Artist Marco Albarran Explores Concepts of Life, Death and Mexican Culture in His Stunning Pieces
No medium is off limits in a Mesa artist’s exploration of the human condition.
Marco Albarran defies classification. Is he a painter? A sculptor? A printmaker? A collage artist? The short answer is all of the above—and more. He works with an astonishing variety of materials: acrylics, watercolors, woodcut, linocut, screenprinting, metal, plastic, wood, wire and any number of found materials, from bed frames to children’s toys to kitchen tools.
It’s almost hard to believe the same artist could have created the intricate linocut print “Bacanora Dance,” the bold, fantastical acrylic “Permanese,” the moody watercolor “Dolor del Campo” and the whimsical, contemporary take on altar sculpture that is “Elmer’s Fault.”
As unpredictable as his media and his methods may be, however, Albarran’s work returns again and again to the same theme. Broadly speaking, that theme is life—including its inevitable end. “Whether they’re complex or simple, abstract or representational, my creations are all related to life,” the 59-year-old Mesa artist says.
More specifically, Albarran’s art plumbs his own life experiences as a native of Mexico and as part of the Chicano/Mexicano community in Arizona. Nearly every piece he creates reflects a spiritual connection to his native culture and history; depictions of pre-Columbian ceremonial masks and ancient Mayan and Aztecan gods, along with images evoking el Día de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, populate the vast majority of his art.
Perhaps the variety in Albarran’s work shouldn’t surprise, given the diverse experiences of his own life. He was born in the Mexican state of Sonora and moved to Yuma after elementary school when his father emigrated to work in the Arizona fields. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Arizona State University, where he studied a wide range of subjects, from architecture and engineering to political science. Joining a campus Chicano student organization sparked his awareness of and pride in his heritage, which in turn triggered a need to express those feelings through art.
Albarran is one of those rare people who seems equally comfortable with both the left and right sides of his brain. “I’m very analytical and very creative at the same time,” he says. He liked studying architecture because, as he explains, “It’s creative, but everything has to be exact.”
His passion for learning about his own heritage led to a career in anthropology and his current work as exhibits manager for the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU’s Tempe campus, responsible for curating anthropological exhibits. Having a full-time job, he says, allows him creative freedom he might not have had if he relied on his art for income. “I’m able to be creative and open, with no boundaries.”
Work doesn’t keep Albarran from being prolific as an artist. He has pieces in “Myth, Legend and Lore,” an exhibit that runs through January at the Phoenix Airport Museum Gallery and in “Divine Paradigm” at Mesa Arts Center through November of this year.
He’s also an active artist with Xico, a Phoenix organization that since 1975 has supported and encouraged Latino and indigenous artists. Hannah Whitaker, Xico’s communications and gallery coordinator, says part of Albarran’s strength as an artist lies in his use of diverse materials. “Marco’s work across media speaks to his skill set and versatility,” she says. “Regardless of his process, he conveys a cohesive message, combining function and symbolism in a way that is reminiscent of ancestral practices.”
Albarran isn’t done exploring new techniques. The possibilities of virtual media and 3D printing intrigue him, he says. “I still haven’t solved the mystery of life,” he says. “I’m just going through the process and enjoying as much as I can.”
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