Bergés Alvarez’s motto seems to be that one man’s trash is another man’s art. When the artist, who lives in Bellmore and Aquebogue, creates abstract seascapes and landscapes, he doesn’t use oil, watercolor or acrylic paints. Instead, the 59-year-old grandfather turns plastic bags, aluminum foil and frayed packing materials destined for town landfills into treasures.
“The world keeps buying and throwing away; this is a throwaway society,” said Alvarez, an X-ray technician whose given name is Michael Bergés (Alvarez is his mother’s maiden name). “I am surprised as anyone that I can produce these beautiful seascapes and landscapes out of recycled materials.”
Armed with a camera and trash, the self-taught artist has created dozens of award-winning, one-of-a-kind works that have garnered the attention of East End and Manhattan galleries, libraries and museums, surprising art aficionados with his uncommon artistic techniques. Some of those are on display at the Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor through Jan. 14.
The urge to create
As a child, Alvarez, a native of the Dominican Republic, had a flair for all things creative. As an adult, though, he pushed aside his passion for art, instead focusing on a radiography career and raising a family. But after more than two decades, he could no longer ignore the urge to create.
By 2006, Alvarez had become an artist by accident. He saw beauty in the way light reflected off a tinted plastic pouch his wife, Roseann, 56, was about to throw away.
“I just started to look at it and saw the way the light bounced off of it,” Alvarez recalled in his home art studio as he rummaged through an oversized tote bag of reclaimed trash, including Bubble Wrap, thermal liners, reflective filters and weathered lime-green tissue paper. “I thought I could possibly put the elements together and produce something. I layered and folded the pieces and arranged them into a collage in front of my studio window, with the sunlight reflecting off the shiny surfaces, zoomed in with my camera and took pictures.”
After snapping several dozen photos of the recycled materials from different angles, he was surprised by what he saw in his viewfinder: a sweeping landscape with green pastures and a rocky shoreline. “The only way I could capture it is by taking a photo of it,” he said. “I can’t say I want to make a particular landscape, it just happens.”
Since the art is largely a result of happenstance, he explains, each piece is one-of-a-kind and cannot be reproduced.
“If you turn the foil this way, you have a beautiful sunset; you never know what you are going to get,” said Alvarez, who admitted some layering techniques work better than others.
He then sends the photo to a printer who “sprays” the image onto canvas in acrylic paint. Finishing touches include defining images on the canvas with pastel pencils. The result, he says, looks like an acrylic painting.
Mary Cantone, owner and director of The William Ris Gallery in Jamesport, which showcased Alvarez’s mixed- media artwork in its “Earth Day” exhibit earlier this year, agrees. “Alvarez’s vision, photographic technique and usage of light result in painterly images,” Cantone said. “Bottom line, his work is beautiful and mirrors seascapes and landscapes.”
Art aficionados also are intrigued by the innovative process by which Alvarez creates his works. This was never more apparent than when the respected Salmagundi Art Club, which counted master stained-glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany as a member, admitted Alvarez into its fine-arts center in Manhattan. Roger Rossi, a member of the center’s art committee, and now also Alvarez’s mentor, said he and other admissions committee members “scratched their heads at first” when trying to determine the artist’s technique. “Then we agreed this works for us. He is in our photography category, and we are happy to have him,” Rossi said. “He knows how to mold elements and make collages and photographs (them) with different light to make different impressions. He has a calm and pleasing look to his work.”
Patrons of the arts and art connoisseurs alike say Alvarez’s work conveys peace and tranquility that transports the viewer to a mountaintop or seacoast. “I like the seascapes, because I love the ocean and the waves,” his wife said. “It makes me feel happy inside when I look at it.”
MIXING MEDICINE AND ART
In Alvarez’s early work, he explored the relationship between medical technology and art by repurposing discarded X-rays. In one case, he placed an X-ray of a phantom skull, a plastic and resin structure similar to a human skull that is used to train X-ray technicians, over a transparency on which he had drawn trees and a full moon with pastel pencils. He then taped both items to a windowpane so the sunlight would shine through. He titled the piece “Thought,” a “combination of the mind and soul in deep thought. It is tranquil, peaceful, mesmerizing and subtle, as are most of our innermost feelings,” Alvarez explained.
It was the melding of medicine and art in Alvarez’s work that caught the eye of the graphic design team at the Albuquerque-based American Society of Radiologic Technologists. Always on the lookout for cover art, they were thrilled when Alvarez’s avant-garde work landed in their inboxes. The organization’s bimonthly journal, Radiologic Technologist, accepted a half-dozen of Alvarez’s pieces and plans to publish two more in the society’s other publication, Radiation Therapist. “It’s intriguing how he made his pieces come together with light, color and movement,” said Myron King, the organization’s graphic design manager. “They have an ethereal feel to them.”
Each year, Alvarez adds more exhibits to his portfolio, including Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, several East End and Manhattan galleries and libraries, such as the Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport and the Shanghai Art Fair in Shanghai, China, where he exhibited as an emerging international artist.
His work has garnered awards for his favorite piece, a seascape titled “Crossing the Hudson at Dawn,” from the Salmagundi Art Club, Nassau Community College Firehouse Plaza Art Gallery and the Nassau County Emergency Management’s superstorm Sandy exhibits.
In September, Alvarez was one of only six finalists selected by the Long Island Arts Alliance, a Brookville-based nonprofit arts and culture group, for its Hispanic Heritage Month art exhibit at Bloomingdale’s Furniture Gallery at Roosevelt Field. “The [exhibit’s] jury thought his process was innovative and beautiful,” said Theresa Statz-Smith, the executive director. “If you start to look at the process, it’s very unique, especially when you understand what he does.”
But transforming trash into art isn’t easy, and the path from conception to completion isn’t always smooth. It can take Alvarez up to two months to complete a piece, and he admits the creative process can be challenging. “It can be frustrating — to produce the proper image, you have to have the proper angle,” he said. “It’s very tedious work, and you have to have a lot of patience.”
And once a piece is completed, he questions whether the work is finished. “I ask myself: ‘Is this done or should I add more to it?’ ” he said. “I see little imperfections, and it’s maddening.”
Yet the urge to create draws him back to his studio every day. “I’m always pulled to create my next piece,” he said. “I know there is a bigger and better piece ahead. And that keeps me going.”
The Small Artworks Holiday Invitational features many of Michael Bergés works
WHEN | WHERE Through Jan. 14 at the Romany Kramoris Gallery, 41 Main St., Sag Harbor
INFO Free; call 631-725-2499, kramorisgallery.com