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Alvaro Labañino: The Millennial Art on the Path of the Masters



     There is a widespread trend in a certain sector of art criticism to disparage the millennial artistic talent by labeling it as frivolous, egomaniac, and standardized.

     Nothing could be further from the truth. The also called Generation Y, formed by young people born from the mid-80s to the dawn of the 21st century, integrates a strong intellectual background that has grown in lockstep with the boom of new technologies and raises awareness about the dynamics of the global environment at the same pace and intensity as those avant-garde sensitivities during the euphoric years of Duchamp or Kandinsky.

     They live attentive to each event, to the abrupt changes that occur in the tense contemporary happening, facing and overcoming the increasingly frequent moments of social precipice.

     The internet and other sophisticated technological resources have multiplied their access to all kinds of information. This fact has resulted in hybrid forms of expression that intertwine in the arts within and out of museums, in fashion, in everyday designs, on urban walls, in performances, and in a new age of the image. The foremost noticeable quality is a creative flexibility, and consequently the rejection to restrict themselves to a style or a forced identity. It makes way to a persistent exploratory spirit that comes together with a calling towards a true miscellany of artistic disciplines.

     Perhaps such heterodox pendular movement between the re-appropriation of tradition and its antithesis, the transgressive reformulation, is what disorients some observers of art in the present day. They confuse this movement with lack of social weight for leaving a footprint as a generation. Thusly, they overlook that modern society has entered a stage where the canonical barely has room to endure.

     This preamble can help explain the peculiar trajectory that Alvaro Labañino has managed to carve out with his atypical work in the millennial scenery of South Florida.

     Born in 1989, in Miami, Labañino comes from a modest working family. His father, a self-employed entrepreneur originally from Cuba, arrived in the United States shortly after Fidel Castro took over the island nation. His mother, in search of an existential alternative to a country ravaged by poverty and violence, emigrated from Honduras.

     Alvaro grew up in Little Havana, a modest and colorful Miami neighborhood steeped in history. It would reach a recognized boom during the seventies and the eighties. Thanks to the strong impetus by Cuban exiles, Little Havana became inundated with small and medium-sized businesses.

     His parents supported him in taking advantage of the opportunity to attend the Magnet program for the Fine Arts at South Miami Senior High School. He graduated in 2008 and, admitted at Miami Dade College, he would be the first-ever member of his family to enroll in college courses. He would later obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts, having majored in Painting with a minor in Art History, from Florida International University.

     Having a sound academic background at hand, Alvaro could have chosen to meet his father’s expectations and dedicated himself to teaching. But the quiet path of a teacher keeps distance from the motivations of an innate artist. His case is not unique; it has been repeatedly noted in diverse times. Unlike the conventional life of an educator, his intense inner world demands to disembark before the public eye at some point.

     His first years as a creator are linked to Sérverus, a group of three artists of Cuban-American descent united by friendship and vocational affinities, but with well-differentiated visions on aesthetic creation. The art critic Joaquín Badajoz describes them as three young artists who have tried to express themselves freely and aspire to “build bridges on the path towards the foundation of an identity.”

     In terms of personalities, however, it may be appreciated that their collaboration is intended to merge neither at the formal level nor in the conceptual approaches. The most recent steps in Labañino’s career path seem to demonstrate a more determined detachment of that “lateral” input to the joint project.

     When defining his artistic idiosyncrasy, Alvaro explains what he brings to the canvas: artworks that function as thresholds to his mind. His images attempt to show a labyrinth of mental states, dreamlike experiences and innermost anxieties that he materializes on the two-dimensional plane in the form of personal objects, domestic spaces or landscapes.

     These are offerings related either to the asceticism between the walls of his studio-apartment or to sublimated views of landscapes he has been encountering in his travels. This thematic counterpoint confers a peculiar duality to the iconographic record of his vital experiences.

     In the almost monastic wandering of his self-communions, Labañino austerely uses colors, as anyone can see. Starting from geometric approaches outlined by gently devised contours, the painter dislocates perspectives and vanishing points to create mystical scenarios that diffusely transit between figuration and abstraction. Thus, we are all looking into a taciturn narrative effectively expressed through ambiguous constructions with multiple angles of reading.

     This evocative Labañino, immersed in hermetic codes, is opposed by another of vivacious facet as re-creator of landscapes where nature works with excessive power on his canvases.

     In front of the natural setting, Alvaro’s pulse, brush and palette become glittering. He strikes a balance between the visual impact of vibrant strokes, stains and impasto to infuse character into exuberant fragments of landscape. They reveal an undisguised devotion to Van Gogh’s legacy. But even in his effusive incursions, Alvaro’s views still retain the enigmatic aura of his saudades.

     His scale of existential reassessments clearly emerges from a continuous traveling back and forth between emotional withdrawals and disinhibitions, which seem energetically tuned with the Taoist scheme of Ying – Yang.

     At some point of his still young life story, Labañino was marked by a critical episode that put him on the brink of a fatal outcome. This event split his approach to earthly presence in a before and after. From then on, he has assumed death as an event with unprecedented immediacy that compels him to reevaluate, over and over, the meaning of life’s cycle.

     It is as if Sartre’s tenet “existence precedes essence” would have become Labañino’s journey log in his creative process. After his harrowing experience, he undertakes each pictorial project with an ethos of personal responsibility for what he judges as his reconquered condition of permanence in the realm of human life.

     The pictorial supports and expressive resources in Labañino’s visual thought coalesce into a countercurrent flow against any intervention outside pure painting. His mark does not ignore the technological advances, but it does not appropriate its mechanics. His attachment to recycle tradition is his peculiar way of defying, with stoicism, the frivolity of an artistic milieu subdued by the blistering informatics. At the same time, it also allows him to distance himself from the hasty times of contemporary society.

     For this young artist, the goal of making a difference lies in his obsession to scrutinize the path of the masters with an alternative look, mindful of having been exposed to the cyber revolution since he reached the age of reason. According to his own confessions, his main influences come from the School of London and the German Expressionists. Apart from Van Gogh, he recognizes much indebtedness to Magritte, Juan Gris, Johannes Vermeer and El Greco. He does not mention Antoni Tàpies, however, who can be one of the relevant subliminal influences, since Labañino coincides with the Catalan artist in the spatial deconstructions and even in the Franciscan palette used to tinge dismal emotional fits.

     By skimming the edges of appropriation in art, but without practicing it, and by applying a stealthy revisionism, an eclectic Labañino conquers the orphanhood of emptiness with his pictorial monologues. He turns the audience into an active participant of that something to be revealed, which lies crouched between the creator’s spiritual reservoir and the maneuvering of the paintbrush. An intangible energy that is sensed in the foundation of each image, waiting for the immaterial connection with the approaching spectator.

© Jesús Rosado

Miami, October 2018

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