In Dialogue with Aaron Alexander
In his first solo exhibition, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stranger”, Aaron Alexander shows works inspired by the events of 2020, from life in lockdown to political and racial unrest. The artist works with discarded bits of cardboard, embracing the torn, uneven edges. “It’s not perfect. It’s a reflection on life,” says Alexander in a statement.
AS: You are a prolific artist. Tell me a bit about your background.
AA: I was a fragile, self- conscious, and bashful kid from the Bronx. Drawing was my safe place while growing up. My world was always Art. My mother and father were great at drawing, so maybe it passed down genetically. My mother is a lover of Fine Art. I remember she always talked about this Jamaican artist Kapo, telling a story of how she had to beg her mom to see Kapo’s show in Jamaica as a child.
I started painting near the end of High School. At first, I hated it. I painted Batman in Oil Paint on a Canvas and hated it. I didn’t paint again until Months later when suddenly I fell in love with the medium. It was over from there. I would make tons of paintings and throw myself into image.
AS: What is the genesis of your recent show What Doesn’t Kill You?
AA: I was creating these works during the initial outbreak of the Corona pandemic. At the time, my mood wasn’t 100% great, whether it was bad dreams, fails that I took seriously, external things out of my control, and a bunch of agonizing shit, I’m still alive, but you come out with “battle wounds,” and the experience of these happenings just makes you feel stranger. It’s strange just living, to be honest. But I like to make it humorous because it’s funny after it all happens and we look back. But in the moment, it was pure hell. My life and myself are expressed through this collection.
Karen Bravin of Bravin Lee Projects posted some of my work to Instagram, and that’s how I met Jac Lahav (director of 42 Social Club). He bought some of my work, and we hit it off. Then came this show, which is attempting to return to a new normal.
AS: Can you elaborate on why you paint on cardboard?
AA: Cardboard itself is like a sculpture. The cardboard I use is already ripped, torn, and discarded. It’s unique in its own strange way, not perfect or well carved, just unique. From the beginning, my mind is racing with ideas to paint. Plus, I don’t always have canvases to paint on, so the Cardboard allows me to produce work even during the hard times. There’s always cardboard somewhere in the house!
AS: Tell us more about your connection with the Caribbean and the spirit world?
AA: The part of the Bronx I’m from, Wakefield, it’s called “Little Jamaica”. Either your family is from the Caribbean, or you moved there from the Islands to the Bronx. All my friends were from Jamaica or a different island or their Parents and family were Caribbean. All you hear is Patois, and loud Dancehall music coming from Cars. Every corner, block, is a Jamaican Restaurant or Bakery, and local grocery store(s) are full of everything Caribbean food related. I truly lived in Jamaica for a long time before I actually visited.
That is my physical world. My spirit world connection comes from ghost stories my aunt and mom would experience as kids back home. They would call them “Duppy(s)“. They always talk about it at the dinner table. It gets realer and realer in your head, and the fear of actually seeing spirits. Then movies and tv shows fuel my fear of the unknown. I think about Death often and where our spirits go. Why some still wander earth. Is there’s an afterlife or other dimensions to travel?
AS: What would you like to be the takeaway from this show?
AA: Don’t be afraid to express the way you feel, as things happen to us in life. Some things are out of our control. They can put us in a strange position, feeling angry, regretful, not like yourself, and it’s fine to feel like this, but it leaves deep-rooted scars if you can’t talk to someone about it, or express it through a medium.
Also, the gallery is donating all its proceeds to the Black Art Library. Being able to shine a light on such a great program is cool. They are sharing books about Black Artists with the people of Detroit. This grass roots effort is key for us to understand the history of who paved the way for us in the Arts. Our history starts with some Slaves, who were secretly artists, all the way to the Harlem Renaissance and more!
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org