Alex Devereux Expressions In Stillness

By Shannon Gallagher

Alex Devereux has always been interested in art, specifically drawing. The practice began for him in fourth grade, when he began sketching Disney characters. Although he was aware of his abilities, and had an interest in creating art, the practice was often put aside. Throughout his adolescence and teen years, his art making was not consistent. “I always knew I had the ability; but skateboarding, friends, and relationships got in the way. Art was always a love and a passion, but sometimes, it was placed on the backburner.”

In college, he took illustration classes and dabbled a bit with acrylics, but was primarily focused on watercolor and colored pencil. One of his first experiences in the professional world was working for a cutting board manufacturer. “In 1996, it was rare to get an illustration job, but I got one. I painted with watercolors 6-8 hours a day there. They mostly wanted images of birds and flowers. These images were then printed in four colors on glass substrate.” He didn’t particularly enjoy the work, however, because of the limited subject matter.” I was painting all of these cute little birdies and pretty flowers, and when I got home, I didn’t want to paint. At the same time, the job crafted my ability to capture fine detail.”

Now, Devereux finds inspiration in the stillness of an empty gas station, a solitary, illuminated fixture in the night. “I don’t know exactly what causes this to be of interest to me as an artist. Perhaps my youth plays into it. Growing up, I was out at night, skateboarding with my friends. We were always on the concrete, hanging out at the gas station or grocery store. Six or seven years ago, I started noticing that I was intrigued by the way things looked at night, like Laundromats and car washes, or even a house, all lit up. I like the way light stains the darkness, and the way one can see things disappear into the night. I like the contrast of lightest light and darkest dark.”

In order to find subject matter, Devereux gets in his car and drives. His destination is not predetermined, but when he stumbles across something that piques his interest, he stops and sets up his tripod. “I take 40-50 shots at each location, and then I go back in later with Photoshop. Mainly, what I am concerned with is getting the picture focused and clear, and then I alter the levels of saturation, and play with the color and light.” From that point, he prints the image onto glossy photo paper in the highest resolution possible. He uses an autograph tracer to project it onto the canvas, and then he traces the proportions. “It’s fairly loose at this point,” he said. “Then I go in and actually do a detailed drawing on the canvas, showing shadows, mid-tones, and highlights to tighten up the drawing.”

 

Devereux then begins the acrylic painting process. He chooses where the warm and cool colors are and starts to make a rough sketch. He examines the photos to help select colors, then mixes them, and lays in a mid-tone in every area of the painting. “I work light to dark, generally. Like a watercolor, it’s fairly wet at the beginning, and then it gets drier and drier as I’m mixing paint on paint with very little water. Sometimes, I might go back in with a wash. Wet to dry, dry to wet, wet to dry.”

Devereux is not sure what made him transition to acrylic, but he likes the thickness of the paint. He generally uses Liquitex, and notes that more expensive does not always mean better. “The pricier Liquitex doesn’t blend as well, for what I’m doing. The soft body acrylics are good for fine lines, the basics are good for overall, and the heavy body acrylics are good for mixing with paint, but no water.”  The artist is very interested in hyperrealism, but mentioned a deep appreciation for more “painterly” hyperrealists. “Kim Cogan’s work is a good example of suggestive photorealism that I admire. He knows where to put the straight lines without it being overly worked. I tried to go that route, to veer off and take the painterly road, but I find myself smoothing, blending. Cogan’s work is more suggestive, and it is a technique I would like to experiment with. Of course, I’m always fascinated by the work of Matthew Cornell, Drew Goings, and Ralph Goings- more of the Americana genre that I’m really drawn to. We do things differently, but it’s inspiring, because I want to be at their level. You see a lot of hyper realist artists, and they’re just… beyond.”

The visual connection between Devereux’s work and the work of Edward Hopper is undeniable. “My mom bought some Hopper prints from Chicago’s Art Institute when I was in high school, maybe that is part of my subconscious thought. What I like the most is Americana, that’s what I’m really drawn to. Old diners, signs, Texaco gas stations- if I had the chance, I’d go out west and take photos of retro gas stations. It’s the colors, the fluorescent and incandescent lights.” In his forthcoming paintings, Devereux wants to capture the hint of blue in the sky after the sun has set. “That’s what I’m going for in the next one, trying to capture dusk. I’ve also been thinking about classic cars, chrome, and reflection.”

Achieving photo-likeness, however, can be a very arduous process. It is easy to be frustrated, according to Devereux, but he does not let the challenges stand in his way. “If it comes to that point, I stop. I go to a different area of the painting, turn it upside down or on it’s side, and it becomes fresh again. You see things that you didn’t see before. It can change your whole perspective on certain “problem areas.” Throughout the day, I think about the work, almost too much sometimes. Right now, I’m just trying to jump right into painting, but it’s difficult because you’re always your own worst critic. You cannot constantly second guess your work and your choices, or you’ll never get anywhere.”

When the painting is finished, however, he experiences a great feeling of satisfaction. “When you put the glaze on, the finishing touches, it’s almost like capturing a moment of your life. “ He described his paintings as a timeline of his past, as he can look back at them and remember where he was and what he was doing during that time. “It documents your life, you know? You put so much into it, and when it turns out, it’s a great feeling. Then you’re onto the next one, and it starts all over again,” he said. He stated that what he loves most about painting is the challenge and the learning experience. “If I wasn’t learning from it, I wouldn’t be doing it. I have a desire to get better.”

Richard Laurent – The Collective Unconscious

By Shannon Gallagher

Painter Richard Laurent possesses a natural ability to work with the metaphor, which he discovered while working as an editorial illustrator. “Working with subliminal or subconscious ideas has always come naturally to me. It’s not necessarily a 1-2-3 process, but these ideas and images bubble up in my mind. Sometimes I sleep on them and think about them more deeply, but I don’t have a specific concept in mind when I start a painting. It’s not like I’m saying, ‘I’m going to paint about poverty.’ It’s more of an, ‘I saw a film or read an article, and the idea is coming back to me.’”

Laurent is a largely self-taught painter who got his start in the fine art realm via illustration and animation. While working in illustration, he began studying the great American illustrators, which led to a seminal workshop in classical painting in 1990. “It changed my life,” he said. “I’ve been painting ever since.”  The artist, who incorporates surreal, dreamlike imagery straight from the subconscious, considers himself a product of the Jungian psychology movement. “When I was going through design school, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud were sort of ‘peaking.’ For one project, we were asked to do a re-design of the magazine Psychology Today, which involved many elements. Through this project, I became more familiar with the idea of the ‘collective unconscious,’ which really resonated with me. When we dream, we don’t dream in abstract symbols. We dream in terms of imagery, which has always fascinated me. I want to bring that sense of expectation or mystery into my paintings, so that I am, in essence, telling a narrative with a single image.”

Laurent keeps a number of sketchbooks. He describes these as essential tools to his artistic process, because the ideas collected in these books gradually start to gel into a larger concept. “It becomes less of a want, and more of a need to make a painting incorporating these thoughts,” he said. “Although it might not have a clear direction at the beginning, but I can allow the painting to evolve and grow as I work.”  Proper painting techniques are of the utmost importance to the painter. “With representational painting, for example, if you paint a hand, it has to be a good hand. As I tell my students, the audience will always look for the weakest element in the painting. I am a little obsessive about that, getting the images to “work.” The concept evolves on its own. The images start to come together on canvas. I begin to write the story in my mind, and then I solve any issues or ‘picture problems’ with the formal elements.” Laurent does not use computers or technology to aid his work, as many artists do these days. “Of course I collect references, but I have never worked with my easel next to the computer. Some landscape and cityscape painters do that, which is fine, but I don’t want to use additional tools or allow technology to influence my work. I previously worked as an illustrator, so I want to move away from that. I draw directly on the canvas with paint. I don’t transfer images, or use grids. This is my personal philosophy: There is energy in a work of art, and I do not want that energy to be diluted by computer technology.”

“Working with paint is totally different function than drawing. When you’re painting directly on canvas, it’s almost like sculpting, rather than creating a flat image, and then having to convert it to something three dimensional. As an animator, everything was pencil and paper, all about the line, and the ‘illusion of life.’ I spent a lot of time as an illustrator “stylizing” my work- illustrators develop a style and sell the product. This has been another challenge- in painting, you don’t recreate reality or even represent reality. It’s an image, but it’s still an abstract thing, an illusion. It has taken me a long time for painting to not be a struggle; I enjoy the process now. Once you learn to paint, you can basically paint anything, and at that point, it becomes about the choices you make.”

The door to Laurent’s studio space is shaped like a church door. One time, a small child came with her father for a studio visit and asked Laurent if the space was, indeed, a church. He replied, “You know what? This is my church. This is where I come to meditate.” He makes a concerted effort to always go in with a good attitude, and begin working as soon as possible. “I don’t sit out with a cup of coffee and read this article or that. I cannot wait to get on the canvas and start working. It’s important for muscle memory- you learn to hit a tennis ball a certain way, do it over and over, and you get the juices flowing by doing it. That’s what keys your memory and your mind in. Then I feel the groove, and it feels great.”  Laurent tends to enjoy painting most when he is in the studio at night. “I like when it is quiet. Nobody is going to bother me, and I have a good 3-4 hours just to paint. It takes me an hour to warm up, and I have good nights and bad nights. On a good night, the process is almost like I’m channeling something.” People often ask Laurent how long it takes him to complete a painting, which is difficult to answer because ultimately, it depends on how many of those good or bad nights he has. “If I’m on a roll, I might have a great painting in a few days, but if I’m struggling, conflicted over something, I have to disengage from the world in order to figure it out.” He is grateful for his former studio partner, Roland Kulla (who is also represented by ZIA) for instilling a real work ethic in him. “Roland will be in the studio from 9-5 every day. As a result of his presence, I was there more often, and it became more of a habit. A lot of young artists don’t work enough. They have the skills and talent. They’re just not in the studio as much as they could be.”

When asked what he finds the most frustrating part of being an artist, Laurent said, “The gallery system, and everything that goes along with it. It brings the element of business into the artistic process, which is difficult. The system is the naysayer, telling you, ‘That’s not right, you can’t do that, do it this way.’ It is a hurdle to overcome. If artists recognize that this is just the climate in which we try to thrive, and that it happens to every artist, it is a little easier to cope with. It’s almost like that American Idol moment, when you’re on stage, and you think you have something really great to contribute, and the judges say, ‘You’re not ready. Go home.’ At the beginning of my art career, I was crushed by this, and it made me angry. Then I started getting better. You develop an attitude, a way of dealing with the outside forces.” Laurent is careful who he invites to his studio. He has had curators drop by in the past, but prefers to bring his work to them, as to avoid any negative energy in his studio. “It’s not accounting, it’s another animal entirely. You must have your own particular goals and forget everything else. You just have to paint with your heart in it. There will be an audience for it, if it’s good enough, or feedback, if it’s ‘in development’, as I like to say. Some of the best feedback comes from the public.”