The day of our visit Alexandra Grant was caught in traffic, as one is prone to be in LA, and running a bit late. This gave me the opportunity to visit the cemetery across the street from her studio, which is located in the historic West Adams district. Apparently one of the oldest cemeteries in LA, walking through it (something I would never have done otherwise) grounded my mood before the studio visit. I mention it only because the experience of seeing Alexandra’s work truly drives one to self-reflection, and the afternoon quickly became a venture in art and contemplation.
Entering Alexandra’s studio is like entering an art funhouse. It is filled, literally floor to ceiling, with works on paper and canvas, sculptures wrapped in mesh, paint tubes, brushes and color, color, color. In Alexandra’s work the color accompanies a barrage of text. But the language of that text must be learned, as words float through canvases backwards, forwards and seemingly inside out. The effect is at first overwhelming, dizzying and disorienting. The letters don’t look like words, but more like forms, bodies, jumbled in a storm of color and abstract shapes. Once a viewer becomes re-oriented, words begin to emerge, and then more words, sometimes in other languages; sayings pile on top of sentences. Simple and almost cliché, “I was born to love,” spelled both forward and backward, a textual Rorschach inkblot if you will, looms large in the visual field of one painting. The scale of the work leaves the viewer at the center of sprawling text, and she feels compelled to actually contemplate what that rather banal saying might actually mean. The notion that words are never just words begins to emerge. Alexandra’s paint handling and clearly thought out compositions suggest that there is a clear relationship between text, emotion, psychology and image, which emphatically places a viewer into the system as a whole. The self, like the paintings, is understood as layer upon layer of euphemism, projection, psychology and simply the voices in one’s head. With paint piled on so thick they become literally 3-dimensional, Alexandra’s paintings come to represent at once a clear and unclear distinction between text and painting. Neither seems fully able to express experience, but together they do offer a version of it.
The paintings I write about are her recent and final works from a series called Century of the Self, titled after a film series by Adam Curtis that explored how Freud’s ideas impacted the way corporations and governments sought to influence and control people. Alexandra has been working on Century of the Self since early 2014, and just about the time of my visit a new body of work is emerging (not pictured here as it is still very much in progress), that focuses on the mythological Antigone, a character who defies manmade law in the name of divine law. Alexandra laughs as she recounts how she recently told a collector that for her new work she “is using a ruler. Really!?” she says, “that’s all I could come up with!?” But truly it’s actually a perfectly imperfect description. Literally using a ruler (the object), and clearly fascinated by the concepts of rulers (the people), rules and the role that language and imagery play in their production, Alexandra is embracing the responsibility of the artist in exploring these questions in her newest work.
Ever since I first saw her paintings several years ago the Art History major/ English minor in me has been ineluctably drawn to Alexandra’s work. Alexandra successfully explores the dynamic between art and language in a way that I find truly compelling. Even her methods and the way she approaches her practice have meaning. Interested in relationships at all levels, Alexandra often works with writers, and even describes her framer as a kind of collaborator. Her approach carries over into other aspects of her life as well. She talks about a digital project in the works and the charities she raises funds for via selling her grantLOVE jewelry and prints. A deep thinker, Alexandra is articulate and generous with her knowledge and there is a clear sense that she experiences a cathartic version of sincere gratification in making art for a living. I am looking forward to seeing where she lands with her latest work and we will keep you posted about when there is an opportunity to see it for yourselves.