Explanatory Text About the Works
Michael R. Alix was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1951. He lived there until he was nine, at which time, he moved to New York City, where he spent twenty-five years altogether. He studied for eight years at the Lycée Francais de New York (French private school), and upon graduation was accepted at Fordham's Lincoln Center College.
The education costs of the late Sixties were overwhelming, so he opted (1970) to study at Aix-en-Provence University’s Plastic Arts Degree Program in Southern France. He quit the program after a year, and returned to the U.S. (1971) to work full time and complete a Bachelor of Arts at Hunter College (CUNY) going nights (1986) and a Master of Liberal Arts (1998) at SMU in Dallas, Texas.
Alix spent twenty-eight years employed full-time by the same major U.S. company, fifteen years as a printer and thirteen years as a business publication writer (management). He relocated from New York to Dallas in 1988 with the company, and stayed until 2001. At age forty-nine, he settled in France to accomplish his life’s dream.
After fifteen years of steady progress now, classes, exchanges, and exhibitions, his art is ready for prime time.
Over the past fifteen years, Alix learned the material and theoretical aspects of the art painter’s trade. He attended studios in graphic art and photography, and went to many museum exhibits. He also learned to work at art every day. “No day without a line,” a brushstroke, or a color.
An admirer of Pablo Picasso and other famous world-class artists, he read Jean Dubuffet’s polemical works, such as Asphyxiating Culture, Dubuffet’s critique of the authoritarian aspects of art, as well as the writings of Asger Jorn (of the paint group “Cobra”) and Antonio Saura’s critique of “heaviness” in Picasso’s art. He values the works of Pierre Alechinsky (also formerly of Cobra), and the Germans, Georg Baselitz and Gerhardt Richter.
Alix has developed his own take on painting, which he titles “Repainting” that is at once wholistic -- seeing art as a complete temporal range, spanning the Ancient, Classical, Modern, Contemporary, and “Outsider” periods -- and a process of perpetual experimentation and invention. He describes himself as a professional fine arts painter who engages in experimental art, rather than as an “artist.”
Paint as the Skin of Things
According to Michael Alix, objects around us are defined by their skin, their external appearance as phenomena. The objects or products of art are at once stagnant moments encapsulated in time and objects undergoing change—coming into and going out of being. The latter view allows us to see art as a series of accretions, of structures that are “painted” into being. The ancients understood this changeability of art when they repainted their temples and statues. And it is regrettable that they never learned to repaint their murals, as most have frittered away and disappeared.
We live in a world that is available for repainting. – for the adaptation of one artistic product into another. Keith Haring painted parts of the Berlin Wall (and those murals came down in shards with the wall). We should adapt our surroundings to changeable art and not adapt our art to our surroundings in hopes that they won’t change.
For this and other reasons, Alix’s art is:
- Modular/portable. It is a brick in the brickwork of small surfaces. It is more “microcosm” in this sense than “macrocosm” and architectural structure. His works also float in small spaces, rather than being anchored in them.
- Concerned with frames of reference, whether semiotic (signs) or comments or statements. The “Tearaways” – painted, stripped collages -- comment on design as an undeterred passerby would, seeking to shed the propaganda impetus of ads, announcements, spins, yarns, lies, icons, impacts, and other manipulations. The frames of reference permit irony, sarcasm, parody, and reinvention.
Frames of reference also consist of “fixations” – the eye movements anticipated. The centricity or de-centricity, the symmetry or asymmetry, the rhythm or arrhythmia of elements, and these fixations are concerned at once with what the painter allows you to see and intentionally blocks from view. Art is in large part “architectonic,” engaged in an articulated structural process, whether we are thinking of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (divided into architectonic trompe l’oeil compartments) or the chaotic pyramid of Picasso’s Guernica.
- Inclusive, in some respects, of presentations that are clumsy and garish. Hard, clumsy colors or brushstrokes have been used to good effect from German Expressionism in the Forties to the “hand” in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s (1980’s) or Hans Hoffman’s (cubist) works. This monkey wrench in the order of pretty things is an attack upon Classicism, and to some extent on Modernism, with its pretty clusters, and hatred of asymmetry. As Nabokov writes in his preface to Lolita, sometimes you must take a hammer to idols like Balzac (probably an idea borrowed from Nietzsche). In Alix’s words: “Art is not pretty (conceptually).” He seeks to fly from mere prettiness and dexterity formulas.
- An option for dismantlement. This is the case of the Tearaways, where printed magazine ads are used as springboards for visual commentary. For Alix, Contemporary art is open to the dislocation of classical elements with its small groups of people on a landscape background, and oh so many religious combinations and compounds.
- Intrinsic, rather than extrinsic. A lot of art is a commodity to prove wisdom, morality, or good taste, even the modern movements. Alix’s art doubts itself, so it cannot be bragged about and used as a trinket, a badge of honor. Be that as it may, all paintings have some sort of extrinsic worth, otherwise they wouldn’t have price tags.
Reading the Abstract Works
The abstractions on exhibit may be decoded as follows:
- According to their minimal simplicity as pure colors or color contrasts, brushstrokes, or often formless forms (blobs, blotches, dabs, blips). Here again, consider that analytically setting aside, bracketing an artistic choice, provides a basis for later contrast or combination.
- Their caricatural identity. This is probably the same impulse that led prehistoric people to create cave paintings and totems. Note that caricature is also present as a powerful effect in ancient Greek vase paintings. An artistry that puts to shame many Medieval and early Renaissance works.
- Tactility, in the sense that Mark Rothko gives to the word – which is a kind of vibrant two-dimensional quality -- as evidenced in the works of Rothko himself.
Reading the Tearaways
The Tearaways are images manually transposed/transferred from printed magazine pages by means of special glue (Caparol) industrially produced in France. As the name “tear-away” indicates, Tearaway images are manually peeled, torn away, lifted from their context, and transposed onto a sheet of drawing paper. In the process, the image gets flipped (“reversed”) and some minor damage usually occurs. This providential damage is often worked into the final image. Alix reconstructs or deconstructs the residual image, and often paints it over both with colored ink and acrylic paint.
The Tearaways draw inspiration in some respects from the collages of the Surrealists, notably Joseph Cornell (an American crafter of artistic “boxes”). The torn aspect of the tearaways is also reminiscent of the works of Kurt Schwitters and, more recently, those of Abstract Expressionist, Clyfford Still.
Some of the tearways isolate the identifiable figure (usually a woman model from a woman’s magazine) in the center of the finished page. In doing so, they reiterate a device used by Roman painters (seen in some of the Roman Pompeii paintings). A central figure would be seen to inhere remotely in a field of color. This kind of presentation proves to be very powerful and was imitated by some Neo-Classicists of the eighteenth century (notably, Louis David’s pupil, A.-L. Girodet-Trioson).
The Tearways often appear to represent figures from the collective imagination, either mythological or from Greek, Hebrew, or Roman history. In recent works, you have “Sisypha” (from Sisyphus), “Josepha” (from Josephus or Joseph), and Salomé.
Also evident in the Tearaways is the tension between “design” and “art for art” (belonging to the world of art). The messages are different and non-complementary (they are competitive). In a sense, the Tearaways "borrow" (appropriate) from design to reappropriate design's own thefts to art.
(Written in November 2017)