Mark Alexander - Via Negativa
Mark Alexander - Via Negativa
At once awe-inspiring and deeply tragic, Mark Alexander’s work exposes a mystical space where history is suspended and the soul endures. The works chosen for this exciting exhibition, A BLACKER GOLD, reveal an artist whose striking vision is complemented by extraordinary technical finesse. Alexander’s work maps a twilit world where what is transient and what is permanent seem to blur. By recasting icons of the past – from Homer’s ‘Shield of Achilles’, to the crumbling medieval statues of cloistered saints, to Van Gogh’s lost portrait of Dr Gachet and the poignant poise of his Sunflowers – Alexander’s project is at once intimate and ambitiously ‘post-temporal’ – recalibrating forever man’s relationship to art and time.
The profundity of Mark Alexander’s imagination is unmistakable from his first series of paintings in which a clutch of black-and-white baby photographs from his own infancy swell to enormous size – invested with all of the dignity and disquieting power of giant monochromatic obituary daguerreotypes. The death-in-lifeness and life-in-deathness which unsettles the so-called Baby sequence was soon taken to historic proportions in a string of paintings which rescue from obscurity a choir of ruined saint statues from a medieval English cloister.
Entitled Ozymandias – whose very name conjures the ironies and fragmentation of power – this series shows the aperture of Alexander’s vision widen to embrace a vantage of the annihilated past, the brittle present, and the unfathomable future in a mesmerizing millisecond.
The psychological depths reached in Ozymandias are brought to another level entirely in the artist’s ensuing sequence of works, the unsettlingly stark Blacker Gachets. Here, Alexander starts by siphoning off all of the ostensible art and colour from Van Gogh’s inimitable portrait of his fragile physician until all that is left are primordial textures, faint fossils our mind’s fingers must braille to see. In so doing, Alexander taps not only into the mystery of the painting’s whereabouts (unknown since the death in 1996 of its owner, who had infamously threatened to cremate it) but into the disturbing emotional hues in which the work was originally steeped. The obsessive realism that invigorated the Baby and Ozymandias paintings has here been squeezed into something more visually eviscerating – a blackness that echoes blindingly back at us. In the dazzling darkroom of the Blacker Gachets, Alexander dares us to behold a dripping negative of the artist’s soul.
At the conceptual centre of A BLACKER GOLD is a series of new works which at once amplifies and subverts the creative alchemy undertaken in the Gachets. Here, the artist begins his dark conjury by taking one of the most precious and recognizable standards of all Modern Art – Van Gogh’s opulent and beloved Sunflowers – and converts its affirmation of materiality and autumnal abundance into a vibrant ghostliness which had always haunted the post-impressionist masterpiece. The result is a sequence of fourteen ‘brutal bouquets’ in which all of the suffering and fear that disturbed the fabric of his early works reassert themselves as furious beauty. Alexander’s assault on our comprehension of the substance and time is nowhere more palpable than in the burnished beauty of his monumental Shield of Achilles. Blazing to enormous size, these rippling medallions conjure luminously the classical conflicts of Homer while all the while glinting ambiguously with the fragility of our own precarious future.
Given the exhilarating scale of his artistic enterprise, it is not surprising that Alexander should find himself forging new forms of expression to complement the shapes of culture that he has already reconfigured. Alongside the Achilles project, he has constructed arguably his most ambitious work to date – an installation of enormous steel rings, based on ancient Minoan design, heaped in a spectacular wreck in the centre of the exhibition. Conjuring connotations of jettisoned booster bearings, invisible escutcheons, or the great cosmic lens through which our souls were glimpsed by God, these abandoned discs hunker as formidably and mysteriously as Iron Age cromlechs or burial mounds. Cryptically christened simply Shield, the work sprawls as a culmination of Alexander’s post-temporal realignment of the coordinates of tradition and time.
Mark Alexander - Self Portrait