In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. City of the Seekers examines how the legacy of this spiritual freedom enables artists to make creative work as part of their practices.
Critique of modern technology and its invasive takeover of society is not an uncommon theme in art these days. In the case of contemporary Pop surrealist Alex Gross, that theme runs like a current through a lucid dreamscape in which fact and fantasy collide, yielding such curious scenes as a geisha on a lion soaring above American fast-food chains; a pair of sheep riding a Vespa; and bipedal reptiles in fancy, checkered clothes. From a girl drinking a skull-flavored Slurpee to a woman gazing at herself in the style of late artist George Tooker's drawing, Mirror, Gross recalls the vanitas of 17th century Dutch and Flemish still life paintings, capturing them through a lens forged by surrealist pioneers such as Dalí and Magritte. Yet while Gross' work is heavily steeped in the canon of art history, it strikes out on its own with subtle representations of isolation, disenfranchisement, and distraction brought on by technology, and more specifically, social media.
Antisocial Network is Gross' tenth solo exhibition, and his first in Southern California in as many years. Featuring dozens of oil paintings, drawings, and cabinet-card paintings, the show is Gross' premier exhibition at the LA-based Corey Helford Gallery, which has previously showcased works by Gross' fellow seekers Natalia Fabia and Camille Rose Garcia.
A self-described representational figurative painter, Gross mostly paints with oils on canvas, and occasionally on panel or paper. "I usually feel the need to express myself visually," he tells Creators. "I've always loved to draw, and then—once I learned how—to paint. I'm attracted to representational painting, and it allows me to make images that are hopefully thought-provoking."
Like many other working LA artists, Gross is an alumnus of Pasadena's ArtCenter College of Design, where he also taught for over a decade. He's fortunate enough to enjoy a steady career doing what he loves; his work has not only received recognition from numerous international museums, it's also found its way into print. Chronicle Books published his first monograph, The Art of Alex Gross, in 2006, which was followed by the publication of three other books issued by Gingko Press.
Unlike many other working artists, though, Gross never intended to leave Los Angeles once he arrived. Still, it doesn't prevent him from having some mixed feelings about the city's relationship with the visual arts. "LA is obviously first and foremost a TV and movie town. I don't think the connection with other art forms here is on par with that," he observes. "On the other hand, there have always been tons of amazing visual artists here. I guess it's just a great city, with a very international influence. It's closer to Asia than New York is, and I think more influenced by it, whereas New York seems more connected to Europe. It's also a very pleasant place to live, as so much of it is not super-urban, and the climate is nice. So it's a destination for all types of people. That always makes for an exciting town, as far as the arts go."
Fueled by inner inspiration, Gross sets up photo shoots with his favorite models, then lets the rest of his creative process unfold organically, based on the artist's and subject's mutual interests. "My creative philosophy is essentially, 'Do your thing,'" he explains. "Everyone has their own unique creative thing they bring to the mix. Some people find it early, some take a while, and others never do. But I've been doing this long enough that I feel like I have found my voice, after some time searching. The only way to find that voice is to keep doing your thing, even if it seems like it's not working for awhile. Eventually, if you persist, you can get there. But you won't get there if you stop. So, don't edit yourself before you start creating. Just do your thing and good things will follow, sooner or later."
Mirror (after Tooker)
Alex Gross painting Mirror (after Tooker)