• UO Journal: It's Nature

    Urban Outfitters is proud to present Urban Outfitters Journal Issue 2, the next in a series of print publications that represent the culture and stories behind the UO Men’s Brand, coming soon to select UO Stores and online. 

    Inside the vibrant, kinetic tableaus of Los Angeles painter Alex Gardner
    Words by Sway Benns
    Photos by Sam Massey 

    Alex Gardner’s paintings depict lithe, shifting figures with pronounced joints, always charcoal in tone and faceless, set against richly-hued backgrounds. Within the frame, these figures often engage in touch: their limbs intertwine, they push or pull. These details invite questions—some, that the California State University graduate is reluctant to answer—despite the fact that the art school environment often forces students to imbue verbalized meaning into every aspect of their work. Case in point: the Artist Statement.

    “A lot of my early work was a lot more obvious. I could explain it. ‘This for me means that. Obviously, I care about composition so that’s why it’s arranged like this,’” Gardner says. “Everything was very intentional, and it still pretty much is, but in different ways. Before, I was putting together this story, which now seems like an immature, less developed, and more obvious way.” He still brings these elements to his work, but he’s adapted his approach: “Now everything has that, but it’s supposed to be a little more vague and ambiguous, not just me saying, ‘This is the story.’”

    In lieu of those words, he lets his hypnotic, languid figures—and the viewer—construct their own narrative. It’s no surprise, then, that Alex Gardner is also drawn to art that presents people as the principle subject.

    In particular, he enjoys the work of auteur director Jean-Luc Godard: “I really like Godard’s movies because, like French movies in that era in general, they’re artistic and they have no real plot, you know? They’re all about human emotion and weird little vignettes of interactions with people. And that’s pretty much what my paintings are supposed to be about: moments.”

    Sure, Gardner says, his work is based on actual events, but he has no desire to narrate those incidences.

    For the observer, this approach parallels the fundamentals of meditation: the forms offer their own certainty—their movement drawing the eye expertly across the canvas—and the viewer is asked to simply observe, experience, and be present.

    It’s serving him well. His art graces the cover of Wombat No. 19, a bimonthly art box, and last October his work was exhibited in a solo show (his first) at The Dot Project in London.

    Still, like many artists, Gardner struggles to really feel content with what he creates. He half-jokes: “I never needed affirmation on what I like or what I believe in. I definitely don’t think anything I make is good, so there’s that. It’s never like I’m being brought back down to reality.”

    What pushes him to keep going? He says, resolutely: “To try to make something good one day.” And then he relaxes, “And also, I just like painting.” Gardner also has plans to make mixed-media work in the future. “Once I can secure another space to have a show, I’m thinking about an interactive installation, not just painting.” What will this look like? “Video. More fully experiential stuff that incorporates sound, smells, maybe actual people. And, obviously, once you get the luxury of having money you can start trying to build crazy sculptures, and things that cost money to make.”

    One day, he wants to leave Los Angeles to get away from the rising cost of living,the traffic, the pollution. For now, he seems to be at home. He keeps plants: “they’re doing good—thriving.” He doesn’t worry about the drought: “It’s nature, what are you going to do about it?” His studio is located in Downtown Los Angeles, and he traverses the city from his home base in Long Beach to paint there in the morning, when the sun seeps in through the large windows. It’s the only time he works now, artificial light being a variable that can alter the way a piece appears. “I think it’s important to make the work in the same setting that it’s going to be viewed in.” And then Gardner, not keen on passing judgement or pushing an agenda, adds easily, “unless you just don’t care.”

    Shop UO Journal Issue 2
    Head to UO’s Space 15 Twenty at 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd in Los Angeles, CA on February 25th to celebrate the launch of UO Journal issue 2 and the second release of our ongoing Artist Editions series.