This image is a bit hard to pin down. Are you looking at photographic evidence of a synchronized ritual? Or are you taking in a painter’s send-up of the pomp and circumstance? Does something seem a bit fabricated? Is this real? “Yes” to all four questions.
So who belong to that painted arm? Why, that’s the artist: Alex Golden.
Golden has made quite a habit of appearing in his large-scale pieces. The 26-year old artist explains his imagined implantation:
By painting myself into a photograph, I hope to establish a dialectic between the seamless world of the photograph and the painted figure that doesn’t quite integrate into that world.
Golden starts with a found, archival images, often picking shots imbued with ceremony, circumstance and, most of all, calculation. He then uses oil paint to implant himself in the ritual-laden moment, thus forcing a conversation between the real and the illustrated worlds, as well as the tension between photography and painting.
People tend to read [photography] more quickly and assume it contains a lesser degree of “constructedness” than a painting. A painting, no matter how photographic, reveals the process of its own making, and therefore seems more “made.” I think that it is telling that people generally refer to the act of “taking” a photograph, not making one.
By merging the media, Golden at once challenges their communicative channels, while also attempting to find a stable social connection: the outsider – an increasingly common theme in Golden’s collection of humble, wholly impressive work.
2005’s Phone Series depicted the fronts and backs of people talking on imaginary phones. The Wandering Series – perhaps Golden’s most political offering – rings with the alienation of a country at war abroad and at home. The subjects may not be alone, but they’re certainly lost. One image a gay couple at a family friend water park. Though holding hands, the couple’s nervous presence renders them nearly invisible: the picture lies directly below their foreign flesh. In another piece, Golden sits with President Bush, watching the shuttle launch (although it looks like a bomb dropping). Bush has a proud chuckle. Golden forces an awkward smile, visibly put off by their shared visual, but trying to appease America’s military daddy.
Perhaps, like so many things in our lives, this artistic, connective longing can be traced back to Golden’s childhood. The New Canaan, Connecticut-born artist counts himself part of “a very loving, upper middle class family”. Despite such luck, the self-described sensitive kid found himself isolated from his peers. His art and figure skating hobbies didn’t help. But he’s quick to point out:
I was never a total outcast, perhaps because my parents also required that I do some normal boy things like hockey, but I always felt like an outcast.
Golden spent many years away from his family at Groton School in Massachusetts. After graduating in 1998, Golden headed to Williams College, where he studied studio art and psychology, no doubt a subject that has informed his art’s subject matter. He doesn’t say much about his college years. He winks:
I had a lot of blips along the way, but I’m not sure how much you need to know, or how much I’m willing to tell you at this point.
There’s that distance again.
Golden doesn’t always play coy. The Hunter MFA Graduate student offers full disclosure when discussing his emotional motivation: One of the main reasons that I make art is because I want something to believe in. This is a huge issue for me, and perhaps what my work boils down to. I am definitely a cynical person, but one who desperately wants to believe in something. Golden alone doesn’t possess his longing for a proverbial, mythical truth. His thirst’s universal, not to mention timely. “People certainly need something to believe in- that is so evident in the world today. I think my work is largely about finding something to believe in at a time when it seems that belief systems are at the crux of the world’s problems.” Ah, the proverbial, farcical Catch-22. “Absurd” is the word Golden prefers. Absurd like one his recent favorite character: Laura Bush.
As America’s first lady Laura Bush acts as a poignant national character in these dire times. The librarian who accidentally killed her best-friend marries the hapless rich boy, ends up sitting in the White House, right where her mother-in-law once sat. Golden explains his fascination:
Her image is so loaded and she maintains it impeccably: she’s a mother figure, a nurturer, the epitome of upper-class femininity, she’s charitable and good. She embodies traditionalism and conservatism with a smile and perfect hair at all times. She is both extremely likable and extremely repugnant to me: an absurd combination of emotion akin to love. Is it love?
It may very well be: one of Golden’s recent works – only paint! – shows him spraying Aquanet in the First Lady’s hair, maintaining her ridiculous facade and crying all the while. “I began to think of myself as an obsessed fan…I decided I needed to be hysterical.”
A preposterous image, yes, but that’s Golden’s ultimate intent. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Golden does not participate in melodrama, idiosyncratic angst or “struggling” artist bullshit. He prefers his art with a healthy of dash of timely absurdity.
If people were more aware of the absurd, they would be less apt to fall into patterns of fanaticism. [I dream] of the day when everyone realizes that everyone is wrong, including me. In the meantime, I continue to make things that I really do believe in. As crazy as that sounds.
Fine words, especially considering the timing: Golden’s opens studio tonight at 6pm and continues Saturday from 2-6pm.
(If you’re as in love with Alex Golden as we are, you’ll definitely want to check out his website. And, of course, head on over Hunter College – 450 W. 41st St. Studio 311B, between 9th and 10th – to check it out. 6-10pm with silent auction and loads of fun. Ya heard?)