What happens when you buy a Soviet space helmet on eBay? For San Francisco-based painter Alec Huxley, it turned into a serious source of inspiration. He paints himself and his girlfriend, helmet adorned, in an urban environment amidst a variety of wild animals. With a focus on the American West Coast, he creates cinematic surreal narratives with an seriously intense sense of urgency. A self-taught painter, Alec has an uncanny eye for photo realistic painting, though he’s more concerned with the viability of the subject than the realism of the painting. We had a chance to chat with Alec about his process. Check it:
LF: Astronomical Menagerie. Let’s start with this. You’ve got a series of characters in business suits wearing space helmets in urban landscapes immersed with various animals. How did this concept develop?
AH: Space travel has always been a fascination and I bought a Soviet space helmet on eBay a few years ago. I first painted my girlfriend as a female character in a helmet and little black dress and then myself in a helmet and suit wandering the empty streets of our neighborhood at night. The concept was just about the fantasy of exploring the city while everyone else was gone or asleep with the helmet possibly lending some power of levitation or flight. The suits and little black dresses acted as a classy, earth-bound uniform for these nighttime adventures. To have the people interact with animals seemed like a natural progression in the fantasy. I painted a sort of ‘portrait’ with a space-helmeted guy holding back a hyena on a leash. Despite the dubious ethics, I’m intrigued by that super-masculine era of Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway and their African safaris. Not necessarily the slaughter but the deluded dominance over nature through trophy collection. This is my way of exploring that. I know that the reality of domesticating wild animals can and probably should end with their fangs sunk into your throat. So these are just paintings. My fantasy is fulfilled, my conscience is clear and I’m still alive.
LF: Did you have a vivid imagination as a kid?
AH: I guess so. As an only child who moved frequently I had to create my own entertainment.
LF: You’ve lived all over the American West, including Alaska. How has this influenced you as an artist?
AH: I’ve just begun to appreciate the spirit that’s associated with living here and why people dreamed to come out here in the first place. My first paintings were of Seattle cityscapes intentionally void of people. Even now that I’ve begun to populate my backgrounds with characters I think they share the same notion of freedom and escape. Old mining towns are fascinating to me, especially in the desert, and what that existence might have been like.
LF: Your latest 2013 paintings look a lot like San Francisco. How long have you lived in this great city?
AH: About 3 and a half years. It’s a pretty amazing place, not hard to be inspired by.
LF: What’s you’re trend toward the cinematic look in your work?
AH: I’ve always loved movies. Before I started painting I learned to compose images through a camera lens. I haven’t figured out what I would do or how I would be involved in film so for now I look at paintings as still frames in a larger story.
LF: You are a self taught painter. What was your biggest challenge as you carved your career?
AH: Probably getting over the thought that I was working with some sort of deficit by not having gone to art school.
LF: The photo realism in your work shines. Can you give us a little trick of the trade to painting in this way?
AH: I really don’t intend for my work to be photo realistic. I like for things to resemble real things but the concept or the narrative behind an image is so much more important to me than having objects look like a real photo. There are so many other artists who create stunningly hyper-realistic paintings and I’m definitely not on their level. I imagine the trick is patience and that’s something I run out of before I need to move onto the next project.
LF: Your 2011 series of paintings are incredible. I love the transparency of the figures and the sexual tension. What inspired this work?
AH: The notion that buildings or rooms can soak up the energy of people who inhabit them. I wanted those to appear like looking into a room through a piece of film that contained fragments of people. Not ghosts necessarily but the residue of their emotions and actions.
LF: You worked in many other creative mediums before your career as a painter, including photography, graphic design and printing. Are all of these experiences somehow interrelated?
AH: For sure. They all had something to do with image creation even if it was just screen printing real estate signs. I definitely credit my work in offset printing to strengthening my attention to detail and training my eye to distinguish between colors and tones – all which have really helped my painting.
LF: What has been the most inspiring moment of your painting career to date?
AH: Probably having one of my paintings used for an album cover, Made Up Mind by the Tedeschi Trucks Band. It was pretty cool to get the LP, see it used as the backdrop for their live shows and have one of their fans turn it into a three dimensional cake that they brought to a concert. To know that something I came up with alone in my studio inspired other people to create their own art is amazing.
LF: What can we expect in the new year? Any shows planned?
AH: I’ve got a handful of group shows but I’ve intentionally avoided committing to anything big. I’m actually planning to pick up on some older themes – like the transparent paintings – and finishing a series that I started with mutant toys chasing people in hazmat suits through San Francisco.
LF: What gets you off, literally or figuratively?
AH: Things with smart, subtle twists or things that are brilliantly simple.
LF: What modern artists inspire you?
AH: James Jean, Nicola Verlato, Henry Cartier Bresson, David Lynch, Eric White, Eric Fischl, Trent Reznor, Gottfried Helnwein. There’s too many.
LF: How FAST do you live?
AH: Faster than I’d like and not in a sexy way. I’ve got a seven month old daughter now. My paint clothes are getting pukey.