"Space Bean" oil on canvas
by Camille Germain
Irvin Almonte is simply one hell of a guy. I have been trying to piece together a fluid story that illustrates this artist, but this is the best I’ve come up with. And I am not quite sure words can describe what he tells through his paintings — the same paintings he would never sell. He explained to me that if a person wanted a painting he would not sell it to them, but paint one for them. This idea goes beyond being a sell-out, it is about the effects it would have on his work. A day job was then instated. It’s kind of like a superhero from the comics, he is an investment analyst by day and an artist by night.
Raised in the Philippines, Almonte moved to the United States when he was 12 years old. Previous to that he ventured into the world of art mainly after he submitted a pastel drawing to an art program at age nine. “They really liked something I did,” he told me with a continuously emerging smile. When he was 14 he dabbled with acrylic but quickly moved on to oil, which is more challenging and difficult to master. He started painting his sophomore year in high school.
The only art class that he took during his college years was art history; he was preparing for a stable job at Brandeis University in Boston instead of majoring in art where he didn’t agree with their aesthetic agenda. “I didn’t want to start out thinking to sell; it compromises ideas.”
Currently, Almonte lives in Chicago where two nephews and a niece also reside. And when I asked him his age, he said he was 31 but then couldn’t decide between 30 and 31, which showed how down to earth he was. So, for his sake I’ll leave it at him being in his thirties.
Music is his motivation when it comes to painting. Not just any music, but classical music. “It is more mind oriented, more abstract,” he told me. “I don’t want to do a narrative.” While discussing the different sides of the brain, his job and the uses of his art, he explained that music helps him switch back into the mindset for art, even though it isn’t easy. He often attends symphonies where he says there is always surprise in how different conductors interpret the music.
"Wo Di Schonen" oil on canvas
It takes him about 15 hours to complete an abstract painting, using only oil as his medium. “If I am going to be good at something it is going to be one thing.” He described his creative process as seeing a specific vision and then trying to communicate the essence of that vision before he paints. It is less obvious when he paints abstractly where there’s a lot of body rhythm while painting. He holds his paint brush at the end, as an extension of his bodily rhythm; it also removes tension between hand and body. “Oil is difficult to master, but when you do it becomes second nature,” he said. “A mastery of the medium leaves you with no limitations and full control.”
I was eager to hear his opinion on the art scene in Chicago after learning his thoughts on so many other things. He blessed me with this: “I think it’s so great! It is vibrant and underrated because there isn’t so much of a hype. The artists are more sincere, and the competition happens within the artist.”
When it comes to challenges, Almonte said to stay away from thinking about how others will see your work. “We are wired in a certain way, grown up in a society that has definitions.” He focuses his themes on music and human emotion, the universal capacity.
“Mahler said that a symphony has to contain both space and time, everything in the universe. In essence, when I paint a canvas I want it to contain everything. And sometimes when painting I can paint for ten hours and forget to eat.”
"Lady Macbeth" oil on canvas
His favorite piece of his own work is “Lady Macbeth” because to him it is most complete and imaginative. “One night I was listening to opera, kind of falling asleep, and a song came on where she was sleepwalking. I got up in the middle of the night and painted; it was complete and ready. And it was raw.”
Almonte also keeps his artwork because he wanted to build his own portfolio and to retain everything. Currently he is working on a series in the style of Cy Twombly based on Mahler’s ten symphonies, which will be abstract and poetic. The series will not be painted one per symphony but in how many he needs to fulfill his interpretation. And at the end of the summer at the Around the Coyote Fall Arts Festival he will have an independent show.
All in all Irvin Almonte wants to go back to a place where people spend more time contemplating their work; he wishes that the Chicago art scene was more concentrated and easier to find artists. Irvin’s work and contact information is available on his website at www.irvinalmonte.com. This is one artist where I look forward to seeing the places he goes, and meeting him was a delight.
"Space Bean" oil on canvas