red stone I used for the “Analema” series. The white stones are very hard and compact. For the eve series, I use sandpaper with 240 grit, which is on the finer side.

I used a much coarser sandpaper, with 100 grit, for “Argument from Nowhere” because

I needed larger grains to wear down the hardness and quantity of bone. The eve series consumes less medium, less stone.

Do your fingers still get wounded even with finer sandpaper?

Sometimes. Working with sandpaper is a continuous fight against the surface. Over time, my skin has thickened.

I would like to devise a glove attached to a painting stick (known as a Mahl stick). It is a tool that can be placed across a painting to steady a painter’s hand and prevent it from touching the paper. Even when drawing on sandpaper, it’s important that the hand doesn’t touch the surface—that could destroy the drawing. The stick also acts as support so that the hand can rest.

Do you draw on a flat surface?

I work on a table with a 30% incline, like what architects use. I built a makeshift drawing board for this purpose. It’s one of the things I learned over the years through experience. Devising tools to make work more efficient is the result of problem solving. I’ve made rulers with beveled edges out of plexiglass strips to help me maintain straight lines. And I sit on the stool of my drum set because it can rotate. Soon I will need to look for a swiveling chair with a backrest to support my lower back.

And then during the pandemic, hardware stores closed, so I looked for supplies elsewhere and found another brand of sandpaper in a more greyish tone. I used this to make a drawing for ALT 2021, portraying a night scene but it was grey, not in the pure black of “Passerby.” Only recently did I begin including humans in the scenes. My previous cityscapes were devoid of humans.

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