Alex Gardner’s work is impressive if not only for its aesthetic allure—a dreamy palette of pastels and soothing composition—but also given the depth of his storytelling, which is marked by the mindfulness with which he observes the people and things around him. Developed out of unrestricted experiences, deliberate only in curiosity and a notebook to fill, Gardner is inspired by the day-to-day that happens around him—from the bigger events that cause a shift in daily balance, down to the smaller ones that we may regularly interact with but almost always ignore. He draws inspiration from these moments, personal interactions, and daily observances, and uses his work as a way to create a record of the experience.
“I realized that recently, maybe in the last year or two, I’ve started to feel bad because I was living for content,” Gardner says with a smirk. “I would deliberately put myself in weird situations, for the sake of being inspired to make a painting about it.”
Nothing and no one is off limits to Gardner, who admittedly interjects people from his own relationships and friendships into his moody and contrasted paintings. Both female and male figures play out intimate, or not so intimate moments, as they move and sway across the canvas in their draped white clothes. Their stark black skin unequivocally contrasts the cool-toned colors that illuminate each painting’s background, a visual balance of the subject matter’s underlying drama and intensity with some aesthetic lightheartedness.
“With my older work, people kept asking me, ‘Dude are you ok?’ because it was really dark and more surreal. I remember like 80% of my Tumblr followers were teenage Goth girls,” chuckles Gardner. “The answer was ‘No, I’m not ok,’ but my intention wasn’t for people to look at my work and then feel sad. What’s the point of that? So I thought about how I could offset this sadness with something, and that’s when I started using these more friendly colors.”
Gardner is a master of composition, positioning his figures in a way that innately captures the narrative moment that he’s working to depict. Through the portrayal of body language and the strategic use of color and gradient shifts, Gardner creates a visceral reaction from his viewers; one that allows them to emotionally connect and project their own experience onto the canvas.
“Painting is a really inefficient way to get ideas across; you’re really limited with what you have to express a specific idea,” says Gardner. “With representational work, it’s obviously easier to get ideas across, but color is such a major tool in expressing the intangible things like emotion, feeling, and mood.”
While Gardner undoubtedly puts a high precedent on technique—take one look at his paintings up close and tell me he doesn’t—his work is really all a matter of stripping things down to the basics in order to evoke mood and emotion. There’s a gentle vulnerability that runs through each painting and beckons the exploration of human nature.
Read our full feature on Alex Gardner in upcoming issue 13, out January 20th, and available for pre-order here.