The gallery is pleased to present its first solo exhibition with Mark Alexander.
There is a nothingness from which we emerge and into which we will eventually dissolve, only to re-emerge and dissolve again and again. So it is with art. This exhibition of new work by Mark Alexander, “Ground and Unground”, explores the eternal nothingness into and from which we and art endlessly descend and arise. (Kelly Grovier, 2012)
All Watched Over by Machines of Infinite Loving Grace, 2011 is Alexander’s meticulously conceived painting after Hieronymus Bosch’s most celebrated work; The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490 - 1510. Bosch’s painting is most frequently understood as a didactical warning against the perils of life’s temptations, but art historical interpretations continue to vary and part of the work’s fascination is this indeterminable narrative. Alexander’s attraction to the painting was a belief in the work’s sinister nuances – the central panel’s presentation of indulgence and revelry presents an intriguing world of suspended fantasy, yet the impending doom is forebodingly obvious. Alexander’s major alteration to the Bosch original was to adorn the painting with a shriveled painterly surface, which has afforded areas of the painting a somewhat decaying texture. Alexander has long been fascinated by surface and the alteration to surfaces, something particularly visible in the Via Negativa series (2008-09), which saw Alexander first adopt these techniques used to manipulate and contort the painted surface. It is from this fascination with surface that Alexander was led to the perpetually mysterious subject of the bog body. Preserved by the specific geophysical properties of areas in Northern Europe, bog bodies, unlike most ancient human remains, have uniquely preserved skin and internal organs and possess an ethereal and indeed timeless quality. What has fascinated both artists and scholars for centuries is the bizarre juxtaposition these preserved bodies conjure, between death and permanence, delicate beauty and the hauntingly grotesque. Taking as their metaphor the archaeology of the Iron Age bog, from which scientists are forever rescuing the remains of sacrificed bodies that the secret ministry of the earth has transformed into artifact, these paintings extend Alexander’s vision of reinventing icons of the past.
In Alexander’s imagination, the bog exerts an ambiguous energy on the achievement of old master works, insinuating an incessant incubation and rebirth of great art, as though the works of all ages inhabit the same fertile ground of endless composition and decomposition. It is from here that Alexander has developed the narrative for this exhibition; a combination of Bosch’s world of suspended fantasy with the ethereal preservation of life that the bog bodies encapsulate, the result is an eclectic collection of figures buried (as it were) in the artist’s own version of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Adam and Eve’s representation as children, from Paul Egell’s Mannheim Alter Piece, 1739-41, Van Gogh’s Reaper with Sickle (after Millet), 1889, Jean-François Millet’s original The Sower, 1850, Caravaggio’s Narcissus, circa 1597-99, and Durer’s Praying Hands, circa 1508. The curious duality that these paintings possess – between corporeality and stillness, the living and the dead, the beautiful and the hideous – is a subtle yet striking motif. The exhibition’s title alludes to the mystical writings of the sixteenth-century German thinker Jakob Boehme. “For I saw and knew the Being of all beings,” Boehme wrote, “the ground and the unground”.