Artist Q&A with Alex G. Cao
How and why did you become an artist?
Coming from China to New York City in the 80s was a wonderful experience; a world of beauty and enchantment. While studying at Fashion Institute of Technology, I was fortunate to be surrounded by fashion and beauty while gaining experience working in a creative field. Through work, I was engaging with pop culture, glorifying beauty and a vibrating downtown NYC scene. I began to reflect on the use of logos and classic icons as markers of society, as recognizable as the Parthenon of Ancient Greece or the Roman Colosseum – perhaps even more recognizable.
I visited Naples and Pompeii just after graduating to discover these iconic ancient cities which have the most profound impact. Through my travels I was able to identify the iconic styles and architecture of classical Greco-Roman society. In these places I uncovered mosaics which lined city streets for centuries. I started to make art while engaging with these memories, recalling this trip to Pompeii and building the architecture of my artistic career on the memory of this experience. After spending time in the piazzas of Italy surrounded by these ancient art forms. It was these formative trips that continue to inspire me artistically.
Tell us about your new show “Immortal.” What is the meaning of it?
This new body of work in “Immortal” blends the pop culture imagery I always inspired and fascinating in with materials including plexiglass, canvas and stainless steel mirrors. The stainless steel mirror holds particular significance as it reflects and augments what you’re already witnessing; even projecting outward. The tension between the relationship of small repetitive images and the large final composition makes this work especially poignant.
These framed work are truly a departure due to the stainless steel mirror and the plexiglass on canvas, which can be multi-colored or translucent. I place a stainless steel cutout circle mirror over the imagery to evoke eternity, circle of life, as in Chinese, stainless steel is referred to as being “immortal” – hence the genesis of the show title. This stainless steel mirror hovers over the colored or clear plex images, to contemplating the colorful circle of life.
I truly believe making art is based on life experiences, and personal perspective. My work has always been rooted in culture and specifically in literature. This includes The Bible which I have been studying, to Chinese classics such as, “Dream of the Red Chamber” that I have been re-read many times beginning with my childhood. These texts reflect on identity which is brought out with the use of the stainless steel mirror theme. I’ve also wanted to use mirror images to reflect back on my own identity, and the philosophical vision I’ve developed over time. When you look into the mirror, you view the reality of yourself.
You have used iconic images, such as Lichtenstein, David Lynch, Richard Prince, and Mapplethorpe’s Flag. What is the role of these images in your work?
These images are part of the cultural lexicon, and I am fascinated by these American images. Many of these images are instantly recognizable, yet also simplified and statuesque. The classic Mapplethorpe in black and white, the beautiful images of Lynch, Prince, and others evoke lust, desire, humor, simplicity, and generosity. The real American culture which I am so proud and fortunate to be part of.
I am also merging Western pop culture and Hollywood with the instincts of ancient Chinese landscape painting which I have been studying. In these compositions, the figure is present but hard to discern, and this is the same juxtaposition that I want to express.
What do you think people feel when they look at your work?
I want the viewer to relate to the joyfulness and self-assured confidence of these enduring and delightful icons. I also use the stainless steel mirror in this series so that the viewer can see themselves reflected back to themselves in the work. You become the icon and the beauty, and even in a sense you can become immortal in this moment. It feels like the magic mirror of fairy tales, allowing you to truly see yourself. This is a powerful act that takes courage for “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”.
What is your artistic process?
My work process is primarily digital, with new technology and materials in a format where I can achieve my vision. In my practice I bring the idealized fantasy world of desire and passion together by repeating imagery to build a crescendo in the final form of the composition, realizing the vision of beauty and harmony that combines human experience with the awe of the natural world. While our society may feel insignificant, our observations and expressions hold a world of meaning. We give nature its power through the beauty of the image, and I seek to express it in a positive way.
What is your favorite part about being an artist?
I always feel blessed and fortunate to be surrounded with my artistic practice, and enjoy the challenge of it’s freedom with such self discipline is very gratifying.
What artists do you admire??
Some of these storied artists I admire are Pop artists while others are more Classical. A non-exhaustive list would include Andy Warhol, Richard Prince, Gehard Richter, and Clyford Still, along with Picasso, Vermeer, Da Vinci, Bernini, Boucher, and of course, always ancient antiquity.
To learn more about Alex and his work, please visit www.robertberrygallery.com.