Alex Gawronski

Alex Gawronski is an artist, writer, gallery director and educator, best known for his installations. Here, Artist Profile talks to him about some recently exhibited, smaller works.

I’m interested in your paintings of obscure, Eastern European book titles. Where do these hail from, given the predominance of other themes in your work?
Part of the works come from teaching at Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney University, and consequently wanting to reconnect with painting, which I hadn’t done for a long time. Also, it comes from the simple idea of being able to paint anywhere and at any time, as distinct from building objects for an installation-based practice.

A lot of the works also developed from discoveries made during my work as a librarian. For example, the title ‘Proceedings of the IVth Balkan Symposium on Vegetables and Potatoes, Volume 3’ is from the published records of a large series of symposiums, held to address problems with diseases in the production of vegetables. These titles are of records of very specific events, which, when taken out of context, mutate into something surreal and absurd. Many of my works are concerned with the same idea of recontextualisation; removing something from its original, specific context and allowing it to say something more general.

How was the experience of “reconnecting with painting”?
Certainly most of my earlier influences, and still most of my current practice, almost always comes from painting, but some are from other mediums. Generally, none of these terms (as a dominant way of making art) have much meaning to me. It doesn’t really matter. It’s all art. It’s about thinking through ideas. In fact, when I work across mediums, the materials usually serve the content/context, not vice-versa.

I find people’s reactions to my painting shows quite intriguing. Since the shows are designed to be read as an installation, the works speak to one another within the context of the exhibition. When people say, “Oh, I really like this one” or “I really like that one”, they miss the point.

You have used graphic/textual elements (taken from other sources) in your work in the past, mostly reproducing them through photographic means. As these paintings are handmade, do you model the typography in the paintings on the typefaces used in the original documents?
Yes. I think fidelity to the source material is very important. The font is usually a “classic” serif font, typically “dry” and “academic”, which adds to the absurdity of the title’s displacement. In an earlier work, ‘Known knowns’, 2011, I needed to replicate a crude, hand-painted sign as signage/artwork in the window of the gallery. The original used the words “ART GALLERY”, painted with a roller on the side of a building in Chippendale – the only signifier of the building’s (then) current use. It was photographed, reconstructed with image-editing software, and then projected on the wall and hand-traced to be repainted. The biggest hurdle in creating this is the difficulty in denying your own skill in lettering and painting. It is hard to capture the awkwardness of the amateur original. I think about other artists in this context, such as Mike Kelley, incorporating graphic styles based on adolescent fantasies – trying to recapture the awkwardness of that type of graphic, and Martin Kippenberger and the idea of “sophisticated bad painting”.

I love cliches as well; combining the words “Balkan” and “potato” conjures stereotypical images of Eastern Europe. Alternatively, in the context of global economies and the financial oppression that has crippled many of the countries of that region, maybe all that’s left are potatoes.

Given that a lot of your work has been about the creation/re-creation of a single site, or signifier of a particular type of structure, how do you approach a series that relies heavily on persistence (the repetition of painting) for its creation?
It’s quite a challenging endeavour, recreating the feel of the text while allowing it to have a painterly sensibility. Nothing I do is ever perfect. I recreate metal objects out of wood, glass from plastic, etc. Things are ‘wrong’, obviously fake, and touch is very important in my work. My paintings and constructions are certainly not “Picassoid”. But maybe that’ll be the next development!

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