Studio Visit: Alexandra Grant’s Bold Text Paintings

As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Alexandra Grant. See the full studio visit and interview with Alexandra and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.

Alexandra’s studio is in the historic West Adams district of Los Angeles, just a short distance from Koreatown and Downtown. From the outside her building looks like a non-descript, kind of funky commercial space that in no way expresses how big her studio actually is. The place is huge with a cavernous feel to it— cold, shadowy, and resounding with echoes, it heightened every one of my senses. Everything I took in seemed exaggerated: the damp air, the bright fluorescent lights, the vibrant colors of Alexandra’s paintings, and the steady rhythm of her voice. Long after our visit those impressions continued to linger, as did much of my conversation with Alexandra. She is a force to be reckoned with— her brain is agog with ideas that she expresses in a continuous flow of conversation, often jumping from one thought to the next as they wildly run through her mind. Her energy is infectious and inspiring, and makes you feel like the world is in fact full of promise, insight and adventure. Many of Alexandra’s paintings are collaborations with writers and their ideas, which makes sense because she appreciates the complex nature of dialogue: the exchange of both concepts and language, the act of deciphering and interpreting, the twists of subtext, and the inevitable losses in translation and how we make up for them. By borrowing writers’ poetic language she utilizes the format of dialogue to create “conversation” between image and text. In engaging text and image this way, the work then becomes a liminal space that challenges the viewer’s ability to perceive and hold both elements at once.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
When I was starting out my career I used to work at other jobs that weren’t my ‘work’ and that’s, in part, where I learned how to work. People often have misguided, glamorous ideas about artists and how they go about making work. But the truth is that many of the skills and responsibilities that are part of more conventional jobs are also very relevant to making art— time management, meeting deadlines, accountability, humility, and finding value in the nitty-gritty details as well as larger goals. I think it’s important to experience what it’s like to work a fulltime job; it brings a humbleness to art work that I find beneficial.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I elaborate my ideas mostly in painting and drawing, but am open to any material that would best express the subject matter at hand. In all my projects I am always working with, or after, a seed text— usually this text is not my own because I like to collaborate with writers. So the results can be in painting, drawing, a giant web of crochet, or recently a film and a road-trip.

My subject matter has always been the relationship between word and image. The themes in my work have been about the nature of language and how it works to communicate, to signify, and the importance of non-linear forms of expression. Because language, and the way that we think, is really not linear; it’s rhizomatic, interwoven, elliptical. I think that’s why poetic and literary texts are so important in a world that’s increasingly visual. Because poetry and a well-turned sentence stop us and make us look again (even at a sentence). The Internet is visual in a way that keeps us — and our eyes — moving faster and faster. It is writing and art, really, that stop us, ask us to take a moment and listen closely, look again and slow down.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
I’ve worked in my kitchen, on the floor of a hotel room, in my last studio (snug) and my current studio (spacious). What they have in common was a project that I could make there and lose myself in the rooms of my imagination. I think I could work anywhere on something. This summer I travelled by train and crocheted to make panels for the “Womb-womb Room,” a recent collaboration with Channing Hansen at the Night Gallery in Los Angeles.

What do you want your work to do?
I want it to start conversations about the subject matter each body of work addresses. Even if just one person has been provoked into discussion, I feel like that’s enough. I’m interested in making art that is about ideas, and less about whether someone wants to hang it in their living room.

How will you know when you have arrived?
I derive great satisfaction from a hard day’s work, and seeing how things can be built up over a series of those days. Every time I finish a work, I feel I have arrived somewhere. And then the next day I begin something new. The feeling of having arrived is a private one, more than likely taking place in the studio when I am alone there.

To read the full interview and see more of Alexandra Grant’s work go to www.inthemake.com.