The Transfiguration of Alfonso Piloto Nieves

Last Friday was the opening night for Chicago based artist Alfonso Piloto Nieves at 33 Contemporary Gallery.  Under a beautiful Summer night, the works of Alfonso seemed to come alive as the crowds gathered around to admire the intriguing works of one of Chicago’s most interesting artists.

Following is a short excerpt of the text I wrote for Alfonso’s upcoming book of his work.

Alfonso Nieves is an intense artist in the inside yet humble and friendly in the outside. His candid spirit allows him to engage fervently in conversation advocating for his work and that of the importance of earth’s conservation. He is a self-taught artist of humble beginnings who began his trajectory in the city of Queretaro, Mexico playing around with dirt, rocks and found objects. As he made Chicago his new home, art followed him and enlisted his natural gift and visionary mind. Alfonso Nieves works primarily in the medium of clay giving birth to fantastical figures made of earth and discarded objects. An avid collector of objects, he finds new meanings for such undesirable goods. In a culture of disposables, Alfonso Nieves collects, repurposes, recycles and reinvents with the mind of a scientist. For him, these are more than simple objects, they are fascinating remains and physical traces of our contemporary human behavior. Each piece tells its own story by its original purpose. However, in the hands of the artist, each piece embraces a new meaning and a new life. Alfonso Nieves employs contemporary imagery and objects of mass consumption such as iPods, keyboards or toys combining them with pre-columbian mythical figures. It is in such rich fusion of cultures and realities that one finds a trace to Alfonso Nieves’ own life story. The past meets the present and warns us about the future.

Alfonso Nieves’ human figures inhabit our world as heroic creatures of ancestral worlds. They are expressive, surreal, highly detailed, full of life, and disenchanted by their agony. At times, they appear to be monstrous with features that would appear as if they just came back from the death. They may have two heads, three eyes, big stomachs or show a ferocity only reserved for those who inhabit the underworld. The realistic appeal of such works confronts the viewer with intensity and engages him or her at every turn. Borrowing from his rich Mexican heritage, Alfonso Nieves gives homage to the past in the form of symbolic references to the Mayan cultures who inhabited the Americas. In fact, the ancient cultures of the world understood that their survival was strictly connected to their understanding of the land and its natural resources.

Not only does Alfonso Nieves acknowledges his past but he also confronts his present. Aware of the earth’s struggles to flourish freely, the artist looks ahead with optimism and reassurance that there is still time to change the course of history. As a prophet in a foreign land, Alfonso Nieves employs what he knows best, his Mexican roots and his art, to make a process that collides with a present culture of mass production that pollutes first and asks questions later. His sensitivity for what is sacred and what is profane allows him to engage in the ecological conversation with passion and reverence. Through his work, Alfonso Nieves has redeemed the ecosystem and empowered the captive forces of nature to remind us all that balance is achieved by reverence and respect rather than arrogance and control over the natural resources of this beautiful planet we share and inhabit. In the end, from ancient cultures to Alfonso Nieves, it is in the brut of the earth’s materials that beauty is born.

(Read full text in Alfonso Piloto Nieves’ upcoming book to be presented soon at 33 Contemporary Gallery)

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