Currently virtually on view at Lancaster Museum of Art and presented by Thinkspace Projects as part of their curated exhibitions, “The New Vanguard III,” is artist Alex Garant’s exhilarating new body of work, “Deconstructing Identities.”
Not unlike the fugitive flicker of a screen or the spectral layering of multiple film exposures, her portraits reveal an unsettling multiplicity, shifting beneath the subject’s surface. Garant creates faces that challenge the optics of identity and the reductive way in which it is perceived, with a visual gimmick that quite literally dislodges and displaces its coherence to produce skittering psychological images of fracture and ricochet.
Garant has long been fascinated by the interaction of patterns and symmetry, and the resulting optics of their graphic repetition and layering. Her portraits begin with a series of superimposed drawings based on her sitters, actual individuals, and muses from her life, and pushes the familiar confines of portraiture to a newly strange and re-sensitized place of sensory confusion. Her subjects and their energy seem to erupt from within, testing the tensile seams of the skin, the body, as always, an insufficient vessel for the incongruous experience within.
The artist’s labor-intensive oil paintings are meticulously executed, often incorporating patterning or other graphic elements and motifs to produce reverberating visual effects. Her color palette ranges from the subtlety of realistic flesh tones to hyper-colored gradients, saturated pastels, and translucent gem-like washes of color. Her stylizations of these vertiginous portraits thrive in surreal kitsch to interrupt the apprehension of the subject, activating a process of invested viewing, that is of trying to “see” the person amidst the trappings of hallucinatory visual interference. The compelling and somewhat unsuccessful process of attempting to stabilize the image produces a fundamental feeling of perceptual instability, one that intensifies our stolen communion with an evasive subject.
Postmortem photography or memento mori, the photographing of a deceased person, was a common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The photographs were considered a keepsake to remember the dead. Child mortality was high during the Victorian era. For many children even a common sickness could be fatal. When a child or other family member died, families would often have a photograph taken before burial. Many times it was the first and last photograph they would ever possess of their loved one. Many postmortem photographs were close-ups of the face or shots of the full body. The deceased were usually depicted to appear as if they were in a deep sleep, or else arranged to appear more life-like. Children were often shown on a couch or in a crib, often posed with a favorite toy. It was not uncommon to photograph very young children with a family member, most frequently the mother. Adults were more commonly posed in chairs or even propped up on something.