Alvar Suñol Munoz-Ramos dives into his work face first or, at least, that’s what he wants you to do.
Alvar, as he is commonly known in the art world, focuses on faces and symbolism in his religious works, which are the focus of an exhibit opening in the Liberty University Art Gallery Thursday.
Traditional biblical artists typically focus on the fine details of figures or the correct proportions of man — think the famous “Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo — but Alvar, who cites a background in primarily secular art, has taken famous biblical themes and given them a surrealist, ethereal look.
“If you look at more classical pieces [and] western culture, religious themes are done with a very realistic approach not always but a lot of times,” says gallery Director Todd Smith.
“What I think Alvar likes to do is call back into tradition what’s been done, especially kind of Spanish artwork and Renaissance artwork, and take them into a modern approach and kind of give them a revitalized meaning. Not that he’s changed the original meaning, just that he’s helped us see that original meaning from a different viewpoint.”
In Alvar’s “Descent from the Cross,” for instance, rather than having Jesus stand out starkly from the passionately weeping women — as is tradition — Alvar has him almost fading into the dark background, with the disciple’s faces muted and blank.
“Nobody knew what the people in the Old Testament looked like and, over the years, artists have given their renderings,” says Robert Harris, Alvar’s U.S. representative. “So what Alvar [has] done is his interpretation of the Old Testament, and he’s used his whimsical faces and his style of faces.”
Though the figures’ countenances remain largely impassive, the Spanish artist’s painting and style certainly isn’t.
Colors pop out of his “Moses Crossing the Red Sea” oil-on-canvas and subtle details, such as lilies, wine or classical paintings, rest in the background of many of his works, all to pay homage to the artists who originally created these motifs.
“His artwork is almost a poetic picture of things,” says Harris. “The people that see that storyline in his work appreciate the genius in his artwork.”
Adds Smith: “He blends both realism and surrealism in a really unique way. It has a really dreamy feel to it.”
The Alvar artwork, which is on loan from the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, Texas, will hang in DeMoss Hall’s fourth floor gallery space.
Smith says his modern approach will be a draw for Liberty University students. Though Alvar works in all mediums, Liberty’s display will mostly feature his oil-on-canvas paintings and one drawing. With one of the pieces measuring 79 by 110 inches, these are some the largest paintings that have hung in the gallery, which posed a slight challenge to Smith.
“One thing you face is lighting and spacing, giving the viewer the ability to look at each piece for its worth in and of itself,” Smith says. “You see a show not only as a whole but [individually] as well. I want to make it so each piece can get its own spotlight, so to speak, but also to move the viewer through it to appreciate the whole.”
Harris says he hopes the exhibit will let people see Alvar’s genius which, he believes, will one day be recognized among some of the greats.
“I think that Alvar, the recognition he receives today is minute compared to the recognition he will receive in future generations. … People don’t appreciate things until they don’t have them.”