Painting as a Mode of Thought: Alexander Kroll speaks to Joey Veltkamp

Alexander Kroll, Untitled, 2010 | Oil on linen over panel, 10 x 10 inches. Courtesy CB1 Gallery, Los Angeles.

A few days ago, the editorial staff of New American Paintings posted a massive list of must-see painting shows for the month of February. The lead image for that post was a painting by Alexander Kroll, whose work is currently on view in both Seattle (James Harris Gallery) and Los Angeles (CB1 Gallery and LACE). I wanted to check in with Alexander and hear about the new direction his work has taken over the past few months. More pics and our conversation after the jump.  —Joey Veltkamp, Seattle contributor

Alexander Kroll, Untitled, 2010. Courtesy CB1 Gallery, Los Angeles.

JV: This will be your second show at James Harris Gallery in a year. How lucky for us! A lot has changed in both materials and content- can you talk about how the two shows differ?
AK: My first show with Jim was of "Network" paintings. I was exploring the idea of a diagramatic structure in a painting serving as a kind of spatial marker. This was interesting to me as it seemed to encompass abstraction as a historical proposition as well as a living, breathing mode of thought. The networks did this by speaking to both the gesture and the grid as ideas. I am really committed to the idea of painting as a mode of thought, as a theoretical activity. Ideas exist in painting not just as visual motifs, but also as objects of meaning, intensity and experience.

I began the current body of work shortly after my last exhibition with Jim. While retaining the modest scale of my earlier work, the new work has broken out, both in terms of materiality and structure. There is a looseness and increased emphasis on the physicality in the work even as it feels more specific, in terms of the decisions being made. This work is more open, ambiguous, and personal. Whereas the earlier work relied on the repetition of common set of graphic signifiers, the new work is more autonomous. While there are clear similarities between pieces, there is less of a need for each individual work to represent the entire shape of the practice, there is more freedom for the work to stand on its own.

Alexander Kroll, Untitled, 2010 | Oil and oil-egg tempera on linen over panel, 10 x 8 inches. Courtesy CB1 Gallery, Los Angeles.

The one thing that hasn't changed is how incredibly painterly they feel. The mylar really accentuates each brush stroke.
Well, the idea of painterliness might be the most important part of the work. Perhaps more than anything else. More than any idea of abstraction. Painterliness and space, illusionistic space. Working between these ideas is where my practice as an artist has really solidified. This really speaks to the idea of abstraction as an intellectual construction, as well as a set of formal concerns. I think the painterly can be construed as a position, before it has any kind of stylistic identity or art historical reference.

Alexander Kroll, Untitled, 2010 | Oil and Ink on Mylar, 11 x 7 inches. Courtesy James Harris Gallery, Seattle.

Your previous work had a strong geometric urgency, almost as if you had painted a cage over each painting. Do these looser gestures point towards a symbolic artistic freedom?
Yes. Definitely. In the network paintings I was really asserting the grid as a way of saying, "Here! Look! It's a painting!" But ultimately, the diagrammatic nature of that work became a kind of endgame that wasn't interesting to me. Not that I'm abandoning that work, but it reached a natural conclusion. The new paintings are more open, more specific, personal, and intense.

I think the new paintings are the best things I have ever made. In realizing that I had made an enormous breakthrough in my work, there was a huge feeling of relief, but also of focus and freedom. These are the paintings I want to be making. I don't need to impose an idea structure on top of them like I was doing in the network paintings. They have their own idea structure, sort of proper to the work. They assert their identity, their meaning or meanings without the need for a superimposed structure.

Alexander Kroll, Untitled, 2010 | Oil on Mylar, 14 x 10 inches. Courtesy James Harris Gallery, Seattle.

Any other projects or shows you'd like to talk about it?
I'm enormously fortunate to have my show with James Harris in Seattle coincide with my debut Los Angeles solo show at CB1 Gallery.  In Seattle I'm showing new works on paper, and in Los Angeles I'm showing paintings—works on linen over panel. Like the work in Seattle, the paintings [in L.A.] are all modestly scaled. Most of them are around the size of a book. There are three larger works, but mostly they are variations on an 8 x 10 inch rectangle. I'm also in a group show at LACE in Hollywood right now.

This summer I am making my first foray into curating. I'm putting together an exhibition at CB1. The exhibition will deal with work that exists in a place of tension between physicality and design. A group of really amazing artists have agreed to be in the exhibition and I am very very excited about it!

The exhibition, Alexander Kroll: Works on Paper, will be on view at James Harris Gallery, Seattle, through February 26. His solo exhibition at CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles, Unfoldings, will be up through February 20.

Joey Veltkamp is an artist/writer living in Seattle where he runs the local art blog, best of.


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