Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985) was born on the island of Oahu, Hawaii to a high-achieving intellectual family of Spanish descent. Her father was a physician engaged in landmark research into Leprosy, and her brother also became a physician of note. In 1968 her nephew, Luis Alvarez, would be awarded the Nobel prize in Physics. The family moved to California when Mabel was a child, and she became a star pupil at Los Angeles High School, after which she studied with Boston-school painter William Cahill who had relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1900s.
Alvarez painted award-winning murals in her early years and exhibited her work frequently to great acclaim during her long and productive career. She was a member of the Group of Eight and she read widely and was influenced by a number of different art movements and experimental philosophies. She took almost as gospel the advice given her by Morgan Russell when they met in the late 1920's who told her to become like a "cork that floats downstream while painting," i.e. to let the process take her where it would. As a result her work went through many enormous permutations in style and meaning over the years, so much so that it is difficult to characterize it, except by one constant: its excellence. Other continuing characteristics are Alvarez's richly expressive use of color, and her dedication to the concept of humanism.
Mabel Alvarez once wrote, "I want to take all this beauty and pour it out on canvas with such radiance that all who are lost in the darkness may feel the wonder and lift to it."