Alex Queral is a Cuban-American artist who has carved himself out a very unique place among his peers; while other sculptors may work with a more traditional medium, Alex possesses a very specific specialization: carving three dimensional portraits of pop-culture icons into phone books.
It takes a very delicate touch and sure hand to bring these celebrity portraits to life. Cutting through page after page of each book (that most of us throw away or recycle), these masterpieces infuse beauty and innovation into an object we see as teetering on obsolete, and give a whole new meaning to the term “pop-up book”.
Alex Queral’s choice of material is not so much the result of deep thought as it is chance. As he says, “I was out looking for wood to make a sculpture one day and I noticed a huge pile of phone books on the pavement. I suddenly thought they would probably make a pretty good material for carving, so I gave it a go.” Once he started, he never looked back.
Carving up to two phonebooks per month, Alex first decides who the subject will be and then sits down to do several sketches. He then uses an extremely sharp X-ACTO® knife to begin peeling away the layers of the pages, eventually revealing the face of his art. It is a slow and meticulous process, especially when on the cusp of finishing a piece. “Nearing the end of the carving and then suddenly having it ruined by a careless cut can be pretty crushing. You have to start all over again” says Alex. “Crushing” may not be a strong enough word.
When the etching is complete, Queral adds a black wash to enhance the features, and then seals the entire book iwith a transparent acrylic paint to ensure the durability and to give it a sophisticated glossy finish.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1958, Alex and his family migrated to Mexico and then to Miami, Florida when he was a young boy. Now based out of Philadelphia, Queral has been carving portraits in phonebooks for 19 years. He has a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington, Seattle and a Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. Queral adds to his resume with several gallery and museum exhibitions -including a coveted installation at The Noyes Museum of Art. Alex’s works have been shown throughout the U.S., Mexico, England and Canada, and some of his pieces reside in the collection of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!®
When talking about his work, Alex states “I carve the faces out of phone books because I like the three-dimensional quality that results and because of the unexpected results that occur working in this medium. The three-dimensional quality enhances the feeling of the pieces as an object as opposed to a picture.”
He goes on to say that “in carving and painting a head from a phone-book directory, I’m celebrating the individual lost in the anonymous list of thousands of names that describe the size of the community. In addition, I like the idea of creating something that is normally discarded every year into an object of longevity.”
Alex Queral’s subjects have ranged from musicians to religious leaders, actors to artists, and scientists to Presidents. With subjects spanning the historical gamut, there is no era in particular that singularizes his inspiration.