Marcos Alvarado is an emerging artist from Puerto Rico who has gained international recognition for his striking and balanced compositions. Growing up on the island, Alvarado was exposed to a vibrant and diverse culture that ignited his passion for art at a young age. The walls of the streets were adorned with colorful graffiti and murals that inspired him to pursue a career as an artist. Initially, he started his artistic journey with cartoons and graffiti, but he soon developed a unique style that blended elements of surrealism, realism, and cartoons.
Alvarado’s art reflects his personal and spiritual journey, exploring themes of religion, spirituality, and the afterlife. His compositions often feature religious and spiritual symbols, including angels, demons, and crosses. Additionally, he strives to find a balance between the serene and the dark, with his attention to composition, color, and symbolism creating a unique and visually pleasing experience for the viewer. Through his art, Alvarado invites his audience to contemplate and connect with his work, providing them with a glimpse into his own beliefs and emotions.
Aside from his unique style, Alvarado has also collaborated with several world-renowned artists, including Virgil Abloh and Juice Wrld. He has designed merchandise and portraits for them, showcasing his talent and versatility. Through his collaborations and solo work, Alvarado hopes to create a connection with his viewers, making them feel what he is feeling and seeing. Ultimately, he aims to inspire others to pursue their passions and connect with their own spirituality.
In our latest Pen & Paper series, we recently synced with Marcos to discuss his vision for his emerging contemporary art practice, the creative techniques he employs to elevate his compositions and what’s in store for the young artist’s future which includes an impending solo exhibition entitled ‘LUMINESCENT’ at 25 Howard Street in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood opening on May 11. Read our exclusive interview below to learn more.
“Living in Puerto Rico for some of my childhood definitely played the most important part of my art career.”
How did your upbringing in Puerto Rico influence your artistic style?
Living in Puerto Rico for some of my childhood definitely played the most important part of my art career. PR is so rich in culture, history, traditions, music, art & so much more. It is also extremely diverse. The island only measures 100 x 35 miles, it’s tiny, but so much talent comes from there. I think being there at such a young age & taking in all of the creative things that were going on gave me all the ingredients I needed to become the person & artist I am today.
What drew you to graffiti and lettering in your early teens?
When I was five or six, graffiti was one of the first types of artwork I was introduced to. You don’t have to go to a museum in PR to see art. You can see a good amount of murals & walls filled with graffiti on a five minute ride to the grocery store. I was instantly intrigued by the creative use of color combinations & all the different types of lettering, but most importantly how the artists were using that form of art to openly express themselves and their beliefs. I would get home every single day from school & try to recreate a mural or graffiti piece I saw out on the walls that day but in my own style, as well as cartoons I would see on TV.
“I always pull inspiration from both ends, without going too far into one or the other.”
How did you transition from creating cartoons to realistic portraits and darker, spiritual themes?
As I got older, my passion for art only increased. I wanted to explore other types of art. I hadn’t developed my own personal art style yet & I was eager to find it. Since my style at the time was cartoonish & colorful, I wanted to go the complete opposite route; realistic & dark. Aside from my art life, I got more curious with the concept of religion & the afterlife. Both of my parents are very religious, so for a big part of my life I was fed to believe in only one thing / entity. I wanted to explore for myself. I went down a rabbit hole & stumbled upon the concepts & beliefs of spirituality & alchemy, & I instantly felt connected with it.
Can you describe your signature style and the inspirations behind it?
A perfect balance of every style of art I’ve practiced. A perfect balance of concepts. A perfect balance of everything. Life & death. Light & dark. Love & hate. Cartoonish, realistic & surreal. The simple inspiration behind it all is that you can’t have one without the other in this life. I always pull inspiration from both ends, without going too far into one or the other. A perfect balance.
How do you choose the subjects and symbols you include in your artwork?
I usually envision the overall concept of what I would like for the piece to look like & decide what I’m going to title it. Those two things help me lay the basic foundation. As I develop the sketch, I add more details & symbols that will coincide with the concept. For example, if I’m working on a piece inspired by a sorrowful break up, I would add symbols & imagery that will directly reflect all those feelings you feel during a break up. However, I try not to make the piece too literal. I’ll try to leave a little bit of room for the viewer to ask questions, or make their own theory of what they think I’m trying to portray.
“I think spirituality is the foundation to most of my work.”
Your compositions often feature a combination of serene and dark elements. How do you balance these opposing forces in your work, and what do you hope viewers take away from these contrasting elements?
Since developing my signature work, I’ve become very OCD when it comes to balanced composition. If the composition, colors & elements aren’t balanced then it’s not a Marcos Alvarado piece & I won’t be 100% happy with it. If I include a sun I need to include a moon. If I include an angel I need to include a demon. I want to make it pleasing to the eye of the viewer, easy to digest, but I also want the viewer to think a bit. I want the viewers to feel what I’m feeling & what I’m seeing. I want someone to look at my pieces & say “wow, I’ve been feeling like this for a while but I didn’t have an image to relate to until now.” Or say “I’ve always thought about this, but I never thought about it like this.”
Many of your pieces contain religious and spiritual symbols. How do your own beliefs and spirituality influence your work?
I think spirituality is the foundation to most of my work. All of it is just a direct reflection of my personal & spiritual journey. For me, creating is a form of meditation. As soon as I begin any project I transcend into a different mindstate. I feel closer to my soul, each time leaving a piece of it on paper. That energy alone is what allows me to express myself spiritually. It’s hard for me to create anything that I’m personally not feeling or experiencing.
“Virgil Abloh is definitely one of the most important people I ever worked with.”
You’ve worked with many world-renowned artists, can you talk about some of your favorite collaborations and why they were meaningful to you?
Virgil Abloh is definitely one of the most important people I ever worked with. Not only did he express his liking towards my art & was supportive, he commissioned me to do four portraits of him. It was very inspirational seeing how many projects he was juggling, yet made time to talk to a random kid about how exactly he wanted the portraits to look like. Another one has to be designing merchandise for Juice Wrld. This one was bittersweet. An interesting yet sorrowful fact about this is Juice had been following me on all socials before he became a superstar. He was very supportive & would message me all the time about my artwork. It’s a project & memory I hold near & dear.
However, the most recent artist I worked with, Arcangel, was my absolute favorite. Being able to design merchandise for someone you’ve been listening to & looking up to since you were five years old just hits different, especially when you are both Puerto Rican. I was able to connect with him in person & I think one of the valuable things when collaborating with any artist is the connection you have with them.
What inspired you to launch your own imprint, MBM, and can you tell us more about the brand and its mission?
It all started in high school. I knew I wanted to keep creating art but I didn’t want to sell the actual art, so I thought t-shirts were one of the most tangible products & a way for me to make a living creating. A way for people to have my art without actually having it. The mission has changed over the course of time. At first, I simply just wanted to build a massive brand, & sell all sorts of different products (which is what I’m currently doing), but I have a bigger vision, that will be feeding more into the art world rather than the brand world. I eventually would like to turn MBM into a gallery, & feature artists that align with the vibrations of my work & what MBM stands for. It will be a platform for young talented artists to be able to display their work & assist them in their career & all their needs. There is so much more to it that I’m still internally working on building out, but just know it is much bigger than just t-shirts.
“I personally think the art I create can stand on its own, it doesn’t have to be printed on a t-shirt.”
How do you balance creating artwork for fine art exhibitions and creating clothing designs for MBM?
I’d like to say it’s a fine line between both but the truth is they both coincide. I can pull from both of those ends to assist me on whatever project I’m working on. The fine artwork I create can occasionally work for clothing or products, but I don’t necessarily create artwork with the intentions of it being on a product. However, I do sometimes create specific artwork when I want to create a specific clothing or product collection that follows a certain theme. I personally think the art I create can stand on its own, it doesn’t have to be printed on a t-shirt. Do people insist I print it on a shirt? Absolutely. Will I always do it? Absolutely not.
Speaking of collaborations, tell us about your upcoming limited-edition collaboration with Sabah.
You’ve worked with a variety of mediums, including fine art painting, tattoo work, and clothing design. How do you approach working with different mediums and how do you decide which medium to use for a particular project?
I’m a connoisseur of art. I’m genuinely interested & curious about all different types & forms of art, which has led me to work with a variety of different mediums. It all depends on my mood. I like to quickly create off of the inspiration I am feeling at the moment & use that momentum to fuel whatever I want to create & help me decide what medium I want to use. Running a business contradicts that, as there are always things to get done in order to move the business forward. I’d like to think I’m a pretty disciplined person, but when I get an urge to create something I drop everything I’m currently doing & working on even if it’s extremely important just to work on whatever idea I came up with. It’s pretty bad, & I try to balance it, but I believe it’s where my most genuine & timeless creations come from.
“Creativity is the work of the universe & I’m a firm believer that the universe is inside all of us.”
Your brand, MBM, incorporates messages and feelings inspired by the universe. Can you elaborate on this idea and how it’s reflected in your artwork and clothing designs?
Creativity is the work of the universe & I’m a firm believer that the universe is inside all of us. We aren’t a speck in the universe, we are the whole universe in a speck. Creativity & love are the most powerful forces in the universe & that runs through the veins of my work. Visionary & mystical art pieces are humanity’s direct contact with Spirit & God.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists and designers looking to make a name for themselves in the industry?
Create whatever it is that you want to create. Don’t worry about whether people will like or accept it. If a small audience doesn’t enjoy your work, there are 7 billion other people that might. In this day & age we are very caught up in the powerful tool of social media. These social media platforms are important to reach an audience & create a support base, but don’t get caught up in the tactics of likes, followers & numbers. If you stay true to yourself, don’t compromise your values, be patient & meet the universe halfway by putting in the work. I guarantee you will get everything you desire & get to where you want to be.
What projects are you currently working on and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’m currently working on my first official New York solo exhibition titled “LUMINESCENT” that will be up for viewing May 11th – 16th. It is my first time showing in NY & I’ll be displaying a fraction of my portfolio with a wide variety of mediums. I’m also working on countless other things on the side, so you can expect more drawings, sculptures, paintings, collectibles, products, & anything you could possibly imagine.
Images courtesy of the artist Marcos Alvarado