Profile Visual

Brightening the Noise

Simplicity marks the art, music, and life of Alejandro Ceballos

After meeting Alejandro Ceballos, it took months to learn that he was a painter. I think he is one of these folks living dual lives, but not in a dishonest way, just quietly, un-showing of any real stress from raising children as a starving visual artist. We first met at the Northwest Portland barn where Fiasco, a music group he’s been performing with for over a decade, held a weekly jam session.

There has never been a real genre for the group, but if I had to pick one, it would be Noise. At the time, I was a musician and noise was new to me. Because I lived at the barn, I became an honorary ad hoc member of the group.

It is kind of funny, all of the guys in that group were visual artists, but it would take years to learn about their established practices in that field. There was something about how they worked on music that was so colorful, casting aside any kind of established form, that struck me as visual, because it wasn’t something you could exactly enjoy listening to unless you could see it somehow.

Alejandro at KBOO

I was also a volunteer producer at KBOO Community Radio during that time between 2007 and 2011. Toward the end of my active tenure, Alejandro joined the ranks, finding his place with the experimental music DJ bloc. He soon started a program for uncommon Latin-American music called La Ruleta. He continues to make radio and noise today, but the fact is that his career has been and will always be in visual art.

Alejandro always keeps it simple. If we’re talking, as soon as I start complaining about something he manages to change the subject to something less anxiety-producing. If I’m relentless, he finds it easy to walk away. This is something I really appreciate. People that can easily do this are like mirrors.

Alejandro’s art is not noisy. It’s bright and cheerful. It is the kind of work you can see inside a fashionable Mexican restaurant. Years ago, Cha! Cha! Cha! acquired his paintings for their North Williams location, to name just one example. Portland’s premiere Latin-American theatre company, Milagro also collected his work for their lobby. He has shown and sold works somewhere in the U.S. or Mexico every year since college.

With Fiasco at No.Fest 2012

Even the way he plays keyboards or percussion in Fiasco isn’t noisy. It’s usually a home Yamaha or Casio keyboard he’s on, and typically he holds tonal centers by playing chords that he probably doesn’t know he’s playing because music is not his formal training. He gives a soft background for the far-roaming bandmates to work within.

Alejandro’s painting is both abstract and accessible. He says, “What is important for me is not to reproduce reality, but to express and represent its meaning.” By leaving realism behind while embracing expressionist concepts, he reveals himself in the work.

I don’t feel challenged by him, but I also don’t feel bored. There is something inexplicable about it, but it does not require explanation. His figures and landscapes are two-dimensional, but there is depth in it. Sometimes it is because there is just “too much” paint on the canvas. He likes to use globs and broad strokes to leave behind imprints and textures.

What is important for me is not to reproduce reality, but to express and represent its meaning.

Digital copies and prints, to me, often look better than the real thing. But Alejandro’s texture doesn’t so easily carry over to flatness. Perhaps with today’s highest resolution, we can finally capture it, but even so, until we start using holographic computer monitors, we’ll be missing out on that. What makes his work a little different is that the real paintings still possess the same sharpness of their digital likeness, but then you also get all that texture.

Not until I asked him to exhibit as part of the annual No.Fest Music and Arts 2010 did I see his curriculum vitae. Born in Sonora Mexico 1966, Alejandro obtained his Bachelors Degree in Graphic Design from the University of Guadalajara in 1990, and completed a university exchange program with Arizona State University in 1991.

In no time, he began showing and selling his work all over. Collectors included Mexican government buildings in Sonora and Jalisco. He traveled around the States after college and found comfort in Portland, showing at The Park Avenue night club in 1992, in the Modish Building.

By 1994, Alejandro had moved to Portland to be closer to his infant daughter, then living with her mother there. He moved into an art studio at the Modish Building where he would stay for many year — sometimes living there when necessary. The place represents a past time when counter culture reigned on Burnside. He painted murals around the area, including at Roscoe’s Pizza (now Sizzle Pie).

Alejandro at Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center 1998 – Photo by George Johanson

Alejandro mixed with the likes of famous painter Michele Russo (he worked out of the Mylar Building) and indie rock band The Dandy Warhols, in a neighborhood thriving with artists and counter-cultural music, art, and literature. Modish had a weed club, a pirate radio station, and a punk venue where Nirvana played before going big.

Currently, Alejandro teaches art at Helensview High School, where he was previously commissioned to produce a painting that represents social diversity and harmony. After 25 years in a rapidly changing Portland, and helping to raise his daughter into adulthood, he became a father again only recently, with his current wife. For some, that could be a daunting reality, but his youthful spirit continues to brighten the noise every day.

Someday, when I am a homeowner and can collect art safely, I think I want one of his works in my living room. Perhaps I’ll have an atrium, where one of his birds in fully contrasting colors would greet me in and out of the house every day. For now, I will settle with a gallery showing in the atrium of the THRU Studio, for one month.

THRU Gallery will host an exhibit of Alejandro’s new work throughout April. If you are interested in viewing the work, please use our contact form to schedule a private showing.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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