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Stephen Alcala

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Online one day, I was looking at an event page for a local gallery show when I came across a picture of a young woman, mostly submerged in water with just her face above the surface. The details in the light and rippling of the water’s surface were fantastic, and I thought, “Wow—what a compelling photo. Somebody captured it just at the right moment.” Then, I read the description of the piece, “Immersion,” a 14” by 21” Prismacolor colored pencil drawing by visual artist Stephen Alcala. I stopped, sure I had misread. Whoa, whoa, whoa—drawing? This wasn’t a photograph? But, the incredible detail! The way the light was reflecting off of the water, and the expression on the young woman’s face; how could that possibly be drawn with colored pencil? Not long after, I had the chance to see the drawing in person, and like a modern-day Doubting Thomas, the proof was there for me to witness with my very own eyes, in the pencil strokes that were visible on the paper.

"Immersion" by Stephen Alcala
I’ve since had the opportunity to see more of Alcala’s remarkable hyper-realistic work in person, and I’m still stunned every time that I do. What surprises me more than the quality and intricacy of his art though is how very humble he is about his incredible talent, so I’m happy to be able to share more about him and his art through the interview below.

How long have you been creating visual art, and what first inspired you to start drawing/creating?
My background with art sort of lies somewhere within my family. I'm told it skips a few generations, but that there's always someone somewhere in my family tree that loved to draw. For me, though, I didn't realize it until my freshman year of high school, and even then, to be honest, I only took it to fill a fine arts credit. I was in orchestra for a time, but gave it up after inconsistencies and favoritism found their way into class. So I dropped that, and enrolled in Art 1. My freshman art teacher would eventually tell me that she liked where I took basic projects and placed me in advanced art, and under other teachers, I was given guidelines and was nurtured along the way. I fell in love immediately. Eventually, I was given free rein to do whatever competition was available at the time and to work on my AP portfolio. As a whole, I've been doing it seriously for five and a half years now.

"Counting Fish" by Stephen Alcala
Where did you get this start in the art world?
I was born and raised in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston, and moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin roughly two years ago. I decided that I could try my hand at art school in Chicago and move with a friend in my attempt to find my personal identity. I've made so many new friends locally who are just as--if not more--creative than I. It's so great to have found a niche amongst a community and friends whom are artists of some kind: writers, musicians, actors, actresses. I'm so grateful to have everyone that I do in my life for those reasons, and to begin again.

Can you describe your work for people who aren’t familiar with it?
I would describe my work as realism, predominantly in portraiture, that reflects my perspective on societal institutions, outlook on life in general, or responses to specific events in my life. I like to include some sort of tricky or challenging element, especially in recreating realistic textures like wet hair, wet clothes, or projections onto skin and clothing.

Most of your work, that I’ve seen, is done with colored pencils (which just blows my mind). Is that the specific art medium that you prefer, or do you like to experiment with different ones?
Colored pencil is where I've found my niche, as of now. I enjoy the amount of control and precision that they afford me, though I am looking to develop my skills with different paints, like oils and acrylics.

"Adaptation" by Stephen Alcala
Would you say that your imagination influences your work the most, what you see/experience in the outside world does, or a combination of both?
I would say that it's a 60/40 ratio with images and environment to imagination, respectively. As much as I want to be the person who envisions this full-fledged creation in my head and render it perfectly onto paper, I'm not. I think in words more than in images and I've learned to bridge that gap and work from there. In a way, I envision a micro-story or scenario and correlate words to physical representations to set a scene. From there, I set up a photo shoot and take a couple hundred pictures from different angles, with different lighting or varied poses, until I see the one that matches or best reflects my mental depiction.

Artist Stephen Alcala
I’m sure it’s obvious that I’m a big fan of your work, but who are some artists--of any genre--who you especially like and/or admire?
As far as realism goes, I absolutely love Joshua Suda. There's always a slight twist on his portraiture, like a signature style that pulls me in. My absolute favorite artist, though, would have to be Esao Andrews. Once you see his works you pretty much see that it's the exact opposite, but that's what I love about it. They hold so much space and grandeur, like each piece is in its own world and holds its own mythos. They're just so fantastical and inspiring. It helps, too, that he is the regular album artist for a band called Circa Survive, whose music is dear to me, as it relates to strong and emotionally charged parts of my life, throughout my teenage years to now. That's also led me to Colin Frangicetto, who performs in the band but is also a visual artist, and makes some incredible pieces that are both brooding and whimsical. Just so much about these artists draw me in with their style, creativity and work ethic that pushes me to work past some comfort zones, explore new mediums and techniques, but most of all, to keep making art and keep refining my craft.

Where can people go to see more of, and possibly even purchase, your work?
They can go to www.society6.com/thehyperportrait.

Thanks for talking with me, and sharing your work with our 2FL readers!
My pleasure!