Grant Recipients Helen Frankenthaler Award for Painting Visual Arts 2021

Candida Alvarez

Portrait of Candida Alvarez, with medium-length dark curly hair, wearing white-framed glasses and a black collared shirt.
Photo by Chester Alamo-Costello.

The Helen Frankenthaler Award for Painting provided me with the necessary resources to develop and complete a new body of work, including covering materials costs and photography of the works... This past year has been a year of growth and opportunity, and I sincerely thank the Foundation for Contemporary Arts for the Helen Frankenthaler Award for Painting.

- Candida Alvarez, November 9, 2021

Artist Statement

From the start, I have considered my process to be an "active search" that incorporates material from my immediate world and everyday experience to then arrange it in a way that remains organic and surprising to me. It is a search that allows me to construct paintings that are composed of multiple individual elements that are then dismantled, rearranged, and reassembled in the fictional and independent space of the work.

I think of my work as chatty situations that shape-shift and dream-catch light and space. My paintings and drawings build abstract narrative structures that appear to remix themselves, blending the narrative impact of pictures into the unlimited pictorial mash-up of painting. My aim is to expand the hybrid space of painting while maintaining a crucial connection to my daily life. Painting, in so many ways, is a relief. It is the only place where I can fail and be surprised by how beautiful that can look. Success in the studio happens when the work tracks ordinary acts and moves out of sentimental terrain, all the while remaining conceptually and formally engaging.

- December 2020


Candida Alvarez makes paintings and drawings that blur the boundaries between the conceptual, the intuitive, and the abstract. She is known for her complex, vibrantly layered combination of abstract and figurative forms, which incorporate world news and personal memories, and are rich in pop, historical, and modern art references. Many of her paintings employ silhouettes and bold colors that reflect the nuance of an interior landscape that is challenged by a complex, creative world she actively notices.

Alvarez's works include drawings, paintings, prints, and collages that are created with materials as diverse as acrylic paint, colored pencils, enamel, and embroidery thread on cloth, on various supports ranging from canvas to PVC, cotton napkins to vellum. In Mambomountain, presented at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, IL (2012), brightly colored paintings offer distortions of the familiar. In Drawinggreen, presented at Riverside Arts Center in Chicago, IL (2012), the color green guided Alvarez’s artistic reflections on her travels to Puerto Rico, Maui, Chicago, and Riverside. In 2017, Alvarez collaborated with designer Rei Kawakubo on the Comme des Garçons "Homme Plus" and "Shirt" Menswear Collections. Later that year, the City of Chicago commissioned her to produce a site-specific work, Howlings, for the Chicago River Walk.

Alvarez’s solo exhibitions include Mambomountain, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL (2012); Candida Alvarez: Here, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL (2017); DeColores, GAVLAK, Palm Beach, FL (2019); and Estoy Bien, Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago, IL (2020). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX; DePaul Art Museum, Chicago, IL; El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO; Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Queens Museum, Queens, NY; and Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA, among others.

Her work is in the collections of El Museo del Barrio, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Addison Gallery of American Art, the DePaul Art Museum, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Prior to her FCA award, Alvarez received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant (2019), a Regional Fellowship from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (1988), New York State Council on the Arts/New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship (1986), and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (1994). In 1980, she participated in the International Studio and Workspace Program at MoMA PS1, and in 1985, she was an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. Alvarez attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1981) and was a resident artist at MacDowell (1986).

Alvarez received her B.F.A. from Fordham University and her M.F.A. from Yale School of Art. She is the F.H. Sellers Professor in Painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

An abstract painting of various earthly and sky colors consists of outlines of flowers and butterflies. On the left side in a speaking bubble is typed the phase
Estoy Bien, 2017, from the series Air Paintings, 2017-2019, latex ink, acrylic, and enamel on PVC mesh with aluminum, 77" x 135" x 26." Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photo by Tom Van Eynde.
Abstract paintings in big transparent canvases varying with colors of red, green, yellow and black. They are supported by stands forming rows.
Installation view of Estoy Bien, at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago, 2020. Photo by RCH Photography.
An abstract painting with colors of blue, red, green and yellow creates fluid shapes interlocking with one another.
No Chickens, 2020, acrylic on linen, 72" x 84." Photo by Tom Van Eynde.
Abstract painting of vibrant colors bounded by red thin lines. Two abstract swipes of black in the center imitate a feathery feel.
A Wing, A Halo, 2019, acrylic on linen, 80" x 68." Photo by Tom Van Eynde.
Green thick vine-like lines with flowers surrounding them open up on a brown patchwork background.
Bubblegum, 2019, acrylic, matte medium, and digital ink on linen, 72" x 84." Photo by Tom Van Eynde.
A gallery hall with various paintings. Some of them depict leaves of brown and green color, another depicts the portrait of a puppy and other more abstract ones in the color scheme of yellow, red and blue showcase different geometrical shapes in various fluid shapes.
Installation view of Candida Alvarez: Here, at Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, 2017. Photo by Tom Van Eynde.
Abstract painting of a textured white backrgound hosts patches of yellow, blue and red paint.
Chill, 2011, acrylic, pencil, and enamel on canvas, 84" x 72." Photo by Tom Van Eynde.
Abstract painting with blots of blots of blue and swipes of yellow host forms representing flowers.
Mary in the sky with diamonds, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 72" x 84." Photo by Tom Van Eynde.