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The Archaeology of ‘Grey Moon’

Alex Virji’s paintings are palimpsests: a record of a process that values erasure as a creative act. In this sense his practice is archaeological, as different layers of canvas and paint are obscured, only to be unearthed in due course, and consequently transformed. His form too shows a concern with temporality. The tropes of the oval shape and floral patterning serve to historicise his work – evoking what he refers to as ‘the exacting and almost indexical nature of 16th century miniature painting’ – even as it breaks out into abstraction.

I spoke to Alex over his painting ‘Grey Moon’. He presented this piece as part of what he terms an ‘inquest’ into the miniature form. The genre of painting with which Alex’s work engages was absolutely functional, a sort of ID intended to record physical appearance with precision, as well as to be indicative of status. As such these artworks would have frequently acted as surrogates for absent individuals, perhaps due to distance, or death. Alex is concerned with the subversion of this form’s exactitude, through a process of ‘distending portraiture into abstract, ephemeral spaces that, whilst providing spatial readings you could associate with landscape, confounds this impression through redaction and deletion’. He suggests that this practice creates ‘a dialogue between what is additive and what is subtractive’ within the painting.

This is the crux of his fascination with painting: ‘I see the application of paint in my work as much more deletive than the rubbing away. There are some quite positive, quite physical marks that come about with rubbing into the grain of the canvas, which reveals a kind of pixilation. This creates the impression that the image is disappearing, whilst simultaneously bringing out this pitted texture, which is something painters intend to cover up and push back’.

Simultaneity and juxtaposition are absolutely central to the experience of viewing Alex’s paintings. ‘Grey Moon’ is highly suggestive of a specifically historical femininity: the dressing room of a well-to-do lady of the house. But, as the artist suggests, ‘this frivolity is mixed with an unnerving, uncanny atmosphere’. It is this perpetual imbalance that draws you into the work: ‘I want there to be an uncomfortable feel to these paintings; a space for the viewer to enter into psychologically’.

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One Response to The Archaeology of ‘Grey Moon’

  1. avatar Simon Vickery says:

    Here is a link to Alex’s work:

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