The first time I saw a painting by Alex Garant I found myself rubbing my eyes to make sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me. Her depictions of the human figure, most notably the face, are skewed in a way that’s reminiscent of the moment after dizziness where the eyes have to refocus and connect the broken imagery. This freeze in time between double vision and our eyes refocusing is one of the most intriguing manipulations of human perception I’ve ever seen. Garant has tremendous ability as a painter, her representational skill paired with her skewing of the form takes rather straightforward, simple imagery and turns it into a really fascinating piece. The idea of small visual and conceptual touches to push a simple image to the next level is one that a lot of painters toy with but few master. Yet Garant is an artist who’s stepped closer and closer to that mastery with every series and individual work.
From the very first time I saw Garant’s work, I knew that I had to hear more. So I was thrilled when she agreed to this interview. We dive into the origins of her style, what it means to her, and how her work has developed/she’s planning to develop it further. It’s a really interesting read that gives some great detail to these amazing works. Enjoy!
1. I always start off my interviews by asking about the artists background, so what got you into art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are? What started your venture into portrait/figure painting?
I grew up in Quebec City, Canada. I started painting and drawing at a very young age. I entered my first art contest at 5 years old and took my first oil painting class when I was 7 years old. I believe my interest in art comes from my mother who also loved to create. She would draw those beautiful faces with a pencil and allow me to colour them with wax pastels. It was such an enjoyable activity for me. When I was younger, my favourite works were the Pope Series by Francis Bacon. The first time I saw it, was the first time I found myself fully fascinated by an image. It was enigmatic and mysterious. I looked at it for several hours, trying to emerge my mind into its meaning.
2. Do you typically work with a model on your paintings or do you reference from somewhere else?
I like to work from my own references as much as possible. In the past, I booked models to come to my studio for photoshoots. That way, I can capture 100-200 photos with different angles and lighting. If you do this with multiple models, you end up with a great database of reference images on your computer. Over the years though I find myself using those references for light and form and not necessarily the exact facial features.
3. You've got an incredibly unique style of skewing the human form in your work so how did that begin? How has it developed with your body of work?
I believe I was always attracted to patterns and symmetry even in my very early works. Over the years I played with sketching by superimposing elements, and I created my style via my personal journey and my experimentations.
3 (cont’d) Your trademark skew is in the eyes but you've gotten pretty wild with your distortions, how do you decide what paintings you're going to push it a little further with?
It is all about pushing my concept further, I want to keep my unique visual voice, but I want to find an infinite pool of variations for it, to me it makes my entire career a long but yet consistent story.
4. You're fairly open about your process on your feeds and I found it pretty interesting that you lay out pretty detailed drawings and then dive right into painting details and final tones. Do these drawings really help lay out exactly what you're going to be doing?
I have the tendency to draw very stiff composition, very still portraits even if the final result emulates some sort of vibration. By having a detailed sketch, it keeps me focused and organized in my thought process. It's almost like giving yourself a game plan.
4 (cont’d) Have you always painted this way or have you gradually dialed in your tones in a way that allows you to jump right in like that?
I have pieces where I worked a very detailed underpainting first but now I usually just prep my surface with tinter gesso and a pencil sketch.
5. While atmospheric elements are always very simple in your work, they're still present. How do you decide what is going to exist around the primary figure? Just like the skewing, how do you decide which works you're going to really go crazy with the atmosphere and which works you're going to keep it simple?
To me, my portraits are all about finding a connection with the character. I do not intend to elaborate in scenic contexts, I wouldn't want to accidentally reveal too much haha
6. What drives the variation in canvas shape? I've noticed that the circle canvases and even some diamond canvases have been appearing more frequently in your recent work. So, what drives the difference in shape? Does the canvas shape dictate the image, pose, or reference used?
That is just for fun, and sometimes at the request of a collector or gallery.
7. You sometimes allow your drawings to exist on their own so how do you approach drawings differently than paintings? Did you have to restructure your trademark skews of the figure so that the effect came across similarly?
When I draw I tend to be a bit less controlled than when I paint. I like to let my movements be a bit more impulsive rather than calculated. DRawing is more about a concept/brainstorming moment or a basic technical understanding of shadows.
In my experience painting is to apply all those capsules of understanding into a controlled form.
8. Your work is incredibly smooth, clean, and refined but do you feel that it loses any of its qualities when shifted to something like a print or product? How do you decide which works are made into products?
Sure sometimes, nothing will ever compare to an original painting where you can truly witness the brushstrokes, movement and intentions of an artist. However, prints are a wonderful way to make one's imagery easy accessible on a greater scale.
9. You're gearing up for your September solo show at the Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, CA, is there anything new that you're going to try for this show? Or is there a piece/idea that you're particularly excited about for this show?
This exhibit will be a very personal introspection process, I want to push traditional portrait influences and mix it with a bit of quirkiness, and sprinkle everything with a passive dust of nostalgia.
10. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up (I obviously just hinted at a big one)? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!
Lots of new prints on my website store alexgarant.com
and you can also find a full list of upcoming exhibits on my site :)
May, Small Works, Beinart Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
June, LAX / ATL (Humans Suck), ABV Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia*
July, 'Monochromagic 3', WOW x WOW Gallery
September, The New Vanguard III”, Lancaster Museum of Art and History *
September- December, Solo exhibition, Museum of Art and History, California
October, Lucid group Show, Beinart Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
November, Tapas Group Show, Thinkspace Gallery, LA
December, SCOPE Miami Beach 2020*
2021, March, Solo Exhibit, Beinart Gallery, Melbourne Australia