Alvaro Tapia’s Intense Portraits Channel a Range of Emotions

by Anna CareyPosted on

Chilean artist Alvaro Tapia finds something sinister even in his most innocent subjects. His portrait illustrations feature friends, famous people, artists and others he admires. What lurks beneath the surface in these subjects — something grotesque and often evil — is what most attracts the artist. The end result, however, is far from ugly. Bursting with color and life, his portraits are high-impact. Tapia arranges contrasting colors, vector lines and geometric shapes so that they vibrate off one another. His subjects not only seem alive but ready to jump off the page right at the viewer’s throat.

At the moment of impact when our eyes first see the image, we are overwhelmed, maybe terrified, but definitely intrigued. This moment, though chaotic, was established by a slow and deliberate process of creation. Tapia first takes his subject and simplifies the image into vectors and large shapes. He then builds upon these shapes and lines as though he were creating a collage, using both analog and digital techniques. He then often adds a touch of watercolor to establish his hand’s own influence in the portrait.

Osvaldo Casanova

In Tapia’s portrait of Osvaldo Casanova, colors bleed down Casanova’s face and splatter onto the canvas behind his head. Casanova makes direct eye contact with us and his teeth are barred. He’s ready for a fight. Tapia frequently places the anger and emotion into the mouth and jaw, emphasizing craggy teeth or twisted lips, like in Angelica’s mouth below.


Gruesome but sexy, the portraits are a fantasy rendition of the subject. Each person radiates power and a thirst for action. Although Tapia is looking for the devilish and ugly side of his subjects, the portraits depict an idealized form of the person — a superhero (or more likely supervillain) alter ego.

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