We caught up with the leading East London-based contemporary artist, as part of our 'Meet The Artist' series.
Do you remember when or where your interest for art stems from?
Yup, as a kid I watched The Snowman everyday for two years. I was fascinated by the drawings and animation. Like most kids I was blooded on Disney films, the first film I saw was Bambi and I can remember being really scared by it and quite upset. Although this may not be defined as ‘art’ it was the nucleus to discovering, exploring and experimenting with drawing.
Do you come from an artistic family…?
My mum disowned her father via a letter 20 years ago, I recently found out he’s an artist?! He just paints ‘stags’ apparently so not that interesting but my mum is very creative, I definitely get inspiration from her. My dad (R.I.P) never liked the idea of me pursuing a career in the Arts but was a cultured Art fan.
As a serial collagist with a penchant for dicing and slicing, did you use to cut up toys and your sister’s dolls when you were little…
My older sister was a bit of a bully and once dressed me up as a girl, told me there was a fair in town and led me to a swamp which her and her friends pushed me into...I never got the chance to slice up her dolls but would have definitely done so had I got the opportunity. I used to customise turtles figures when I was younger and even started a turtle ‘club house’ where we pasted the walls with Turtle Collage?!
How would you describe your work and style?
Constantly evolving, looking for answers, avoiding a defined ‘style’, pushing & pulling.
By proxy my work is ‘of this time’ as I use images and trash that is readily available, however I’m always thinking about future audiences; what would future generations think of this output? Would it be relevant?
Rather than specialising in just one area, you do paintings, collages, drawings, installations and sculptures… and you paint in oil, acrylic and aerosol. Is there anything you can’t do?That’s daft, I’m nowhere near anything artistically. I’m ambitious and obsessive and often try out almost anything to get to a point where I’m happy. I work very viscerally and often don’t question the material, if it’s available, to hand, I just play; essentially that’s the guts of the work. I’m far from the finished article, It’s called ‘Art practise’ for a reason. I admire Artists like Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, they never looked back ,always forward and remained disciplined throughout aswell as living colourful lives, I guess I’m gunning for that.
Your approach to your work is often described as ‘compulsive’ or ‘obsessive’… is this a fair description and if so why or how so?
As above; I am an addict to image. This fucks with things massively though as the message (if initiated) can get lost in the layers. In contemporary times I think there’s a compulsion to almost everything, be that consumerism, alcohol, sports, sex; everyone has their vice, mine just ain’t that glamorous.
What can you tell us about your upcoming collaboration with us at BLOC Salon on March 15?
I was invited to create a small series of work for a show that’s on for a month. ‘Short Cut’ is or should be exactly what it says on the tin. I cut things, it’s a small show etc. I have been thinking about the relationship between the work and the salon in terms of the human condition. You’re quite vulnerable when in a salon, being touched and trimmed. I treat my compositions in the same way, they are always being cultivated, it’s a cool link.
You’re producing three new works for the exhibition, how long does it take to do a piece?
Finding the images that fit can take months, weeks and then the actual composition may take just a few days if a ‘straight’ collage. Usually I work slowly for months on pieces, especially paintings, most of which never see the light of day though as I get frustrated and destroy them.
You’re also doing a window installation, can you give us some titbits on what to expect?
I’ve always worked on glass but am conscious that the work isn’t permanent so i’ll be doing some vinyl/ sticker action!
How do you approach a new piece? Does it start with sketches, for example, do you plan it out thoroughly, or do you just let the scissors, pens and paint take you in a direction?
With paintings I plan somewhat, with sketches often digitally to save time and avoid frustration. I never use scissors by the way ;), I use a surgical scalpol blade that gives accurate cuts and frees things up but it does lose expression somewhat as the lines and cuts are so defined. It is a very carnal way of working though, the subconscious comes into play but somehow this has to be harnesses as focus is so important to a finished composition.
When you’re not working on your art, what can you be found doing?
I like to work full stop so I try and organise, curate or generally make things happen.
I like re-energising forgotten spaces, I developed a former tube station into a temporary gallery with my brother Laurence, that was fun but also quite hellish. I want to try and tap into his ethos of creating a happening or life like environ for a future installation.
What or who are some of your influences or inspirations… where do you look to for inspiration?
I try not to look at too much stuff as it seeps in places you wouldn’t imagine, next thing you know you’re making marks that have already been created. People say it’s impossible to be original but I’m a romantic and still believe there is room for a marriage of tradition and craft that hasn’t been created before. Living in East London I am constantly inspired, the night life is so eclectic and vibrant, the scene is infectious. Whether this eats into my work i’m not so sure but living back home in the country i’m sure my work would look very different.
In a previous interview you said “I was referred to as a lost soul by a spiritualist my mum had a reading from once”, do you still feel like a lost soul? Does art help?
Yup, I think most Artists are super self conscious and extremely paranoid. We aren’t normal this is for sure, we chose a different path. We exist in normality and society yet try and create by different rules. I’m within touching distance of what I want from my work and my life but it still isn’t with me, ‘lost’ most definitely.
You’ve also said your “mum and family have always supported me, they don’t like my work but that’s one of the things that drives me”… what doesn’t your mum like about your work…
Ha, you’re getting very personal with these questions. Like most people she prefers, figurative or easily readable work. She has Klimt prints, decorative stuff. For me that never had any guts, my work must. Maybe one day she will be into it but I cant let that bother me. They are just throwaway comments, like I spent months on a painting, on and off, showed her it and she said “why did you use that blue, you should have used another colour?”...I can’t win!
Where do you get all the magazines you cut up from? Will you just cut up any old magazine you can get your hands on or is there specific publications you prefer to dissect?
I like to get stuff hot off the press, now stuff & mix this with high brow material. Fashion mags always have amazing photography and the poses aren’t too unlike those of figures depicted in classical painting, all twisted hands, arched back and flailing legs.
I recently bought 100 national geographics’ from West London which I had to cart around on the tube in the heaviest suitcase ever! The photos in there are off the scale, the print quality is grainy, the images loaded, these juxtaposed with modern imagery are at times quite beautiful.
What do you hope to achieve in your work? How do you want the viewer to feel?
I want a lot more from my work, it’s a discipline, a focus, a practise so I must keep going, pushing. I want to be happy with it, but never am ever! I don’t ‘want’ the viewer to behave in a certain way, I want people to access it however they chose and take what they want to take. The facade to my work is often glossy and slick and I often incorporate subtle sybolism and occasional narrative but it always goes a miss so now I just like to let the work do its job for whomever encounters it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder right? What do I know...
Like everything in my life they all happened very randomly, I was overworked and exhausted on some of those ‘jobs’, I realised for someone like me whom makes everything from scratch big commercial jobs maybe aren’t good for the soul. However through Ralph, I met some great artists and have since worked with James Jessop, Anton Unai and become friends with other artists through the process. I put alot of pressure on myself and when money is involved that also raises the bar. Georgina is now a good friend & fellow creative I loved working in Paris with her and seeing another side to the fashion industry. I am a lot more reluctant to certain opportunities now though and find myself saying ‘no’ alot more than I do yes!
How – if at all – does or will digital media affect collage artists?
It definitely will in a few decades as paper will be rare and all will be digital, like calligraphy, writing, physical real stuff will be like an art form. I think software definitely opens up development where college is concerned but it’s almost too easy to create, analogue all the way!
You’ve also said that your work is “very reactive to [your] surrounds” and that you “have to listen to music pretty much all the time”. What sort of music do you listen to? Do you listen to different genres to achieve different results? If not, do you think listening to something like Swedish Deathmetal or minimal electro music would affect your work, and if so how?
Ha, I listen to all sorts, hip hop, Electronic, Industrial, NEVER pop though that would kill me, even if my work sometimes appears to have a pop aesthetic. I have been listening to a lot of classical recently. Essentially I just want to leave this planet temporarily and gently, slowly build the work without interruption or guidance, music absolves the borders of reality.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
Wow, I don’t really plan but there are multiple ideas floating around and options, I definitely want to be simply making though so may avoid showing too much.
If you could share a meal with anyone living or dead, famous or not, who would it be and why?
My dad. This interview would be the most insular, self indulgent borefest if I listed all the reasons but my dad was a bit of a legend, he died as a result of a car accident caused by a young girl (then the same age as me 17) in 99’. It would be a fast food feast, (calories don’t count when youre dead!) with Jerry, Francis Bacon, Winston Churchill & maybe Hitler then I could slap him with a fish, Monroe for eye candy and myself as a quiet observer...good night!
To see more of Alex's work, visit here.