IPaintMyMind Exclusive Interview: Alex Gross and His Surreal, Colorful Scenes
Alex Gross bends reality while commenting on it, using disruption as a means of jarring one loose from the long range stare so commonly found in the faces of resignation. Injecting his work with technology, branding, and other fast-paced mechanizations of the day, Gross reveals a lower vibration that the mundane nature of every day life can cast on any of us. He perfectly executes and co-mingles history, war, and vanity, as they inhabit concurrent spaces with great detail & symbolism. All the while, he hints at the certain value he sees being obstructed by a lot of bullshit, while having a keen sense of design and a twinge of dystopia.
Alex Gross: My pleasure.
IPMM: Secondly, are you sure Frederick Douglass’ favorite ice cream flavor was Strawberry?
AG: No, but its my favorite flavor. I don’t know if ice cream was even invented yet in his day. It’s also the best flavor to paint since it adds a dash of color. Vanilla and chocolate obviously are less visually exciting.
IPMM: It’s hard to pick a favorite among your paintings, but “The Last Judgement”, “Android”, and “Original Sin” are certainly in the running. They exist at the nexus of surrealism and sociology. Tell us about them.
AG: ‘Android’ and ‘Original Sin’ are done within a couple years of each other, and ‘Last Judgment’ is several years before them. I have work on my website done around 2001 too. So, there are lots of years in between some of the works. Obviously, I feel strongest about the more recent work, and I feel that the newer works have a closer connection because I am a more mature artist and have been trying to hone what I do now after so many years.
IPMM: It shows.
AG: ‘Android’ and ‘Original Sin’ are both clearly modern, contemporary images. They do not reference the past. They both deal with themes of consumerism, and mass marketing. ‘Original Sin’ conceptually references the garden of eden, but not visually. I think these pieces, and my other recent work, are all connected by this constant referencing of the modern condition. ‘Last Judgment’ is more victorian, because of the clothing and Frederick Douglass. It also references gothic Christian artwork from the early renaissance. I think it has a very different feel than the other two works. Obviously, it has some modern elements like ice cream, the interracial wedding ceremony, and the crashing zeppelin in the background. But still, I think it exists in a slightly different plane than the other two. Perhaps in a more surreal, retro world. I’m not sure exactly….
IPMM: You recently shared lot of detailed photos of the process of painting “Android, a massive painting you worked on diligently. I have to say, as fans of your work, seeing it come together with regular updates on Facebook was a lot of fun.
AG: I’m glad you found it worthwhile. It’s hard sometimes to know how to best use social media, other than to just share new work, when possible. One thing that I always have liked from other artists is seeing their process. I find it really interesting and valuable to see. So, I often try to take process photos of paintings as I work on them. Sometimes I share these steps on Facebook. I get nice feedback about it, and I’m glad that some people appreciate it.
IPMM: You also participated in the Pulse Art Fair in Miami, how was it? What artworks did you feature?
AG: The Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York featured several new pieces of mine at the Pulse Fair. I gave them 4 new works – ‘Android,’ ‘Facade,’ ‘Dave Willis,’ and ‘Schadenfreude.’ They also brought one piece from my last show, ‘Cascade.’ I also gave them about thirty mixed media cabinet card paintings for this fair. They had some other artists’ work as well, but I had the most in the booth. It was nice to see it there. I had never done an art fair before, so this was a first for me.
IPMM: Do you prefer huge events like that, or too much for ya?
AG: The obvious difference from an art fair to a solo exhibition is that at my solo exhibition, everyone is there to see my work only. At an art fair, I am one among many, many other artists showing. There are pros and cons to each. Clearly at an art fair you have an opportunity to be exposed to a new audience, which is very important to me at this stage in my career. A solo exhibition is more of a social event since there are lots of friends, family and collectors there to chat with. I am glad I did the art fair and I would definitely do one again. The large crowds and the whole ‘scene’ there in Miami can definitely become tiresome, but I don’t have a problem with it. We didn’t go crazy trying to attend all the cool parties and stuff like that. We just had a good time, saw some friends, checked out some fairs and went to the beach.
IPMM: What artists have shaped the way you view, approach, or execute your art?
AG: I want to say none of them, but of course that’s not true. My teachers in school shaped me in many ways. Over the years I have had influences from many different artists, living and dead, but to be honest, I barely look at contemporary art at all anymore. I have a small handful of artists working today that I really like, but I wouldn’t really say they have shaped my work in any way. A couple artists I enjoy currently include David Jien, Aron Wiesenfeld, Eric White, Jaime Treadwell, and Oleg Dou.
I really dig it when one of them has a show and I love looking at their work, but I think my creative process is its own thing now. I have a system that works for me and I am just in my own little world when it comes to creating my shit.
IPMM: Right on man. Anyone who reads our interviews knows we’re always interested in the conditions under which artists create. What are ideal working conditions for you?
AG: Ideal would be: enough money in the bank, physically feeling healthy, and not lots of annoying, time consuming bullshit in my life to deal with. If I have those conditions met, then I feel pretty good about making my art.
IPMM: “Lanvin” was always interesting to me because of the Dali connection. Is this painting a commentary on the commercialization of art?
AG: ‘Lanvin’ is simply a parody of fashion advertising. This is one of my favorite things to do, and if I didn’t have larger ideas, I could easily paint fashion ad parodies all day long. The lady in the Lanvin piece is from some Korean advertisement, I don’t even know what it was for. I stumbled on it completely by accident one day while google image searching for other things. People with snakes coming out of their eyes is a thing I do sometimes, symbolizing the zombie-like state we take on when consuming things or desiring them. I threw in the Lanvin logo very late in the game, as the background was a collage-thing that I was playing with. I felt that this logo helped ramp up the ad parody angle, and the Starbucks cup that she drinks from says british petroleum on it because the BP gulf spill was very recent at the time I made that piece.
IPMM: Tell us about a recent commissioned piece of yours, entitled “Jackal”…
AG: ‘Jackal’ is the most recent thing I’ve done. It’s for a great collector in Chicago who collects paintings with flags in them. He let me do whatever I wanted, as long as I included some flag imagery. The flag theme brought me to some patriotic american military studio photographs of officers in front of flags. This particular image started from a marine general posing in front of two flags.
I have strong feelings about what the USA is doing in the Middle East, and how wrong much of it has been. It’s not a criticism of soldiers who fight, because I admire their courage a great deal. Rather, it’s a criticism of our government and national policy of meddling in the affairs of middle eastern countries that provide us with oil. Since George W Bush first lied about WMD just to get us into Iraq, we have been wasting more and more young men’s lives fighting all over the middle east, and for what? It’s very disturbing, and I wanted to make a piece about all of that. It’s clearly a political piece, and I understand that some people may not like it because of it’s message, and I’m okay with that. Fortunately, the collector that its for, loves it.
IPMM: What’s the coolest thing someone has ever said to you about what you do?
AG: I cant think of a particular thing someone has said, but I’ve had lots of gratifying things happen. Adbusters is a magazine I have read for years, and is the only magazine that I really respect politically. When they came to me and wanted to use my work in one of their issues and on their cover, it was really a great feeling. I have had that kind of thing happen with some authors and bands, and other creative people who really dig my work on a deep level. That’s always a special feeling when it comes from peers that you respect and admire.
IPMM: Name one artist and/or musician IPMM readers should check out immediately.
AG: Artist: Jaime Treadwell, Band: Beach House
AG: I’ll need a check for 100K to consider your offer. Much like American baseball teams pay Japanese teams millions of dollars just for the RIGHTS to negotiate contracts with some of their players. This is a trend we should start in the art world… and my price is much cheaper!