Paintings from within

New York-based Alexander Charriol holds his first exhibition in Dubai of 18 paintings at ArtSpace gallery. He says that art is still a mystery to him, a weird process of self-discovery, and that his works bring to Dubai an element of shock value. Rajeev Nair met him

Not surprisingly, what Alexander Charriol isn’t also makes news. But that is not what the 26-year-old would want to read on the intro of his story. Discover him as the artist first, and then, as a footnote, he would add the Charriol connection — his father is Philippe Charriol, the world-renowned French watchmaker.
“That is not my business,” says Alexander, “that is totally different.” But he doesn’t disown it nor does he rule out the possibility of stepping into the entrepreneur’s garb on a later day.
For now, though, it is he, his art and his world of creative freedom. “I have never counted myself out of the business. I am still young, I can do both. But so far, so good (being an artist),” he says.
Alexander is in Dubai to exhibit his paintings at ArtSpace, the contemporary art gallery on the ninth floor of Fairmont Dubai. The exhibition will run through Dec. 21.
To be in Dubai is “be at home” for Alexander, who wears a casual air, unkempt hair complementing the observant eyes of an artist. He has been to the city thrice and most of his good friends are based here.
Alexander is candid enough to acknowledge how being born into comfort has helped him chase his dreams. “Art is still a luxury and I was privileged to have the opportunity, supported by the openness of my parents, to venture off to be an artist without any so-called financial problems. Now I am older, and I am on my own. It seems to be working.”
Alexander says he is in art because painting was his alternative to writing. “I was never good in school. I started to paint, every one said it was good and so I never stopped. I have only got good things out of it.”
He had formal art education at the American Parson School of Design, New York, and Tufts Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The art school gives a few technical skills and helps you get freer lines, he says, “but in the end, it (art) is within you.”
Though he is described as a New York-based artist, Alexander says “it doesn’t matter where you are. New York gives you an edge and credibility, of course, and it is like a passport to the art world but what is important is to find the artist within you and express.”

It is this process of self-discovery that binds Alexander to art. “Art is a mystery; being an artist is an odd job. The more you do it, the more you can understand yourself and know what it means to be an artist. But, you know, it is weird.” He paints to balance himself out, to get to neutral. “It is my job now and if I don’t do it, I feel useless.”
Alexander works on mixed media, which he says, “is the new medium of today. The key is never to have one comfortable medium. You have to push yourself. Once you are comfortable with a medium, you have to go to the next. And anyway, how far can you go with oil or acrylic alone? The more you push yourself the more original your works become. It is good to mix up the media and try to find something new out of it.”
Naturally, his inspirations have been varied. Through the fierce energy of Jean-Michel Basquiat to the vivid colours of Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol’s commodifications, Alexander explores himself further afield.
His palette, too, evolves. It was blue a few years back. Now his starting point is gold. “I splash some gold and work from there.” However, he finds it hard to explain what attracts him to specific colours at various points in time. It is all part of his evolution.
“Right now, I have found one style that seems to be more elevated and mature for my viewers and myself. It is much looser, I show my lines more, paint less and finish them less. It is a good balance between drawing and painting and that has a good feel to it.”
In the 18 paintings exhibited at ArtSpace, Alexander brings “a little shock value” to Dubai. The paintings, according to him, are “funky, young, energetic and cutting-edge… — far removed from the decorative art people are used to here. I don’t think art is still taken very seriously here. It is like a new medium and my paintings are very in your face.”
As bottom lines go, his paintings too are about life, about the world he takes in sub-consciously. “They (the paintings) are pretty simple. It is the job of the viewer to get a feeling or emotion out of it — they can leave with a sense of uplifted spirit or even disgust, any sort of emotion.”
His recent paintings have a lot guns and there are many “peace paintings” too. “I paint happy things but they always end up being influenced by what you see without even thinking about it. My best paintings come when I don’t think.”
Ironically, he paints “depressed pieces” when he is happy, and “happy pieces” when he goes through the blues.
As a youngster and representative of tomorrow’s artists, Alexander feels that he can give to art works that transcend time. “That is what good art does, and it takes a lot of work and self-discover.”
That precisely is what Alexander does now.

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