Stepping into Giles Alexander’s world feels like stepping into a Sigur Rós song, ethereal and sublime.
As you walk in the door of Martin Browne Contemporary art gallery in Sydney, a blazing ball of fire catches your eye, over two by two metres, encased in glossy resin.
Our Father is a Red Giant is the title piece in Giles’s latest exhibition. To him rationality, the cosmos and the human pursuits to understand it weave a tale of historical wonder:
“The title addresses the myriad of mythologies that humans have pursued, but there is a rational background element to it. Our life-giving Sun, so important to our existence, will in four or five billion years swell up and swallow its creation, and then jettison off to become something else.
My work explores the grand narrative. Where did we come from, what are we doing, where are we going? To me the obvious way to address them is faith and reason. Historically they are the two grand shaping tools that allow us a window onto where we position ourselves within the cosmos.”
As an atheist who ascribes to the rational, evidence based worldview, Giles has no qualms about an indifferent universe. However, he is fascinated by human interaction with it over the centuries:
“In the inexplicable void of cosmos, a caring god gives humans a glimmer of hope. Scientists say that we are tiny and alone, and nobody in the universe cares about us. And I’m all right with that.
But you can’t help yourself to project human emotion on the world. The coincidences that brought about life and, eventually, the human mind, are so inexplicably wonderous. Everything is made out of the same stuff, just arranged in different form.”
The themes explored in Giles’s paintings convey this fascination. Pinpricks of white light, connected by thin white lines, evoke our penchant to look for constellations in the night sky. Floating imagery of ancient artefacts emphasises that feeling, set on a backdrop of the rational — scenes of telescopes, carefully tuned to look for information from out there. All this is encased in the glossiest resin possible:
“It is a straightforward methodical process after months of intuitive work, the painting itself. You never know when a painting is finished; it is an arbitrary point when you decide that. After all that, you mix the epoxy resin, seal off the room, protect your clothes from the work and the work from yourself, apply the coating and let it bake overnight.
Hopefully, at the end it brings a reflective quality to the work in all senses of this word. There is a mirror-like illusion in place. There is nothing more abstract than a realist painting: a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional canvas. The reflection in resin becomes an extension of that illusion, but it also serves a conceptual purpose. Not only do you reflect in the painting, but it becomes a reflection on the human story.”
Below is a small selection of Giles’s latest work, as well as a few photos to convey some of that reflective quality.
If you’re in Sydney, you’re in luck and can enjoy the entire exhibition until 18 August 2013.
Bonus: watch Giles at work in this timelapse of Red Giant in the making, including the resin process.