Q+Art: Photographer Alfredo de Stefano Captures Hallucinogenic Visions in the Desert
Born in the arid air of northern Mexico, photographer Alfredo de Stefano has traveled to deserts around the world countless times. His expansive photographs are marked by a sense of the immeasurable, with sand and sky stretching into the distance in all directions. As one of Mexico’s most important contemporary artists, de Stefano produces work that is hallucinogenic, geographically oriented, and essentially existential.
Over the last 20 years, de Stefano has visited deserts on five different continents to shoot or perform. His photographs often feature a single figure, centrally placed, surrounded by a boundless backdrop that’s populated with a vast nothingness. The artist’s spare compositions lay bare the profound loneliness of man in the universe, and his (or her) determination to find meaning in the midst of so much pain.
Though his work evokes a deep alienation, de Stefano is equally invested in conjuring the sublime. Figures wrapped in blood-red cloth, long shadows under a hot sun, and scorched shrubbery create a sensation of pleasurable terror in the viewer. Like so many landscape artists before him, de Alfredo uses the abutment of sky and terrain to communicate the inevitability of death and the unknown, acted out through grand dramas under an all-seeing sky. With a slight nod to the surreal, de Alfredo’s work conjures prophetic visions and hallucinations associated with dehydration and the unforgiving desert terrain
In doing so, de Alfredo puts a contemporary spin on the “art religion” of 18th century Romanticism. Our new religion, he seems to argue, arrives through fantastic visions that foretell Earth’s transformation into a desert planet, the result of man-made global warming and widespread drought. Whether we heed these warnings is yet to be seen, but de Alfredo is here to document the prophecy, in all its fascinating and terrible beauty.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Alfredo De Stefano discusses his love of abstract expressionism, navigating the waters of failure and success, and the desertification of the world by man.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Alfredo De Stefano: Seven Days in the World of Art by Sarah Thornton. It is an interesting portrait of all the human fauna that moves and lives in the world of art
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
ADS: Cy Twombly or Anselm Kiefer. They are artists who, just seeing their work, fill me with energy and motivate me to continue creating. I really enjoy talking with talented people from any discipline.
What are you trying to express with your art?
ADS: I construct and photograph intimate spaces: Some of them are metaphors for the painful desertification of the planet caused by man, while others work as ironic allusions to our relationship with the desert. The action I perform deals with reintegration: it’s a reflection on what the desert has lost, but also a way of restoring its ravaged memory through a personal intervention.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
ADS: I have done it on several occasions, usually to support a humanitarian cause or something similar, but never to seek greater exposure.
What person has most influenced your work?
ADS: None in particular, rather studying the authors and knowing the work of the American abstract expressionism movement inspired me to become a visual artist.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
ADS: The one that you never give up no matter how many times you fail. Success never comes smoothly.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
ADS: I believe that very few art schools in the world are worth the money.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
ADS: That an international law is created where all the large companies in each country a percentage of their income will be used to support art in all its forms.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
ADS: Both, but if I had to choose only one, it would be historically significant.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
ADS: The new album of Balmorhea, a minimalist instrumental ensemble from Austin, TX.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
ADS: A lot, I travel frequently, internationally and locally, and last year it was impossible and also the sale of my work dropped considerably.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
ADS: I am working on three new projects at the same time as well as a whole review of my work of twenty years for a very large exhibition next year.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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