The London-based Alias Trate cites fellow Canadian artist Emily Carr as one of his influences. While it is often ungrateful to compare two people who make art, especially if they’re of different generations and styles, there is indeed a feeling that can be found in both their works; the slightly eerie honesty of Carr’s depictions of pine tree forests and twisting trunks echoes in Alias Trate’s raw visions of the human figure.
A self-taught artist, Alias Trate approaches art-making by drawing from his subconsciousness. Intuitively and without preparatory sketching, he follows the “traits” of the human experience and reproduces them on canvas, evoking universal yet somehow personal, relatable forms. His style seems simple enough, the color palette translating into a mood, the straight lines encapsulating a personality perhaps most fiercely expressed through the eyes.
Alias Trate doesn’t seem to see his work as portraiture, but as ”amalgams of different emotions and people, real and imagined.” To imagine is something the viewers are also invited to do - the paintings reveal little of who the characters before them are, their gender and circumstances unknown. The paintings’ titles are equally peculiar and pensive: Disquiet, Sanctity, Morag’s Eindhoven, Aesthetic Affront, Incandescent Deprivation.
Inside a collection titled TECHNICOLOUR MALAISE, these works are also accompanied by sound, to further enhance our involvement with Alias Trate’s art - bird song, children playing. The artist transformed his London studio into a virtual gallery anyone can visit under quarantine. Works like Vandal and Tender Disfiguration, or Metacognition and Languid Threat, stand next to each other, different in emotion and intensity, as if in antithesis to each other.
We talked to Alias Trate to find our more about his process, why he destroys some of his paintings, and what’s coming next.
Widewalls: I’d like to begin by asking about that which informs your work and your decision-making. Where does the urge to paint human-like figures come from and what is it that influences the final image, stylistically and conceptually speaking?
Alias Trate: The act of painting is instinctual for me, rather than cerebral. And the aesthetic of my work reflects this. I make no preparatory drawings, nor do I decide in advance what I am going to paint.
The physicality of mixing oils, laying colour upon colour, forming and deforming humanity, is an intuitive process for me. And in this way painting provides a raw channel to delve into my subconscious, to give form and meaning to the emotive states I feel, but whose meaning remains otherwise elusive.
Widewalls: Your London loft studio has now been transformed into a virtual gallery. How does this experience differ from a “regular” gallery show for you?
AT: Showing the collection from my studio feels organic. Having painted in private for two decades before starting to show my work publicly a few years ago, I have always worked where I lived - with drying canvases vying for living space. So the decision to transform my studio into a virtual gallery seemed like a natural extension of that.
Widewalls: What stands behind the “TECHNICOLOUR MALAISE” title?
AT: The two words - Technicolour Malaise - playfully capture a tension at the core of my work.
The marked contrast between the technicolour surfaces, framing the fantastical figures on each canvas, and the malaise, or creeping sense of unease, that the figures convey beyond their one-dimensional confines. Bereft of any depth of field, the unflinchingly eyes draw you in - demanding both an immediate emotive response and a deeper questioning.
Widewalls: The videos of the paintings in the exhibition are accompanied by “eerie” sounds. How do these complement the artworks, and the show at large?
AT: The audio clips are sourced from urban parks in the UK and Brazil. Against the backdrop of self-isolation, the sounds of kids playing, birds chirping and cars passing, all evoke a sense of nostalgia for personal liberty.
Without being able to stand in front of the canvases and experience the physicality of the brushstrokes and oil textures, the sounds also place the works in a living, breathing environment.
Widewalls: Do you perhaps plan on having people visit the physical space of the exhibition as well?
AT: The response to the virtual gallery has been overwhelming and we are scheduling a lot of curated virtual visits for collectors, but the physical aspect of interacting with the works and holding an intimate in-person dialogue about the works is missing.
So yes, once the social restrictions are lifted in the UK plan, we plan to hold a series of events at the studio.
Widewalls: What has the time in quarantine showed you? How would you describe this time in regards to your creativity?
AT: Hyperactive imaginations engender life, regardless of social or physical constraints.
Widewalls: How would you say that your explorations of human emotion take on a different meaning in times like these?
AT: There is both an intensity and a potential banality in quarantine. For me, the physical act of painting harnesses the intensity. Allowing me to explore my emotions and sensibilities in a context of heightened self-awareness, absent certain outward distractions. And this keeps the banality of being locked inside at bay.
Widewalls: What is it you hope your paintings will convey and evoke in a viewer?
AT: I destroy a lot of my paintings. Every time I finish a canvas I sit down in front of it and stare at the new being in front of me. If the being draws me in and speaks to me, I sit there transfixed. I have to let the work live. If not, I feel a compulsion to destroy the work.
The paintings that survive are living beings for me; capable of a parallel existence outside my control. I hope viewers engage with the paintings as living beings.
Widewalls: What’s next for you?
AT: I have been reflecting a lot about the struggle to keep a dynamic balance between two intertwined sides of my character; my rationality and capacity for moral purity on one side, and my irrationality and baser tendency towards destructive, passionate pursuits on the other side.
This struggle is not something new, nor unique to me, but it is an elemental aspect of my character and is increasingly finding its way onto my canvases. In dealing with this struggle, the next collection will also implicitly make homage to the idea of Apollo and Dionysus, the Greek mythological gods symbolising the interplay of reason and passion.
Featured images: Installation views of Alias Trate, TECHNICOLOUR MALAISE, 2020. Courtesy the artist.