New Contemporary and Pop Surreal giant Alex Gross took a few moments from his prolific schedule to chat with us about his latest work and upcoming exhibit, “Discrepancies”. The new paintings, soon to be exhibited at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York, prove to be a solid continuation of Gross’ strongest vein of creative output. Along with this new body of masterpieces, a book of the same name containing work from the last four years (including works from the exhibit) will be released on Gingko Press.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for us, Alex. You have a new exhibition of works on view this September entitled, “Discrepancies”. Can you tell us a little about these new works and the underlying themes or subject matter that you are exploring?
Thank you for having me. As far as “Discrepancies,” I’ve been working on this show for more than two years. I’m playing with a variety of themes in this show. One focus for me has been a more contemporary angle than much of my past work. I’m trying to incorporate images and issues from the world around me rather than relying so much on antique and vintage imagery. Communication and the lack of it is one of the themes in “Discrepancies.” Technology and branding, and how they affect us is another concept I’m addressing in this body of work. I’m trying to discuss these contemporary things and still incorporate my interest in vintage imagery.
Is this a continuation of your last show at Jonathan LeVine’s from 2008, “Mysteries and Manners” as a narrative or concept?
Well, in many ways I suppose it is. It’s not a giant departure from what I was doing before, but I think it’s clearly gone into a somewhat different place. I would like to think of it as a natural evolution from the last show. I feel like many of the new pieces are taking similar ideas to what I was doing two years ago, but are going further with them, in a bit more adventurous way. I’m visually a little more distanced from reality in a narrative sense, and I’m continuing to push my interest in graphic patterns and shapes like bubbles and floating bits, which I only just started to toy with in that last show. Although, I do have some very straight portraits in this show too. There’s probably more overall range in this one. There’s also quite a bit more work than in the last show. This time around I have 19 full size paintings and around 20 small cabinet card mixed media pieces.
Works of this caliber must take an immense amount of your time to prepare and produce. When you are preparing for an exhibit of works, do you choose selection from your many ideas to pursue, or are you interested in working with each idea that comes to mind during the creative process?
The large pieces really do take a very long time to produce. The smaller work is not so bad. To answer your question, when I am working on a show, I think it’s important to have some consistency thematically as well as visually. Some of my earliest one-man shows, ten years ago, were kind of all over the place that way, and I think it can make for a confusing experience for viewers. I learned a lot from those first few shows, and now I put more focus into the overall body of work and how it all works together. So, if I have one idea that I think is good but totally doesn’t fit with the other stuff I’m doing, then I’ll probably leave it for another time. I do have many comps that are half developed because I end up putting them aside for one reason or another. Some of them end up being revisited later, and some don’t.
This exhibition opening also functions as a book release of the same name. What is this new book going to feature, and is it a survey of recent works or only works from this exhibit?
Yes, I have a new book also called “Discrepancies,” being released at the opening. Gingko Press is publishing it, and I’ve just had a chance to see my first advance copy, which is pretty exciting. This book covers most of my fine art work from the last four years. I was able to include a majority of the pieces from this new show in the book too, which I’m happy about. There were only a couple of paintings done after the book had gone to press. So, although it is not a complete catalogue of this show, it covers most of it, as well as the entire 2008 show, and several pieces from before that. It also includes a large selection of the cabinet card mixed media pieces I did two years ago that were so popular.
We would love to hear your thoughts or narrative behind even one of your paintings. Would you mind choosing one in particular and walking us through these rich visual elements?
I’m not the type of artist who works based on a strict, clearly laid out concept. My process is more intuitive than that. So I hesitate to discuss meanings of paintings when people ask me, because there never is one true meaning. All of my work is intentionally open to interpretation. “Premonition,” which is probably one of my personal favorite pieces, is a piece that I can tell you a little bit about. The basic scenario, a girl on a moped, on a road in the middle of a field of flowers, holding some balloons, actually came as I was playing with variations on another one of my paintings, called “The Brink.” Eventually, “Premonition” evolved into a very different piece, but they do share the fact that they are outside and take place on a road. At some point I came across a photo of a young woman on a moped, dressed inappropriately for riding, and I really liked it. I decapitated her and found a face and head I preferred, and began to work around that. It took me awhile to figure out what might be going on, and what I was going for. At some point in the comp stage, I gave her some balloons, as if it might be her birthday. And it occurred to me that a person’s birthday is a very complicated thing, sort of a double-edged sword. When we’re young, we love having our birthday and getting presents. As we get older it suddenly becomes this somewhat frightening reminder of the passage of time, and even of death. And I find it very interesting to think about when and how that change happens. Of course it is different for each of us, but we all go through that. So, that kind of thinking started to lead me the right way as I added other elements, like her companion on the scooter. The billboard in the background seems out of place in this giant field of flowers, and yet somehow it fits in just fine. Perhaps because we are all so accustomed to ads and billboards everywhere these days.
With this much having been accomplished, works finished and books printed, what is next for you?
Right now I am working on more cabinet card mixed media pieces for the show. And I also have my website being redesigned as we speak. But after this show has happened, hopefully a vacation will be next! I have been working for a very long time and could use a little R & R. After that, it’s back to work again. I enjoy painting, and always feel a little strange if I go too long without working. And I will be showing in Los Angeles in 2012, so it’s never too early to get a start on the work for that.