Alex Blau’s geometric paintings draw from a variety of sources and have unexpected associations. By variously utilizing graphic languages associated with things like disposable consumer goods, computer generated architectures and unfolding mandalas, Blau’s work both points to abstraction’s open-ended possibility and highlights its incorporation into mass culture.
Ellsworth Kelly, Jeff Koons, and cellophane snack packaging are just a few of the unlikely inspirations for Alex Blau’s glossy paintings. Her small-scale, soft – edged works are made by pouring layer upon layer of clear acrylic over alternating layers of airbrushed patterning. The built-up acrylic lacquer gives the surface of the painting depth; so that on close inspection we can distinguish the suspended layers of paint from each other and thereby recreate the artist’s process.
Blau’s use of shaped canvases in combination with her process of essentially embedding paint in clear acrylic reinforces the sculptural quality of her paintings. This strategy of emphasizing the material aspects of the painting over the pictorial ones link her work to painters such as Kelly and Frank Stella, who downplay illusionary space and emphasize the physicality of the painting. The paintings are a surprising combination of durability and fragility. In the early stages of Blau’s process, sometimes the surfaces are damages or cracked, and the ensuing layers of acrylic lock-in the mishaps. In the end, the paintings become quite durable, but the scars remain, reminding us of their handmade origins like those of a custom-painted surfboard or an old mirror whose silver backing has begun to peel away. Blau is a fan of the aesthetics of snack packaging. One whole wall of her studio is covered in potato chip, cheese puff, and snack mix wrappers that friends have collected and mailed to her from around the globe. These colors, patterns, and designs are often starting points for her totally abstracts works.
It is this shameless and gleeful meeting of high and low sources that characterizes figures like Kelly and Koons on an equal footing with snack wrappers. This is the democracy that we hope – a little reluctantly – will accompany the age of the Internet.
Alex Blau has an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design and works primarily in painting. Blau has had solo shows at several venues, including Frist Center, Firecat Projects in Chicago, Gallery Seomi in Seoul, Mark Moore Gallery in Santa Monica, Kevin Bruk Gallery in Miami, Barbara Davis Gallery in Houston and the New Britain Museum of American Art. She currently teaches at Vanderbilt University and Austin Peay State University.