How did you choose to pursue an art career?
I…truthfully I would have to say the art aspect and me being an artist has always been a gut thing, a gift. Ever since I was a little kid able to hold a pencil I was always drawing something. As time went on…they asked me in preschool what I wanted to be when I grew up, and everyone was like, “fireman! Police officer!” And I was like, “I want to be an artist!” At the time I had this whole concept of what an artist looks like, and it was that image from Paris, you know, like the guy who wore a beret and had the fancy mustache [laughs]. So I was like, “I’m gonna get a beret!”
As time went on it never went away…there was never a thing where I changed my mind and said, “well, maybe I’ll be a firefighter.” It never went away. I got older and I got into art crews , I guess you could call them “cliques”, and started hanging out with artists…and I think throughout that time I was finding myself, in a way, as an artist. Through that experience, I know this now: artists will pick out or search for things that they can relate to. For me, it was artists like Dali, D’Ascia, you know…I found all these guys and was like, “this is totally dope.” I would go back to my own studio and try to mimic the melting clock or that kind of trippy stuff, but add my own twist to it.
I didn’t actually touch paint until after maybe the Summer of ’99 that I decided to pick up a paintbrush. It’s a weird story…it was my first year at Columbia and I was at an art store, and this random guy saw me with my little sketchbook…I don’t know who he was but he asked to see my work, and he looked at it and said, “you should paint. You should definitely go bigger. You should put this on a canvas.” At the time, all my stuff was on this little sketchbook, you know. But he was so confident and I was like, “okay, I’ll try it.” So I went and bought a canvas and picked out some paint, and just decided to see what would happen.
I particularly like the part of that story where, through discovering that you wanted to be an artist, you learned more about yourself as a person. It sounds like it was a real journey.
Yeah! And it still is. Like, what I first thought my style was going to be, and now what it is…I think life is just about working things out. All the work I do is from the heart, you know, it’s from the self – but I try to make it not strictly about me. Although I may paint a picture or do a piece where there may be resemblance to me, the overall piece itself is like, “okay, anybody can make their own story here.”
All that time, through the years, I never titled anything. Even now, I still feel like everybody says I should, and I’m like, “I mean, what would I even title it?” I think people want a story, you know? And I get that, but overall, I think the objective of my art is for it to be something where. If you see it before you ever meet me, you’re drawn to it for whatever reason you are drawn to it. I won’t know what that reason is until you and I interact. I want to push that more where I say to the client, “well you saw this piece…what story do you see?” Sometimes they tell me, and we get the same idea, sometimes it’s like…polar opposites. That’s the thing I’ve always admired about art in general.
What project are you most proud of, or consider a favorite, and why?
I have multiple ones! There are probably about three or four projects I can think of. I think…I don’t want to sound like the ambassador for every artist, but I think for artists the aspect of having the opportunity to create a piece with extra…extremities, is always good. You know? I can make a piece with what I have – paint brush, canvas, and so forth. But when I get a project where they say, “use this and this…plus your own stuff,” I’m like, “sign me up!”
The first one was a project that I did for an interior design company called Caesarstone, a company based out of Israel. They had these amazing countertop slabs cut from marble and stuff that were supposed to be unscratchable. So I had this thought like, “I’m gonna scratch this.” [Laughs]
I was hand-selected out of hundreds of artists. Each of us got a different slab, and they were like, “do what you do. We’ll see you in a few days.” The important part of it wasn’t just that artists were creating on this, but they were like “once you’re done, we’ll have film crews to come to your studio and interview you.” It was like a fifteen minutes of fame, Hollywood Status kind of thing!
I wanted to have something coming out from the piece…not like a sculpture, just three-dimensional, like where you can see the face but the arm is coming out towards you. So I made a piece with a woman, and the way the universe works I guess, I happened to stumble across a mannequin hand on my way home from work [laughs]. It was the perfect hand – it was a left hand, and it had the perfect shape…it was just perfect. So I cut it and molded it, and it came out great.
Another one was when I had answered an artist call for Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. It was a fundraiser to raise money for programs and so forth. What they were doing was, they were giving artists used violins. The Caesarstone project was so different, because I feel like a violin is already a piece of art, so having art already there, how do you make art more artistic?
Are the finished products up on your Instagram, for either project?
Yeah, they are. What kind of sucks is I really don’t know who has [the violin piece] now. They had a silent auction somewhere downtown where somebody bid on it, but I never found out who took it home.
I've read in past interviews you talking about your desire for your viewers to give your work 'their own story', yet as you said, you put a lot of your ‘Self’ in each piece. Can you tell me a little more about the relationship between these two goals in your work?
As far as making that perfect portrait, I feel like artists can only make perfect pictures of ourselves. I could do a portrait of a female client, but I have to study the face, pictures, and stuff like that. I have to have that ‘source’. If I went into my studio right now though, and you asked, “what do you look like, Alex?” I can go, “this is what I look like!”
In terms of the viewer, I want them to have their own perspective on the piece. I know that buyers usually want some kind of story behind the piece, and on one hand I want to be able to explain it, but I think it’s more valuable if the client can see what the artist might have been going through, how they were feeling when they made it…it’s like, what’s that called? Synesthesia. Like, “what color is this sound?” type of thing. It’s about the energy of it. It’s intuitive.
I’ve been told my art has dark tones, but the colors make it like, so happy! [Laughs] This one guy at a show came up to me and was like, “man, you make the apocalypse look so good.” And I was like, “I…wasn’t trying to paint the apocalypse but, okay!” [Laughs]
I know you’ve done a lot of work for charities and non-profits, including suicide awareness and prevention groups. Do you want to talk about your work with them?
It’s kind of a funny story; this was during the time where I was still in search of myself as far as my art and my style and what that looked like. My cousin is a member of the Samaritan Suicide prevention group in New York. So he reached out to me and said he wanted me to donate some of my work, and I was like, “sure!” At the time, and even now, I paint a lot. I know some artists that just paint when they have projects, so I’m always doing it. So I gave him two pieces, and he took them out there, to New York, and he came back and calls me and he’s like, “yo Al, man, they love your work! Dude, both of your pieces went up for auction for like three grand! Three grand each!” I was like, “Great! Do I get a cut?” and he was like, “No!” [laughs]. He said, “All the proceeds go to charity. But they want to bring you out here!”
I want to say that was probably 2008. I’m not sure, but it was a while ago. It was definitely around ten years now. So I went out there and met the organization and saw what they did, and I felt like…to see the archetype of what the media says is a person who might be suicidal versus a real person who’s suicidal…it’s not like the archetype. It’s a little bit of everybody.
For years, I would either create a piece intentionally for that event, ship it out there, go out there, mingle, you know…a piece would go up for auction, and that was always great. Still, a little part of always felt like, to see how much they went for, “really? Can’t I get a little cut?” [Laughs].
So a couple months ago my cousin calls me up and says he wants to do something a little different. So he goes, “you know, they love your work and everything…we should put you up for auction!” And I was like, “…what?” He said, “We should have them bid on you to do a piece for the winner!” I kind of felt like, “…okay, that’s weird. [Laughs] But I thought, ‘why not?’ You know? Exposure.” So that happened, and this lady won. She shared with me her story – she was a survivor of suicide. She wasn’t sure what to expect either – she was kind of new to the whole organization. But she gave me free reign and just said, ‘do what you do.’ It was a good experience.
Say everything that you currently hope will come true regarding your career comes to fruition in the next, say, five to ten years. What would that look like, your ideal career destination?
[Laughs] Oh man, that’s the million-dollar question right there! That’s been something that’s been rolling around in my head for the past year now. I recently went through a lot of change and transition in my life. My eyes are open spiritually, physically, stuff like that.
What does that look like? It looks peaceful. It looks humbling. As an artist, myself, I have always told myself the day that I decide to not be humble about my art is the day that I decide, f$#* it, I’m not painting anymore. I’ve seen artists throughout my journey, people who are established, and people who just want to get status and I’m like, “okay, where’s your work?” You know? There’s a fine line, because I think every artist wants to be successful …before they’re dead. Nobody wants to be Van Gogh. It’s so far out there. Just casually talking with clients and collectors of mine, I hear that a lot, “you have to be famous before you’re dead.” I say to people who say that, “well then, why don’t you invest in the artist?” I think if you like an artist, invest in that artist now, because they’re probably trying to sell something, and they’ve got to pay their rent, you know? Invest in them. Because, what do you think is going to happen if the artist passes away, and they sold a piece for $200, but now they’re gone and it’s $200,000,000? Then what? You can say, “oh, their work is amazing!” Yeah, but how is he gonna get some of that? But not only that, if you invest in an artist, you can say that you paid for a piece for like $200, and now, what that piece is worth…it’s like, “well now, all my kids are going to college! [Laughs] Thanks, Alex!”
Within five years, if everything was presented the way it is, I would definitely be…more at ease, humble…I would feel that my ratio of what I can do versus what I can’t do will be farther apart. I think I hope to do a lot of growing over the years. I’ve noticed my own work changing. I feel like where I’m going with things it’s…it’s gonna be big.
Overall, as far as myself, I would still be me. I would still be approachable, I would just have cooler brushes. Cooler easels. Easels made out of gold. [Laughs].
Interviewed and transcript by FSC Digital Copywriter Intern, Matt Raebell