Drama and comedy are closer than you think. Long Beach, CA based artist Alex Gardner intends to show you just how close they really are. This month, Gardner debuts Rom Com, his first New York solo show at The Hole. Animated and gestural, like in his previous work, Gardner’s paintings display intimate human moments in his dramatic contrasted style. His figures move and sway across the canvas in their uniformly draped white clothes and gradient black skin. The anonymity of Gardner’s figures allow the viewer to emotionally connect as well project their own experience onto the canvas. This gentle vulnerability is sharply contrasted by Gardner’s choice in titles. “Forgot My Wallet” and “Audition in the Frozen Food Section” (to name a few) make light of the otherwise serious tone in his work. This tension brings new meaning to Gardner’s paintings and place them in a more contemporary context, one familiar with his viewers of a digital age.
Stylistically speaking, Gardner’s works pays homage to art history in both composition and technique. Reminiscent of Renaissance and Mannerist masters, his paintings forge ahead with contemporary color choices and precise gradient shifts. Expertly crafted, his new series explores a new field of cool tones and sweeping shadows, along with a few black and white pieces for good measure. We sat down with the artist leading up to his show and got a nice insight into his background, process and most importantly his love of football. Take a look below.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new show RomCom? For this series of work, what has changed and what has stayed the same?
I'm still making paintings of people so that's the same. The changes are really subtle shifts in color use, lighting and the type of space the figures exist in. The purpose of the work has been consistent forever so making these subtle visual adjustments to try and continue to make better paintings and find the best way to execute my idea is important to me. I think if you looked at all my work in chronological order you can see a development. But I hope no one does that just incase there is no development to be seen. How sad that would be.
The titles of your works seem to poke fun and kind of twist the initial dramatic impression you get? Why do you think humor works so well to contrast the intensity of your paintings? Where do you get these titles?
Yea the titles are meant to be funny but they really come from a pessimistic place. Visually I'm trying to balance the drama and intensity with some lightheartedness as well so the titles are an extension and kind of last step in that idea. As for the content of the title, they are meant to obscurely describe the narrative moment that's to be associated with the feelings I'm trying to convey visually.
Obviously movement and motion are at the center of your work. How do you compose your figures, do you position real life models or is it more free form than that? Give us a little insight into your process!
I try to just think of a composition that will somehow capture the narrative moment that I'm wanting to depict. I do a quick formal composition check by making a drawing that looks like a 4 month year old elephant drew it with it's tail. Once I'm onto the painting I'll make a pretty crispy drawing on the linen first. I'll ask people to pose for me sometimes. It's always just one person at a time doing multiple poses for me. The main thing I need a visual reference for is how cloth hangs off the body in certain positions. I'll look at it while I'm drawing it out but then that's pretty much it. Everything else is worked off the rules I've made within the world that the paintings exist in.
Any weird studio rituals you want to share?
Honestly I have no quirky studio rituals. My studio is the garage to the house I live in. I drink a shit ton of water and coffee so I pee non stop. I've been peeing in the backyard for the last year thinking I would, not only, be benefitting from the convenience and flat out joy of peeing outdoors but also would be killing all the relentless weeds that grow. I was admitting this to some friends last week and they informed me that human pee is different from dog pee and doesn't effectively kill weeds and grass. I need to fact check that though. Certainly won't stop me from continuing the practice.
What are you into these days? Favorite bands, musicians, artists, designers currently?
All I listen to are comedian's podcasts. However, what matters most now that it is September is that football season is back and Sunday will no longer be a productive day for the next 3 months.
Rom Com is on view at The Hole in New York City September 7th – October 15th, 2017.
Opening night photos and interview by Jessica Ross.