Defining a Border Artist


By Peter Svarzbein

Photographer Peter Svarzbein recently had the privilege to sit down with painter Werc Alvarez for an interview on border and public art and simply being Werc. It’s not everyday one has the opportunity to speak with an artist whose art is known all over the world, and I don’t mean just the U.S. and Mexico, I mean all over!

Jari “Werc” Alvarez was born in Cd. Juárez and raised in El Paso. His love for both countries is hugely professed in the “El Paso Port-All” mural measuring 90 x 10 feet at the entry of the Stanton Street Bridge. It’s an acrylic mosaic portraying life on both sides of the border.

Peter: What makes a border artist?

Werc: A border artist is an artist who creates artwork inspired by or formulated by a dialogue created from dealing with border issues or the experience of border culture. A border artist can possibly also be defined as an artist who resides in the vicinity of two political or geographical areas, or, perhaps, an artist who creates from issues dealing with marginalization. Maybe a border artist is an artist who ascertains that he/she is a border artist.

Peter: Tell me about the inspiration behind the “El Paso Port-All”?

Werc: “El Paso Port-All” is inspired by the awe-inspiring sunsets, border culture, history, and traditions.

Peter: What do you think art’s role is in an urban/public space?

Werc: The role of art is to interact with its viewers, whether it is through inspiration, beauty, education, or subjugation by stimulating your thoughts and/or perceptions.

Peter: You were working in Europe recently. What brought you back to El Paso?

Werc: I came back for a few different reasons. One, as a getaway to dive into my work and develop artwork in a large space without a large overhead. I also want to share knowledge, stir things up in El Paso, and add to the visual landscape.

Peter: Who is your audience?

Werc: My audience is varied and diverse because my art practice is as such. I would say that it is more defined by the artwork or the project.

Peter: How did you start painting?

Werc: I started painting with spray paint on walls first, with letters, characters, and background elements. I began exploring other media around 2004. At that time I started expanding into painting on canvas/panel as well as fiberglass sculptures and digital mediums.

Peter: Why aerosol?

Werc: The spray can for me is one of the most contemporary tools today, and it is the medium I’ve been working with for 20 years. I love working with it, the effects you can create, and the challenge to wield this tool. In fact, there are only a few artists today who have mastered this medium.

Peter: What impact do you want to have upon the younger generation?

Werc: For me, it’s about adding to communities and impacting younger artist through workshops, exhibits, and sharing knowledge, creating community, and promoting creative forms of expression as a way of living.

Peter: What does the future look like here in La Frontera?

Werc: I feel the future is bright. El Paso is flourishing, and I remain hopeful and envision a Cd. Juárez free and full of life.

Peter: How do you interpret politics in your art?

Werc: Due to my multi-discplinary nature I interpret politics in different manners. In my work I often deal with the politics of identity, and issues that resonate with a multi-cultural experience which can be postulated subversively, or thru imagery/design.

Peter: How did you receive the name “Werc” if your name is Jari?

Werc: Werc is my Nom de Plume, and it was not bestowed but rather adopted. The origin of the name started as an antithesis name to friend & collaborator Isaias Crow. Our graffiti backgrounds path led us to clash & then befriend each other. Today the meaning of my name has evolved into a statement of its own to provoke dialogue about Werc/Work.

Photographs courtesy of Werc Alvarez and Peter Svarzbein