Interview: Alex Garant's "Wakefulness"
On February 4th, 2014, Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco will present "Wakefulness,” a solo exhibition of new paintings by Toronto based artist Alex Garant. The new work explores the sumptuous and vivid world of traditional portraiture, with a focus on Garant’s signature double-exposed figures. By overstimulating her audience and saturating her canvases in visual stimuli, Garant’s new body of work is both exciting and overwhelming all at once. Read an interview with Garant below!
You’re the self-proclaimed “Queen of Double Eyes”, and your work certainly backs this up. What first interested you about the double exposure, or “off-register” look of your paintings? And what keeps you coming back to this visual theme?
Alex Garant: I always loved playing with symmetry and patterns. Even in my early works, I would create symmetrical images. One day I was sketching and drawing and exploring other ways to create symmetry and duplicate my sketches. One day it all came together as the vision I was searching for. To me, the vibrancy created by the double exposure is more than just an optical illusion, it represents life emerging from a structural setting.
What first drew you to painting? Was there a defining moment for you to pursue being an artist full-time?
I always been drawing and painting. My mother was an artist and I remember drawing with her from a very early age. However , I never considered it a full time career until 3.5 years ago when I got really sick and realized life was short; I knew at that point I needed to focus on what makes me happy, and Art is everything I am passionate about.
You were born and raised in Quebec City, Quebec, and later moved to Toronto. Has Toronto shaped you or your practice? How involved are you in the artist community there?
The urban aspect of Toronto really educated me about life possibilities. There are so many options and paths open to you in a big city. I met so many influential people here, including artists, musicians and athletes. I always love surrounding myself with people better and more passionate than myself, it helps me stay motivated, inspired and focused.
Your paintings are realistic, yet surreal, female portraits. Who are these women to you? Do they represent someone specific? A self-portrait perhaps, or do they serve as an emotion, a state of mind?
I do use some specific models who have became my muses now but they do represent a part of me. Creating is a very personal experience and I believe each piece can be seen as self portraiture. Some of the colors, patterns and expressions i choose to use truly express a specific emotional phase of my life.
What themes or concepts have you been playing with recently for your upcoming solo show at Spoke Art? Could you tell us about the title “Wakefulness?
I went through a big introspection as I was started Wakefulness. It has been suggested that human beings are not awake until wakefulness occurs via overstimulation of the senses and full activation of the mind. Wakefulness is a recurring brain state of consciousness in which an individual is conscious and engaged. My latest series is meant to initiate reactive responses to the external visual stimuli offered through the superposition of figurative elements and vivid colours. Each piece reflects a different state of awakening, navigating past the realm of dreams and onward towards freeing overstimulation.
How do you capture both the realism of the portrait, and surreal quality of the painting all at once? Could you walk us through your process a bit?
I prefer to work alla prima so most of my pieces will be done in very few sittings. I will usually work from one of my reference muse, sketching a conventional portrait, from there, I will start duplicating the eyes. The next step would be to draw that exact sketch a second time, taking into consideration the overall vibrancy and proportion aesthetic. I then transfer the sketch on canvas and start painting. I usually have an idea of the colour scheme I am using but sometimes it changes along the way.
What is your workspace like? Do you have any painting rituals or methods to get you in the zone?
I converted the master bedroom of my home into a studio. I like to think of it as an organized chaos, I love art supplies so I always have a lot of it. I think material available if inspiration struck. I like to work with a lot of light so I have 3 lamps with day light bulbs to help me work once the sun is gone. Sometimes you can hear some blues music and others there is some pro wrestling playing on my lap top. After a while, once I am in the "zone", everything becomes white noise anyway and time stops... Oh there is always a lot of accessible snacks as well. haha
Have you pursued any other art practices or experimented with other mediums? Anything you're dying to try?
I went to art school so I got the chance to experiment with a lot of mediums. I have to say that oil paint is my favorite. I would love to experiment with pottery or screen printing just for fun some day.
You’re a strong, female role model for young aspiring artists (no pressure!). What advice would you give to someone starting out in their art career?
Haha, well that is very nice, thank you. I would say to take things seriously from the start, to commit to an idea and stick with it. It's very easy to get inspired but the hardest part is to stop being lazy and do something with our own potential. eliminate fear and just chase your dreams. Thanks Alex! We look forward to having you in town for the opening night reception of “Wakefulness!”
An opening reception for Alex Garant’s debut US solo show will be held Thursday, February 4th from 6-10pm at Spoke Art gallery in San Francisco.