Alexia Vogel, a recent University of Cape Town, Michealis graduate, is rapidly beginning to create a name for herself around Cape Town. Having most recently joined Barnard Gallery’s stable of represented artists, she is a young emerging artist, championing a fresh approach to the tradition of landscape painting. We caught up with her to chat about Colour Field painting, graduating from Michaelis and what it means to be a young artist in Cape Town right now.
Considering your age, you have already reached a few significant artistic milestones in your career. What has the public reaction been to your work and how has being represented by Barnard Gallery impacted your practice?
So far it’s been really great! It’s always exciting when someone else is excited about your work or wants to buy it. Having the opportunity to make work for Barnard Gallery has been really great and encouraging. It’s forced me to continuously create work and I’m excited to see where it will take me in terms of my development.
How did it all start?
Ever since I was at preschool. I always did extra art lessons outside of school. I painted a lot in high school, and that’s where I started using oil paint. But I only really started investigating and pushing oil paint in my third year at Michaelis.
Although it does seem refreshing in this art world obsessed with conceptual art, why paint as your preferred medium?
I think it’s because it’s constantly surprising me. It really does a lot of the work for you through the qualities that it contains. I enjoy the fluidity of paint, specifically in oils. I thin my paint with a lot of turpentine and work with multiple layers of glazes that create exciting colour combinations and are a great way to play with depth and tone.
Earlier, you spoke about beginning your investigation into oil paint at Michaelis, knowing the reputation of the school, how influential was your experience there and what sort of role has it played in your development as an artist?
The biggest role! Michaelis and the lecturers have had an important impact on my development as both a person and an artist. I think the pressure, time constraints and constant critical questioning from the beginning of first year allowed us to get a sense of the commitment that one would need to really want to be an artist, or work within the field of fine art. The theory and practical work was crucial to the expansion of my way of thinking. We were constantly being pushed to investigate our ideas further. The studio environment was also really important. Discussions with classmates and friends were not only developmental but also encouraging and comforting- an important thing to continue when leaving art school.
What is interesting about your work is how you are revisiting the tradition of landscape painting in order to create these flowing abstractions. How important is the role of the landscape for you?
A lot of my work stems from old family photographs in which the landscape is prevalent. My parents are Austrian so a lot of the photographs I look at are set in Austria; there is something very romantic and endearing about these images and places that – along with sentimentality – have sparked my need to paint. I consider all of my paintings landscapes, even the most abstract ones. I see them as colour fields that are extensions of the images I look at. Sometimes the landscape is more obvious when a tree or mountain is quietly described.
Talking about colour fields, are you inspired at all by Colour Field painting that was happening in New York in the 60s?
Yes and no. I think that I treat the surface similarly to the colour field artists of the 60s in that I consider the entire surface relatively equally; there is seldom a focal point. And I also see the colour as important signifiers. The colour pink is used throughout my work as a ground on my canvasses and paper works, I use it to link my paintings to my photo references which are old, pink fading photographs. It also relates to the nostalgic element in my work, ‘looking through rose-tinted spectacles’.
For you the images from Austria having a strong sense of sentimentality; do you think it makes your work more authentic, more honest?
My work is very personal. Especially, because a lot of it comes from my mind, even though I have the photographs as references. I look at the images a lot, but I rarely paint directly from them. I mostly paint from the effect they have on me, or the memory of them. There is a shift in sentiment as I recall the memory of the photographs as my own, even though in the actual image I wasn’t even alive yet.
For me, the evolution of the work from source photographs to these beautiful abstractions highlights the intricacy of your process. Are you creating in a spontaneous manner or one that is more thoughtful, almost premeditated?
It is quite spontaneous. I very rarely have an idea of how the painting will turn out, unless I am working directly from another painting as reference or creating a series. This process is what makes it so much fun. I really enjoy how paintings can transform into something completely abstract and seemingly unrelated to its references.
Finally, how do you feel as a young emerging artist trying to breakthrough in South Africa? Has it been difficult to develop your reputation?
It’s quite overwhelming because there are so many great, young artists, especially in Cape Town. I’m just taking things as they come and trying not to over think things. I haven’t really considered my reputation much….I probably should start.
Having already been part of shows at AVA, Casa Labia and the Cape Town Art Fair, Vogel has a bright future ahead of her. Look out for her in Paint Matters, an upcoming show at Barnard Gallery, Cape Town. Exhibition opens July 17 2014.
More at alexiavogel.tumblr.com