Eye On: Alex Roulette
28 January 2013
Alex Roulette’s paintings are explorations of a fictional time and place in what seems to be an in-between land of longing and exploration. By photographing landscapes and collecting supportive imagery, Roulette constructs an environment that feels vaguely familiar and yet slightly unsettling. Roulette lives and works in New York City.
The subjects you paint seem to be a curious but somewhat displaced youth. Did your upbringing in the mid-west influence the nature of your characters?
I believe the Midwest, or more broadly suburbia, does an excellent job in producing dreamers, like the characters in Richard Yates’ classic novel Revolutionary Road. They are filled with a longing for something better, but their desires are never truly fulfilled. They are left feeling disappointed and alone, but it’s the dream that keeps them moving forward. I’m interested in aspects of nostalgia that speak universally, like desiring something that is maybe close enough that you can almost touch it but remains completely unattainable. In my work, I’d like to piece together a fable about an archetypal longing that explores my own deeply personal desire for past experiences. I’m equally fascinated with how nostalgia can mythologize the past and thus alter perceptions of our own personal narratives. The youthful figures in my paintings are perhaps going on their own journey to find something better or find their place within the expanse. The next discovery could be down the road or just over the hill.
Many of your paintings portray a ringleader with a following. Is this an exploration of innocence or something more cultish?
I’m interested in adolescence. I suppose when we are young it’s common to seek a form of hierarchy or social order. Similar to what happens in Lord of the Files, an example of kids testing their limitations and discovering how things work and how to relate to other people. With my paintings, I’m exploring ways in which people relate to each other and their environment in non-social terms, ideally finding meaning in physical distances. One of the reasons I dress the figures in a uniform way is to create an unspoken bond between them.
Does photography play a large role in the creation of your paintings?
I use photographs as a point of reference, but I want to capture a moment that never actually happened and paint people suspended in a landscape that they’ve never set foot in. Depicting these fictional scenes in a believable way challenges our assumptions about the representation of reality. Using photographic source material brings immediacy to the paintings but also forces the viewer to question the accuracy of the scene. I’d like the realism to spark curiosity and a sense of wonder because they feel inherently false. Before I paint anything, I plan out the whole image. I’ll first make loose sketches and notes about a painting and let it evolve over time. I then start gathering reference images from my large database of photos I’ve taken while traveling, as well as found material. I then start constructing the painting by combining various fragments of the references. This part of the process can be difficult and usually involves a lot of trial and error before I get it right. Once I start painting, the process to the final image takes an average of two weeks if I’m painting full time, sometimes more or less depending on the size. In the end, the painting goes through a lot of stages and processes before it’s finally finished.
What do you find captivating about the figure of male youth?
If there were a man and woman in an isolated space, I believe the viewers would be pre-conditioned to think there is something romantic or sexual going on between them. The relationship between people of the same gender tends to be ambiguous, which is why I’m more interested in it. It’s also easier for me to personally relate to the male figure.
If you could pair your work with a soundtrack, what would it be?
I love this question, and I thought about this many times. It’s a tough choice, but if I had to pick one album it would be Pure X’s “Pleasure,” which came out in 2011. I’ve listened to this album countless times working late into the night. It’s easy for me to get lost in the album’s echoing melodies, which are catchy and seductive. The songs are obscured in a layer of haze and static, provoking a sense of dislocation, which is a feeling I try to achieve in my work.
Learn more about Alex HERE.