Tender is the Night
RF. Alvarez reflects on definitions of home,
ancestry, and queer intimacy in Eros
by Kate Mothes
Like film stills or snapshots, Austin-based artist RF. Alvarez’s recent paintings glimpse the tender routines of an unfolding relationship through its candid moments, social gatherings, and solitary reflections. Evoking the sound of crickets through the night air as friends gather for dinner, the smell of wildflowers on a quiet afternoon, or the feel of cool breeze on skin through the bedroom window, Alvarez paints a portrait of a home centered around openly queer love, examining the everyday facets of that home as a place of belonging and growth.
Juxtaposing imagery associated with cowboys—redolent of the Marlboro Men—with soft light and domestic experiences, paintings like the pensive Self-Portrait in Grandfather’s Hat and The Color of a Cigarette reconsider the cowboy trope. The artist dons his rancher grandfather’s hat, reflecting on his family’s cowboy lineage and Mexican heritage. He positions the energy of gatherings with the quietude of time spent alone or together with his partner, punctuated by signs of settling in to a home and shared life.
Alvarez renders figures and landscapes in rich, earthy tones and deep contrasts, nodding to the chiaroscuro style of Renaissance religious works—think Caravaggio—and Dutch vanitas still-life painting that incorporated layered, symbolic references to family, power, and mortality. This interest in symbolism grounds the artist’s depictions of food and wine, half-eaten citrus, and transitions from day into night.
In Still Life: Pearl with Spirits, for example, he invokes a casual opulence in the discarded oranges, a pack of cigarettes, a can of Modelo, and a tablecloth’s folds and color that mirror bodily curves and flesh in Eros or Before Dinner. A couple of oyster shells, considered an aphrodisiac, look uncannily like ears, as if the setting itself is listening in. Casting everyday activities in a cinematic light, Alvarez elevates quiet, unassuming scenes into memorable, sacred spaces.
All images © RF. Alvarez, courtesy of the artist and Alanna Miller Gallery. Photos by Daniel Greer.
Header image: Detail of Self Portrait with Grandfather’s Hat, 2023. Acrylic on raw linen, 24 x 36 inches