Double Jeopardy

Seth Alverson painted exact duplicates of his unsold artworks and hung them side by side to sell as sets. Is this an exercise in futility, an act of genius or both?

Susie, on the other hand, has never approached art like her son. "When I think of painting, I think of what's going to sell," she says, adding that she told Seth that the copycat idea was "one of the craziest things I've ever heard of" when he first told her about it.

Susie enjoyed her time making a living as a commercial artist, but after working hard at painting countless commissions, she felt a ton of pressure to perfect images. She eventually pulled the plug on her small enterprise, even though she had a year's worth of clients on a waiting list. She hasn't picked up a paintbrush in years, she says, because the experience totally burned her out.

After graduating from Klein Oak High School in 1998, Seth considered attending New York City's Pratt Institute, one of the nation's best private institutions for arts training. But after the scholarship and some financial help from his dad, he was still going to owe $80,000 after four years. He instead took courses for a year at Tomball Community College (now Lone Star College-Tomball), where he considered majoring in photography or graphic design.

In 2003, Seth (left) met Cody Ledvina, who co-runs Tha Joanna, when the two worked at Texas Art Supply. They became close friends and allies in Houston's art community.
Chris Curry
In 2003, Seth (left) met Cody Ledvina, who co-runs Tha Joanna, when the two worked at Texas Art Supply. They became close friends and allies in Houston's art community.
The opening reception for Alverson's copycat exhibit in early September drew hundreds to Art Palace.
Photos by Francisco Montes
The opening reception for Alverson's copycat exhibit in early September drew hundreds to Art Palace.

Before transferring to the University of Houston, where he earned a BFA in painting in 2002, Seth had one last hurrah as a martial artist. He and his sensei decided to put themselves in a potential self-defense situation by train-hopping from Spring to Galveston.

"Sensei told me, 'Grab a knife, a stick and let's go,'" remembers Alverson. "It was actually really easy and not that scary, except when we wanted to get off. We had to jump off the moving train and roll down the hill, hobo-style." Shortly thereafter, Seth, who can boast unusual talents in visual and martial arts, decided to become a full-time painter.

Gina Cavallo Collins is an independent curator who has worked for several Arizona institutions as well as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, where Seth attended graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University. During her stint at the VMFA, Collins, though she never worked with or met Seth, says that Alverson's technical skills stood out.

Collins adds that Alverson's pieces do have the potential to find mass appeal despite the sometimes left-of-field subject matter. According to Collins, the key for him, and many noncommercial artists, is to get their work shown at bigger-name museums. "Plenty of artists can have critical success in museums, who then in turn can sell to collectors," she says.

However, Collins explains that some museums are acquiring only a piece or two a year versus that same number every few months, partially due to the lack of corporate funding, which has been "the biggest hit for museums the last five to six years," says Collins, who adds, "I've never heard of anybody dealing with unsold work in an overt way like Seth is doing."

Williams, a former director at Lawndale Art Center, where Alverson has exhibited, says that even though the Internet has made contemporary art more visible than ever, Seth still needs to do some legwork in order to make that jump to more-recognized artist.

"He has to play the game in a bigger market," says Williams. "Seth's work would do best if it's seen by people at art fairs in other cities and countries. And, at some point, he definitely needs to have a dealer that's outside of Texas."

On February 26, 2006, Seth's 23-year-old brother Lance was traveling alone from a friend's house when he lost control of his vehicle as it rounded a curb. His car struck a tree and flipped. Lance, a self-taught guitarist and trained audio engineer, died immediately.

Seth was very close to his younger brother, due to their shared interests and creative talents. While Susie lamented her son's death by writing and playing songs on the guitar, "[Seth] worked out a lot of his grief through these really dark paintings," she says.

One image from that period, Mop, was completed by Alverson in 2009. The 45-by-36-inch oil on canvas started as an illustration of a scene from The Shining, in which the bathtub woman that Jack Nicholson's character attempts to court turns into a rotting zombie creature. However, the illustration wasn't cooperating so Seth instead turned to another one of his favorite moments in the Stanley Kubrick flick, "when blood spills out of the elevators and into the halls," he says.

"I wondered what it would be like if I were a janitor in that hotel and had to clean up that mess. Death and violence are all around us anyway, so hypothetically cleaning up blood in a hotel serves as a kind of analogy to cleaning up all the blood in our lives," says Alverson. "After a while, I would realize that the task of cleaning that amount is pointless. I would give up. That's why the mop is all alone."

Alverson's good buddy Cody Ledvina, who met Seth in 2003 while the two worked at Texas Art Supply on Montrose Boulevard, says, "Since I've known him, his work has always been about human peril in some way. After his brother passed away, it became about real-life peril as opposed to the fantastic or made-up view."

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Yay Seth! An amazing painter and a good person. Thanks for doing this article, Houston Press.