Alex Anderson deftly mixes the refined and the surreal through ornate vases, otherworldly sculptures, and bold paintings while still managing to link them all back to his central theme: Decay and the beauty within it. Between working on a new commission, Alex took the time to elaborate on his intriguing work with us and told us about everything from his time learning from ceramics masters in China, to the influences natural processes and biological forms have on his sculpture work, and ultimately the concept of death and the place it has in art.
Just out of the gate, I can't help but ask you to explain the theme of your work and the idea of deterioration. Can you walk us through that?
Well, my major influences are nature, the life cycle, and the awareness that our time in this life is always moving toward its inevitable end, so I try to make work that celebrates the beauty of this organic reality while acknowledging its inherent darkness, which is also beautiful in its own right… especially as its a natural part of life!
They are amazing pieces and that idea really pushes through. But let's step back for a second and have you tell us about your background as an artist.
In brief, my background in art started when I was 15 in my high school ceramics class where I found that I didn't want to do anything else with my time. I then majored in Art and Chinese at Swarthmore and I studied abroad in Jingdezhen, China. I graduated and went to China on a Fulbright grant where I studied ink painting and ceramics at the China Academy of Art for 10-months. I got back in January 2015 and then got into graduate school at UCLA where I will pursue an MFA in ceramics under Adrian Saxe.
Can you elaborate more about your experiences in China and the time you spent there?
I studied abroad in Jingdezhen, China at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute during my time at Swarthmore and I later returned to China to study ceramics and ink painting at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou for 10-months on a Fulbright grant. Many consider Jingdezhen to be the porcelain capital of the world and it was there that I began to understand the potential of the ceramic medium. I learned that it could take any form and I studied techniques from the masters in the city who continue its tradition of excellence into the present. The realistic natural imagery present in my work is a product of this period, as the process I use to make my flowers is specific to Jingdezhen. As I gained proficiency with this new skill set, I began to build conceptual content around the images I was then able to render, which led to my focus on the fleeting nature of life and the preservation of moments of organic perfection. I considered the fact that I was making things that would otherwise melt into the earth if they were not made of fired clay.
And you worked on your paintings more there as well?
Yes so my second period in China allowed me to continue this idea, but my studies of ink painting entirely changed my approach to visual representation by making my lines and forms bolder and more intentional. I began to incorporate this methodology into my sculptural practice while including content and visual formats from traditional Chinese ink paintings in the two and three-dimensional spaces of my work. At this point, the need to cover my work with decoration passed in favor of creating and defining space with bolder forms that would then hold and accentuate the more delicate and rendered components reflecting nature in realism.
Your work spans a wide range of styles but they all share a specific feeling. Can you tell me about the range of your work and how you got into these styles?
The standard path in ceramics is to master the wheel and then move into sculpture. This trajectory led me to make simpler geometric forms, ornate forms, and eventually, sculptures that expand upon my attraction to the imagery of nature. The paintings take the same direction as the sculpture and I do not necessarily take any of these groups more seriously than another. Sometimes a work needs to be a vessel, sometimes it needs to be a sculpture, and sometimes it needs to be a painting. I make work that suits the concept.
That’s great that you have that flexibility with your work... So many artists spread seem to spread themselves thin trying to accomplish that. Who are some of the artists that inspire you to make this kind of work?
Some artists I look to for inspiration are Adrian Saxe, Adrian Arleo, and Syd Carpenter (my professor at Swarthmore).
As sort of a final note why decay and nature? What really draws you to these concepts?
At first, I questioned why I made these things and concluded that it had to do with the fact that I found these created moments to be reflections of time, its passage, and the precious moments of natural primeness. We really only experience those type of moments for such a short period of time in this life.
You can view more of Alex's work in our Gallery and read more about Alex and his connection to the natural world in a recent editorial he published in Artslant.