Paying Homage to Aztec Gods with Pedro Alvarez

Paying Homage to Aztec Gods with Pedro Alvarez

This artist takes ancient pre-Hispanic figures from temple walls and brings them to life with vivid color.

Just like the eroded reliefs and sculptures found on temple walls throughout Mexico, the figures from pre-Hispanic art would likely be almost completely effaced by now if it were not for the preservational efforts of contemporary artists. Pedro Alvarez — along with Goethe Silva, Sanya Youalli, and a handful of others — is part of the neo-Azteca movement in tattooing that is working to make sure this important history doesn't disappear entirely. While his peers work in black and grey with art that closely resembles the stone statues, Alvarez stands out by creating vibrantly colorful renditions of the Aztec gods.

Alvarez grew up in Mexico City near the ruins of the great Aztec capital Tenochitlan, which once was home to the greatest wealth of traditional pre-Hispanic art before Hernán Cortés’ 75-day siege and its subsequent destruction. The majority of the archaeological excavations of the historical site took place during Alvarez’s teens, when he first got into body art, executing and receiving his first at the tender age of 12.Since then, he’s devoted his life to reviving his ancestor’s gods through recreating them on his client’s skin.

When he first began tattooing, the artform was still highly stigmatized throughout most of Mexico. Also, because his reference material was literally buried due to colonialism, he’s had to spend a significant amount of his career researching the art that’s been reduced to rubble over the years. “I am aware that no one can know exactly what was the philosophy and cosmology of the ancient Mexica or Maya,” wrote Alvarez in The World Atlas of Tattoos. “So I try to build a new current version inspired by what we know about the past, but adapted to our times.”

His intense designs have became so popular over the last two decades that other tattooers have tried to copy them, but none of them have done it quite as authentically. Though these artists are, in many ways, ripping off his aesthetic, he’s not perturbed by it, because he knows it signifies a new day for pre-Hispanic art. “My mission is to keep the ancient gods alive, to make them known to as many people as possible,” said Alvarez in an interview with Lowrider Arte Magazine. “From this point of view, bootlegging is just helping me achieve my goal. In fact, I counted on it when I launched the first set.”

Since his career took off in the mid '90s, as tattooing became more popular in Mexico, Alvarez has had the opportunity to render nearly every Aztec god in his art. As his fame for importing pre-Hispanic motifs into tattoos grew, figures like Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc started to crop up throughout his portfolio. Eventually even less known deities, such as Mictlantecuhtli, took shape on his clientele, and now he’s rebuilt a little piece of Tenochitlan in his own colorful way. 

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To see more Aztec gods brought back to life in vivid color by Alvarez, make your way to his Instagram. He lives in Mexico City, Mexico and operates by appointment only out of a private studio near the resting place of the last remains of the great city of his forefathers’.

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