Alex is an illustrator and portrait artist from Stroud, Gloucestershire, England. Her illustrations & portraiture combine her technical skills with a gentle wit and an irrepressible delight in observing humanity and the world around her in all its colourful and surprising variety. Her starting point is often colour – setting the mood and building a dream-like world of fantasy and magic around the subject matter. Another influence has been her active association with the music, dance and ritual of the English Folk world. Alex’s art taps into this imaginative and elemental cultural landscape. She was recently commissioned to make wall paintings for the Gucci Garden stairwells and stair-and-elevator landings. Called Alchemical Archways, her wall paintings at the Gucci Garden are spread across eight arched windows that mark the passage between the various floors. Each opens metaphorically on Piazza della Signoria and reveals to the visitor metaphysical landscapes where extraordinary alchemical transformations take place. Post the unveiling of her wall paintings, we had a chance to interact with the artist about her practice.
Primal Matter: In Piazza della Signoria, the statue of David by Michelangelo Buonarroti is carved in a block of white marble. (Courtesy of Gucci)
How were you introduced to the world of art and illustration and how and why did you decide to carve a career in this field?
I’ve been drawing all my life. One of my earliest, most vivid, memories is sitting on my mum’s desk watching her paint with coloured inks. She is a self-taught artist & was always creating things at home – from making our clothes to cooking big family meals. My brother, sister & I are all artists & it was our parents that nurtured our creativity & imagination.
Alchemical Marriage – Sun: The silver, the moon, the flooded square, the statue of Neptune created by Bartolomeo Ammannati in the background. A vase with two white lilies in his hand. Lunar reflections on the dress. (Courtesy of Gucci)
What inspires you as an artist?
I have a really varied range of influences. Again, I’d say that a lot of inspiration comes from my childhood & my close family. Dad is a retired vicar & although I’m not religious myself, I grew up listening to Bible stories & absorbing religious iconography. Mum paints in a Medieval style so I have a real love of illuminations & draw influence from them too. My sister, brother & i all seem to draw on our childhood experiences growing up together.
L: Bonfire of the Vanities - The Raw Matter is set on fire, a metaphor for the destruction of the ego. The scene is a crystalline reference to the "Bonfire of the Vanities", which took place in February 1497 in Piazza della Signoria, in which thousands of objects of the city of Florence considered to be potentially sinful or encouraging the development of vanity were burned.
Can you tell us about the artists that have influenced your work so far?
I reference the children’s books we were read as kids a lot & I have books by Carlo Crivello, Mervyn Peake, Botticelli, Kit Williams, Leonora Carrington on my desk right now that I often look through. I’m inspired by crafts people & folk artists.
L: The Great Work - The statue of Judith and Holofernes in the foreground, in the background the Gucci Garden: a scene elaborated from an illustration of the famous alchemical text ‘Splendor Solis’.
Why was it important for you to explore the imaginative and elemental cultural landscape of the English Folk world?
The English Folk world holds a kind of magic that is hard to find in other aspects of my life. I love the history, mythology, mystery that it brings. I’m part of a group called Boss Morris which is an all-female Morris dancing collective. It’s been so incredible to be part of this ~ we research & reference old English traditions but also adapt & modernize what we do in order to make it relevant for today. I love the eccentricity & also the ritual aspect that it brings. The origins of Morris dancing are cross-continental – (the earliest records of it appear in palaces across Europe). Something that appears so quintessentially English is in fact an amazing amalgam of many different cultures that has been shaped through the centuries ~ it feels like an important thing to recognize at this point in English history.
L: Alchemical Marriage – Moon - Gold, the sun, a fire, the Gucci Garden in the background. The caduceus, a winged staff wrapped with two coiled serpents. The dress is studded with golden bees.
R: Ouroboros - The bronze sculpture of Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini in the foreground, in the background the Loggia della Signoria. An ouroboros, an ancient symbol representing a snake biting its tail, appears in the shadows at the base of the sculpture. (Courtesy of Gucci)
What was your creative process like behind making the wall paintings for the Gucci Garden?
I tried to absorb as much about the Gucci Garden building, the history of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria & it’s sculptures as possible. I’ve also been reading about Alchemy & I entwined the two together for this project. After doing this research I then tried to let the images appear without too much conscious thought ~ I worked through the night for most of this project, which I think has given the illustrations an extra dream quality about them!
Making of Alchemical Archways (Courtesy of Gucci)
What are your views on the space an artist has in the society today?
I think it really depends on the kind of artist you are & what you’re interested in. For me, being an artist enables me to connect, inspire & collaborate with people – locally & globally. I’ve run workshops in schools & helped with community art projects & I particularly enjoyed helping people find the confidence to create & express themselves. It’s deeply worrying to me that art & music are being cut out of the curriculum in schools & as an artist, I’d like to be able to help with this problem.
Making of Alchemical Archways (Courtesy of Gucci)
Lastly, what’s next for you?
I’m going into 2019 with very few plans of what is next! I have some portrait commissions to complete in the next few months & I’ll be performing with & working on new projects with Boss Morris too.
Text Nidhi Verma