Alexander Churchill

Artist Interview

Alexander Churchill was born in San Diego, California and raised in Vermont. He earned a BFA from Green Mountain College in 2008 and currently works as a visual artist in Connecticut. The self critical nature of Alexander's work opens up an objective examination of his own subjective sphere of existence and, scaled-up, the concentric spheres of groups to which he belong. Culture, race, heritage, place, purpose, and societal participation come into play when looking at the experiential niche he occupies.

Hello Alexander, we are so excited to have you on De:Formal! Can you start with telling us a bit about yourself and your background?

Hello, it is a pleasure to be on De:Formal! I was born in San Diego California and when I was a year old my family moved to Vermont. I spent my formative years there with my two brothers hiking in the woods and riding bikes through the dirt roads of rural towns. We grew up with little money in an area where little stigma was attached to that, as many people there lived the same way. We moved around a lot in those towns for various reasons and I attended eight different schools during my K-12 years so it was hard to keep friends. It wasn’t ideal for a kid who just wanted to play and hangout with other kids, but the solitude and lack of financial freedom did allow me to cultivate an imaginative creativity. After years of being an awkward nerd who loved sci-fi movies and computer games I went to Green Mountain College in Vermont where I studied Fine Art.

How did you get into art? What led you to working with painting and drawing, and who are your biggest influence when you first started?

The moment I knew I had a thing for art creation was in early elementary school when a friend and I regularly tried to outdo each other drawing super heroes. That led to me creating my own characters, creatures and scenes of bloody combat. It might sound like I was a disturbed child, but I think I just accepted and understood the humor in ridiculous gore and found reactions of disgust or offense to be funny and absurd. The reactions of those who I showed the drawings to, in those moments was where the art truly took place. I wasn’t able to fully understand that then but it stood out to me as something I needed to explore. My biggest influences back then were mainly concept artists from video games and movies. I spent hours looking through the work of artists like Ralph McQuarrie and Doug Chiang and I copied work by artists like Chris Metzen who did illustrations for guide books that came with computer games like Warcraft.

What brought you to Connecticut from Vermont? How did the transition influence your work?

My wife, who I met in college, was from Connecticut and after we graduated we went back there and moved in together. I had always planned on getting the hell out of my tiny towns and this area had more opportunities and was pretty close to New York City, where the art scene was just a tiny bit better than in rural Vermont. The transition from Vermont to Connecticut was liberating and refreshing but also strange and a bit jarring. I still haven’t fully acclimated and a part of me resists it, as many people here exhibit a comfortability that I can’t seem to relate to. I was never able to fully relate to most of the people in Vermont either, which is one of the reasons I wanted to leave, and maybe my inability to assimilate is universal, but the reasons for Fairfield County, Connecticut seem apparent. Observing an almost utopian archipelago of wealthy and pristinely manicured towns constantly reminds me of the places that are on the other side of the spectrum and it has instilled in me a tense uneasiness that recognizes a responsibility to acknowledge such inequalities through my process. Early on, after relocating here, a sense of “place” and my relation to it had inserted itself into my work that, to some degree, may have been almost subconscious and involuntary but soon became very deliberate and a primary focus in my practice.

Your work diverse in colors, textures, and painting styles that evokes a sense of anxiety and displacement. How did your painting style come about? In what way do you want your paintings to impact the viewers?

My current painting style evolved from years of constantly experimenting with different techniques and intentions of mood. I was always trying something new and was very indecisive on what approach and aesthetic to settle on. I had painted very tightly and in a surrealistic style for a long time but after a while I became bored and dissatisfied so I challenged myself with painting quickly and with tools like palette knives or rags that prevented me from getting fine detail. I also forced myself to call it quits on a painting or parts of it before I wanted to. This departure from my intuitions to add more into a piece when it felt unresolved made me uncomfortable and required me to find ways to resolve a painting through exclusion rather than inclusion. My tangential styles started to fuse into each other until I landed on a combination of multiple styles, heterogeneously woven together. Tightly rendered forms, roughly applied gestural elements, bold and cartoony colors and casualist absurdist imagery have come together to rouse a disjointed tension that provokes consideration by creating an enticing visual problem that begs to be solved and reflects the vague frustrations and anxieties that are the conceptual foundation of the work.


Can you describe your relationship between you and your work? What roll does art play in your life?

Art plays a fundamental part in my life. From early childhood it has always been my main interest and a driving focus. I really love to create artwork and transmit my thoughts about the world and myself into other people’s minds in this way and, to be honest, it’s one of the few things (I think) I know how to do right. I’ve committed so much time, energy and cognitive bandwidth to this practice that I’m pretty sure if I attempted an alternate non-creative career path then, oh baby, I'd be dead in the water. My work has very much become an extension of myself and if I were separated from it somehow I think it would be like losing a major limb or my sense of smell or something. It has become my way of expressing my concerns, a way of working through problems and a means of investigating and exploring new ways of thinking and creating visual language.

Can you tell us more about your ​LOVE IN THE TIME OF ANXIETY series? ​What was on your mind when you first started creating the series, have they changed throughout the process?

The ongoing series “Love in the Time of Anxiety” addresses the struggle to find peace, and multiple levels of love in a time where the overwhelmingly dominant sentiments are fear, distrust, anger and anxiety. In recent years dramatic changes in technology, the climate, public health and our socio-political spheres have pushed and pulled our society in opposing directions and shaken it to its core leaving us deeply divided and confused. In this series I also try to acknowledge my own personal obstacles and melancholia that encumber equanimity and address and eliminate harmful negative annoyances and disdain for people like lying racist moron presidents and the people that vote for them, or people that crave digital attention at the expense of an individualist truth.

What is your process like? Can you walk us through one of your painting from getting inspiration to completion?

Sometimes I will start with a distinct image in my head of a visually interesting tableau that I will assign a meaning or symbolic associations to with supplementary details. Other times I will work the other way around and start with a concept like a memory or issue that I want to address or just a mood and assign a visual codex of imagery that will best represent the idea. Sometimes I will take days to piece it all together in my head as I work through sketches. It can be challenging to crystallize and define an illusory, ever changing continuum of abstractions, feelings and happenings into a static immutable object, but it is so stimulating and satisfying to attempt it. After I’ve established an image I’ll stretch and gesso a canvas, usually with a bright pink ground, and then I’ll sketch out the drawing. At this point I'll stare at the drawing for way too long until I finally decide on where to start applying paint. I usually start with rendering figures and faces in oil and then move outward to rough application of acrylics to larger areas. As I continue with a painting it constantly changes and goes in different directions as I change my mind a lot with each element I add or omit. When I put something on canvas and see it in front of me I might feel something unexpected and build off that rather than the thing I had intended. It’s great to work with multiple mediums and approaches as they engage with each other in opposing and complimentary ways. I’ll constantly switch back and forth between palette knives, airbrush, fine oil brushes, large acrylic brushes, tape and spray paint and exacto knives. Each conflicting component plays into and relies on the others. Sometimes I get stuck or frustrated and I need to take a picture of it and step away for a few days. Seeing it as a photo on my phone gives it a freshness and novelty that separates it from the creator’s eye and helps me find problems or errors. After working through unresolved areas and when the painting is at an equilibrium, relaying the intended message in a non-blatant way, I will call it quits.

Do you have any daily rituals that get you in the zone? If so, what are they?

I usually wake up relatively early and do normal morning stuff like eat breakfast and feed dogs. Then I usually sit in a big east facing window in my home studio and meditate for about a half hour. If it’s nice and warm out I will sit outside and do that. Then I’ll get some coffee and get started in the studio and paint while playing some music or podcast or sometimes a movie. I wish I could say that I have ridiculous daily rituals like ayahuasca induced past life regression or riding bareback naked on a horse through my tobacco fields but I don’t. Maybe someday.

What are you working on these days? Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions?

In the studio I am finishing up my current series with the last two paintings called “The Pastry Eaters” and “Crying Over Kenny Rogers.” Outside of the studio there isn’t much going on thanks to the Coronavirus. Exhibitions have been postponed and are on standby but, forthcoming I will have work at Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven, CT at some undetermined date in the future and I regularly take part in programming at Silvermine Galleries in New Canaan, Ct.

Have you seen/heard/read anything interesting lately that you would like to share?

I recently watched the movie “The Lighthouse” with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson which was really good and deranged, and for all the artsy people I just started re-watching John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” which was a series on BBC 2 in 1972 that remains a great investigation of seeing beyond the surface of art. I also recently listened to the new album “Song for Our Daughter" from Laura Marling. She is a big favorite and this one doesn’t disappoint. And as far as books, I am currently reading “Dawn of the New Everything” by Virtual Reality founding father Jaron Lanier. My friends gave me this book and they so know me because it’s about the mind boggling potential of technology and how it intersects with being human.

Do you have any bad habits? How do they affect your daily life?

Yes. I overthink things, I’m self conscious and and self doubting, I procrastinate, I ignore my friends, I don’t exercise enough, I let opportunities pass because I think I’ll screw them up, I avoid going to the doctor, I think I drink too much and eat too many cookies, and I bite my fingernails.

Is there anything else you world like to share with us? Any fun facts our readers can learn about you?  

I have the voice of an angel and I can throw up on command.

For more of Alexander: www.alexchurchillart.com  |  @alexchurchillart

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