Friday, November 30, 2007

Art Space Talk: Alex Golden

Alex Golden attended William’s College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with majors in studio art and psychology in 2004. After graduating from Williams and working in Brooklyn as an artist’s assistant, Alex spent a year studying drawing and painting in Toronto, Ontario. He is currently enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at Hunter College in New York City and expects to graduate in December of 2008.

Though still in school, Alex has exhibited his work intermittently in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Toronto, and New York. He has recently been presented to the Master's program at Christie's as a promising emerging artist, and he was also included in a presentation on the range of contemporary images of the Annunciation at Saint Elizabeth’s College in Morristown, NJ. Alex’s work is in several private collections, including that of renowned collector, John Pigozzi.

Untitled, oil and archival inkjet on canvas mounted to panel, 43 x 57 inches, 2006

Brian Sherwin: Alex, I understand that you are currently enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at Hunter College in New York City. Have you enjoyed your studies at Hunter College? Who are your instructors and how have they influenced you?

Alex Golden: Yes, I have really enjoyed being at Hunter. It is a thriving artistic community, filled with smart individuals who are passionate about making art and/or contributing to the field. Not to mention that these are good people, and I have made a lot of good friends. The structure of the program, in my opinion, is pretty much unbeatable: When I came into the program, students were allowed four years to complete the degree (though it has since been lowered to three). That means four years of paying low, public school tuition on a per credit basis and being given a beautiful studio space in the middle of Manhattan for the entire time at no extra cost. Having such a long time to develop ideas and techniques allows artists to really explore their options, to take risks without the pressure of being thrust out into the much-less-forgiving commercial art world. It allows more exposure to the huge variety of artists that makes up the Hunter MFA community as well as to the art world community of New York.

I have had many great instructors at Hunter. Each one has influenced me in a very different way, as each one looks at and makes work in very different ways. I have worked with video artists, mixed media artists, color field painters, post-modern abstract painters and an academic figurative painter. Hunter requires that each MFA student work intensively with at least 6 different professors before choosing one of them to be a thesis advisor.

The Hell of the Present is His Kingdom at Last, oil and archival inkjet on canvas mounted to panel, 58 x 58 inches, 2007

BS: Alex, where else have you studied art? What can you tell us about those experiences?

AG: I did my undergraduate degree at Williams College, getting a B.A. with a double major in art and psychology. Williams was a great place to get my feet wet in my study of art. Because it is a liberal arts program, art was not my sole focus there, though over time, it certainly became my greatest interest. Williams encouraged its art majors to try different media and emphasized conceptual thinking over technique.

After Williams, I studied painting and drawing at the Toronto School of Art in Toronto, Ontario. I did a one-year independent studio program in order to get a portfolio together for grad school applications. It was basically independent work with the guidance of my advisor, painter, Gillian Illes. I also took a figure drawing and anatomy classes while I was there.

BS: I've read that you worked as an artist's assistant to Liza Johnson. What was that experience like? What did you learn from her?

AG: Liza Johnson was my video professor at Williams College (My thesis at Williams consisted of paintings, videos and photographs). I worked for Liza a few times a week for several months doing things like editing on Final Cut and helping her with some film shoots. I particularly enjoyed helping her with the shoots, as it exposed me to an entirely different realm of art making. It was a short lived experience, but one that I look back on fondly.

Index, oil and archival inkjet on canvas mounted to panel, 43 x 57 inches, 2006

BS: You have been a very active artist outside of the classroom-- having exhibited widely -- you were included in a presentation on the range of contemporary images of the Annunciation at Saint Elizabeth's College, your work can be found in several private collection, including that of renowned collector Jean Pigozzi, and you were recently presented to the Master's program at Christie's as a promising emerging artist. In you own words, how did you get to where you are today? Would you say that it takes a great deal of ambition to become a successful artist? Is it fate, luck, or simply the ability to endure?

AG: I definitely make an effort to stay active both in and out of my studio. That said, my top priority right now is my education and continuing to develop my work. I am not in a hurry to get myself out there too quickly, and I actually think that is apparent in my résumé. Every once in a while, I’ll submit slides or jpegs to something because it seems like my work might be a fit (hence, the presentation at St. Elizabeth’s). Also, being at Hunter provides tremendous exposure, particularly at the once-a-semester Open Studios. That is where I have sold some of my work, including to Jean Pigozzi, and that is where one of the Masters students from Christies saw my work.

Becoming a successful artist depends on your definition of "successful." If success is about having some people appreciate what you are doing, then I think it is mixture of dedication, hard work, and luck. If your definition of success includes widespread recognition and monetary stability, then get back to me in 30 years and I’ll let you know if that ever happened!

Purple Ink, oil and archival inkjet on canvas mounted to panel, 43 x 57 inches, 2006

BS: Alex, let us discuss the philosophy and motives behind your work. Based on what I've read, you view yourself as an outsider who takes part in society rather than simply 'looking in', so to speak. You accept the truths-- the norms of society --even though you don't fully accept them. In a sense, you go through the motions-- you walk the walk -- throwing aside your inner questions and doubts in order to embrace outward meaning-- which often means nothing. Can you go into further detail about this-- why these ideas have become the focus of your work? Do correct me if I'm wrong in my interpretation.

AG: I never fully cast aside my questions and doubts about the systems of society, but I try to. I think my work is, at heart, ironic and critical, but I try to get in there and join in what I sometimes perceive to be the absurdity of various belief systems. It is an effort to understand the human propensity to find meaning and then to believe in it, often wholeheartedly and without doubt. Why do we subscribe to the norms that cultures generate for us, even when they seem outdated? Why are we seduced by celebrity and branding? How is it possible for ideological warfare to be waged in the 21st century?

These are the kinds of questions that inspire my work and which I try to answer not with a statement of fact, but with a reflection on experience. It is always a bit of a catch 22 to make critical work, as it implies that the author of the work is somehow exempt from the socio-cultural forces on which s/he is commenting. Though I do feel that my personal experience as a gay man gives me some distance from which to question culture, in no way do I think of myself as exempt or absolved from the human tendency to subscribe to cultural systems. So, my work is more of a reflection on this contradiction in myself, but more importantly, in people in general.
This inquiry seems especially important to me now, at a time when world conflict over belief systems is particularly salient. It is at times like these that belief systems simultaneously crumble under the weight of being challenged and also garner strength as people desperately attempt to preserve them. I try to address the experience of this paradox in light of its absurdity, its humor, and its tragedy.

untitled, oil and inkjet on canvas, 44 x 85 inches, 2006

untitled, oil and inkjet on canvas, 44 x 85 inches, 2006

BS: There seems to be a great deal of psychology buried within your work-- I suppose that can be said of all art --but with your work it seems to be reaching out from within-- pulling at anyone who cares to observe it for those qualities. How exactly has the study of psychology influenced you? By any chance, are you interested in the theories of Carl Jung?

AG: I agree that psychology is a big part of my work. The experience of the paradox I mentioned previously is mostly an existential one, but the psychological component of that is huge. I understand completely why you asked me if I’m interested in Jung, as it could be argued that my work is about how people define themselves, collectively and as individuals. Also, my work often depicts a human drama, one filled with the theatricality of archetypal characters, with a particular emphasis on the Self and the Shadow. That said, Jung is not someone I have thought about until you mentioned him. Looks like I have some reading to do ;)

BS: Past interviewers have noted your distance in that you refuse to answer certain questions or dodge specific topics. Would you say that you prefer that your work speak for you? Can viewers find traces of your inner secrets within your work? When viewed as a whole, do they embody the essence of who you are, who you desire to be, and who you fear becoming?

AG: I, too, like to get inside an artist’s head, just a little bit. But I like to be able to do that by looking at his or her work. While knowing something about an artist’s context can be an important tool for interpretation, knowing all the sensational details of an artist’s life is not always necessary.

phone series installation, oil on canvas and linen, each panel is 24 x 24", 2005-2006

BS: Alex, allow me to ask some questions about your artistic practice. In recent years you have utilized digital photographs and other aspects of photography and technology within the context of your painting practice. Some of these works involve oil paint used directly on digital photographs. However, in the past--based on what I've read --you worked predominately with oil on canvas. Why did you make the move toward different mediums within the context of your painting practice? Was this a sudden change?

AG: I have always been fascinated by photography, and I have always incorporated elements of photography into my paintings. I am interested in the photograph as an artifact of culture, an index of a specific place and time. Regardless of how savvy we get with the manipulation of photography, there is always an initial sense of reality and a suggestion of truth due to its photomechanical process. While the photographer’s decisions influence every picture taken, there is no escaping the sense of reality that comes from the knowledge that the object in a photograph is or was real. I am interested in pitting the sense of reality in a photograph against the more noticeable construction of the painted image. For this reason, I came to a point in my work where the logical next step seemed to be to incorporate the photograph itself into my paintings.

BS: Do you consider yourself a private person as far as creating art is concerned? Or do you openly seek interaction with others about your work? In other words, is your studio door closed or open when you are working?

AG: I shared a studio for two years before moving to a private one this past summer. So, by default, my studio door was always open…until recently. Now, I love being able to choose when I want feedback, and when I don’t. In general, I am pretty private until I get to a point in my work where I need some fresh eyes.

BS: What type of studio routine do you follow? Is your studio practice structured or do you work sporadically? How is that work ethic reflected within the context of your art?

AG: I go to the studio 5 – 6 days per week in the mornings and I work as a private tutor in the afternoons and evenings. Oh, and I do go to classes a few times per week as well. I definitely have periods of intense work in the studio followed by periods that are less productive. A lot of my recent work is extremely time consuming and labor intensive, so once I get on a role with a piece or two, I am usually quite productive. When I’m in between pieces or series, I often have long periods of research and planning.

BS: What are the preliminary steps that you take when thinking about a new piece? Do you keep a sketch journal?

AG: I start with either an idea or an image and work from there. I always make a sketch, often upwards of ten sketches, using Photoshop before I commit to something bigger. I have a whole file of sketches for projects that never happened.

Homage to F.G.T., oil and archival inkjet print on photo paper mounted on Sintra, 22 x 40 inches, 2007

BS: Alex, what are you working on at this time? Also, do you have any exhibits planned for 2008?

AG: I am working on a couple of things. First, I am working on a photographic portrait that is a hybrid of Tammy Faye and myself. It will be an archival inkjet print with some gold leafing in the style of Christian Icon painting. This may be the start of a series, depending on how it turns out. Second, I am making an large (7 feet tall) mixed media version of The Assumption of Tammy Faye.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about your art?

AG: No, I think we covered it!

You can learn more about Alex Golden by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

I read your article with this artist and I looked at his work and I had a strong reaction to it. I don't like it and I have trouble thinking of it as art to be honest. I don't think it's anymore art then stuff you see on any political blog, on either side of the aisle, or something you would see in mad magazine. I don't really find any of it insightfull, new, or exciting. It's political comentary with digital photo's. I don't like it.

Richard Womack said...

Wonderful and insightful narratives.Excellent.

Anonymous said...

Dear Wendy,

I'm glad to see I'm not preaching to the choir.

Thanks for your comment,


Anonymous said...

I think this work is great. Not only does the artist show mad skills in technical painting he also shows that he is not afraid to go beyond tradition. I think it is very brave work. As for the negative view everyone has the right to an opinion but I think if she read the interview she would know that this artist is not concerned with a political agenda. That is the risk you take using images of politicians I guess. If someone supports the one he uses they will not appreciate his work because THEY HAVE A POLITICAL AGENDA! I think that is what this artist is saying and I think her comment proved that his work is serving its purpose.

Anonymous said...

I'm really turned off by this work. not because of the content at all but the looks exactly like what it is, found digital photos blown up with some mediocre oil realism on top. so what? whatever messages are meant to be conveyed would have more impact if the work was more transformative, imaginative. needs alot more development - why are we looking at this artist in particular, when there is such a trend in this type of work lately? Is it because of whatever notoriety he's achieved in NY?