Who? Alex Gardner insists that he is not a surrealist, in spite of a niggling impulse to apply that descriptor to his work. Everyday conversations, commutes and routines form the main inspiration for his paintings, as opposed to dreamy, otherworldly narratives. “All my subject matter is based on real life, I’m not trying to access the subconscious or the unconscious dream state,” the LA-native mentions, “I don’t want to have these pieces of a puzzle … I try to strip it down to the basics to evoke mood and emotion.”
Gardner followed what he calls an artist’s “typical route”, honing his technical skills at school before bagging a Fine Art degree from California State University, Long Beach in 2011. Now, based in a Downtown LA studio framed with “terrible walls” and huge windows, the artist creates canvases that remix Renaissance painterly techniques with geometry, drawing from a palette of black, blue, pink, white and green.
What? Identity is a central theme for the Afro-Japanese artist, with much of his work featuring anonymous figures painted in a deep, rich black. A rebuke against the fair-skinned bodies he used to habitually paint, Gardner uses skin tone to challenge the ways in which viewers identify with what they see. “I don’t know if I’m trying to paint black people, but I guess that’s what I’m doing! I’m certainly trying not to paint white people, but I feel like [the bodies] are so black that they can be perceived as not just of African descent,” he says. “Growing up, identity was always an issue because I’m mixed race, but in a broader sense I want the viewer to have non-specific figures in the composition … so they have the chance of seeing themselves and people they know.”
Why? Gardner’s medium may be traditional, but the themes he addresses, namely identity, desire, ethics and anxiety, are timely and relatable. In contrast to some of his net-art contemporaries, Gardner’s large-scale paintings are a product of very slow, consistent labour, a typical piece taking just under a month to finish. It’s a meditative process that has become addictive, he confesses, with breaks away from painting hard to bear. But is he fazed by the shortening attention spans of audiences? “It’s quite disheartening,” he admits, “there’s not the same viewer attention span as compared to years ago. Some might not appreciate all the time and skill that went into my work. But many people do find value in that slow process.”
Alex Gardner’s first London show runs at The Dot Project from October 7 – November 20.