As V22 present the Young London expo, we took the opportunity to speak to this participating Stockwell-based artist who's fascinated by forgotten ideal states. Visions of utopia past and present build and collapse within Alex Virji’s conical canvasses. Memories of 14th century Baroque gardens, extensions of René Descartes exhaustive belief in analytical geometry, the sci-fi dreamscapes of Ridley Scott and electronic music’s infinite desire for automatically produced variable rhythms. An ode to a logic that dictates dreams need never end.
Like the 1990s games console Dreamcast, presented as portal to the future, these elegant oval shaped wall sculptures paint a space and gravity that allows us to contemplate the virtual platforms we might spawn, the flawless avatar ego we may present ourselves to be. Real-time-strategy or real-life-strategy, glitches are inevitable, and Virji’s takes destruction as positively as construction. For him each is part of a concrete image, a never ending thought process, to be picked up by the viewer.
Dazed Digital: in an age where many of your piers are experimenting with mixed-media installation why limit yourself to a linen canvass and oil paints?
Alex Virji: I personally enjoy the challenge of entering into a dialogue with the entire history of painting. All of the traditions and rules open up an amazing vocabulary from which to draw and augment in anyway you see fit. In addition the grain of the linen offers a sort of pixilation to the image that sits well with my interest in the surface and textures of old video game environments.
DD: there are rigorous marks and re-applications of paint onto the surface of the canvass. Was the process of creating also a process of thinking?
Alex Virji: Very much so, insofar as I see the act of making and thinking about painting to be a kind of archaeology. I saw an interview with the painter Nigel Cooke and he equated the way he paints to a palaeontologist uncovering dinosaur bones. I enjoy this analogy mainly due to the fact that a painter can totally fabricate this archaeological process. You can lay down marks that can become obliterated which then undergo a significant alteration as result of their excavation back into the present logic of the image. I see a painting as a portrait of my decision making and I aim to make the viewer aware of the history of the painting.
DD: you’re a fan of Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, electronic music that uses lots of algorithms. Do you think these soundscapes have had an influence on your geometric painting?
Alex Virji: Totally. The artists you mentioned changed the way I think about making images and rendering space. The ability people like Aphex Twin and Chris Clark have to generate a tangible almost inhabitable space using at times completely synthesised elements is incredible. The obliteration and rehashing of traditional melodic structures with the view to lend a primordial and embryonic feel to the music is something that has definitely influenced my paintings in terms of the way I think about composition and the hierarchy of different processes in my practise. The collaborations that a lot the artists on WARP records have done with the Designers Republic has undeniably influenced me as well. They have a very recognisable style that is very simple indeed.
DD: your work ‘The Last Sunset’ seems to share the aesthetic of Apocalypse Now and ‘Ambience With Teeth’s evokes Blade Runner’s high contrast colours.
Alex Virji: Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner are very important to me. I think it’s the composite realities of both films, Blade Runner with its futuristic noir and how Apocalypse now uses Joseph Conrad’s novel A Heart Of Darkness as its structure. Blade Runner is especially relevant in terms of how Ridley Scott created a vision of the future that is so vehemently based in several existing aesthetic periods yet has acquired a certain timelessness.
DD: in contrasting Watteau and Fragonard’s you’re critical of Baroque whimsy yet you’re engaged in an art world that thrives on escapism. Do you agree there’s a clash?
Alex Virji: I enjoy immensely the frivolity of a Fragonard and I think escapism is important to an extent. It is necessary for us to have a place equivalent to the Save Room in Resident Evil games so we may enjoy the break from the intensity of reality and contemplate something more ethereal and abstract. However, I do think it’s dangerous how vacuous some pieces of contemporary art can be. Completely lacking in the darkness, humour and skill of a Fragonard.
Alex Virji, Young London, V22, 10-16 Ashwin Street, London, until July 30, 2011