Exclusive Interview with Alex Gross, Addressing Today's 'Discrepancies'Juxtapoz // Tuesday, 07 Sep 2010
Bloody nosed iPod plugged-in women, snake-eyed Starbucks toting consumers. The imagery is hardly subtle, but explores a modern corporate culture in striking paintings. Here, Alex Gross discusses his newest solo show, Discrepancies, saying, “The imagery that I paint appears realistic, and yet, there is almost always something a bit off, different.”
Your last exhibit with Jonathan LeVine in 2008, Mysteries and Manners, included many references to Japanese & Chinese culture, Gothic Flemish painting, Victorian wedding photography, and even American lithography. This new series, Discrepancies, seems to have fewer and more pointed, but perhaps more powerful, references. Can you comment on this?
I suppose that it might seem more pointed because I am addressing some more contemporary themes than I did in the last show. When I started doing gallery work around a decade ago, I referenced a lot of pop culture imagery, but perhaps in a lighter vein. Then I had a period where I wanted to get away from all that and make images that were more timeless.
Now the world around me is quite different than it was ten years ago, and I wanted my new work to represent that change, and involve the viewer in the images in a direct way. Although I would say that in the last show, there were some hints of what was to come. I had some references to modern technology like cell phones and power lines in that show too, although they were not as prevalent as they now are.
The title of your new show, Discrepancies, seems to allude to rapid cultural changes within the context of media and corporate power. Is this what you were aiming to focus on in Discrepancies?
A discrepancy is a small but significant difference in two or more things that should be the same. In this case, I felt that the word aptly described much of my work. The imagery that I paint appears realistic, and yet, there is almost always something a bit off, different. And "discrepancies" can be applied to the media and corporate conglomerates as well. They tell us one thing, usually with a catchy slogan or commercial, but the truth is far different.
Your oil on canvas work is highly detailed. Walk us briefly through your process. How long does it take to complete a piece? Do you start off with sketches? How do you choose on a series theme?
I do very complete compositions before starting any of my larger pieces on canvas. I do all my comp and sketching work in Photoshop. I combine photographic imagery with drawn imagery, although in this case I draw with my Wacom tablet. This process has evolved over the years, and really works well for me now. I don't know if I will ever go back to pencil and paper again. Once I have the comp finished, I'll transfer it to canvas and begin work. Painting on a large piece can take up to two months. I don't do color studies, so usually figuring out color is one of the main challenges of painting.
Lately, I will leave more parts of the comp unfinished, and figure them out in the painting process. This keeps things a little more exciting. Figuring out ideas and themes is just intuitive. When I am working on one show, I try to keep in mind how each piece may relate to the others. At the same time, I allow myself a lot of freedom in trying different things from one piece to the next. Ultimately, the themes I am dealing with are things that interest me, and so they emerge regardless of whether or not I am consciously thinking about them.
You tend to include a lot of animal imagery in your works. Does each animal reference something in particular or do the animals as a whole represent an overarching commentary?
It really depends on the piece, and the animal in question. More often than not, the animals are used because I find them interesting or beautiful visually, and not for symbolism. Interestingly, most of the animals that I want to use in a given piece end up being symbolically relevant, if that makes sense. I think that when I am in the right creative zone, I can just feel what things fit, without consciously planning them, and they will end up working thematically too. The symbolism ends up being inherent.
You include specific corporate logos into these new works, from Starbucks to Coca-Cola, DIRECTV, and BP. Are you disillusioned by our current reality and where do you think we, as Americans and a global community, are headed as a society?
In fact, these are my corporate sponsors. Much like many of our favorite musicians today, I receive enormous amounts of compensation to reference these companies and their products in my work.
What do you hope viewers take away after viewing Discrepancies?
I'm not concerned with that, to be honest. I'm more concerned with engaging them at all. In this day and age, there are plenty of more exciting experiences than viewing painting; going to a movie, playing video games, surfing YouTube, whatever. So, I simply hope that my work will be compelling enough to make people want to invest a little bit of their time looking at it. If it makes them stop and think, that's wonderful. And if they simply appreciate it on a more superficial level, I can't complain about that either.
More on the artist at www.alexgross.com
Sept 11—Oct 9, 2010
Saturday, Sept 11, 7—9pm
Jonathan LeVine Gallery