An Interview with the American Artist Alex Dodge at his Studio in Brooklyn, New York
When he was growing up in Colorado, the artist Alex Dodge decided that, “if you want to make beautiful things, you have to make them yourself,” and turned to the visual arts. A connoisseur of digital art, his process involves him creating a virtual fabric and letting it drape over objects to describe their form. Over the course of his artistic development, Alex continues to ask himself, “how do you make something with a complexity and immediacy.” In response, his paintings resemble living, breathing objects with a skin and have been exhibited at respected art institutions such as The Whitney, The Museum of Modern Art, NADA Fair and Klaus Gallery.
As an artist, Alex believes that, “art is always a process of discovery, re-defining your world,” and this is reflected by his innovative work, which combines technology and art. Although Alex studied painting as an undergraduate, he eventually turned to a technology as a post-graduate and learned to code at NYU, doing an interactive technology program. Although Alex reverted to painting, his work continues to reflect his interest in technology as he often scans real 3D objects as well as creating his virtual fabrics. He was raised in a rough area of Colorado where his mother was a painter, his father was a scientist and the work he makes now undoubtedly combines both.
Over the years, Alex has always written about his work in journals, which he sometimes shares. We discussed how for him explaining his work to others gives him focus, because your improvisations develop into coherent words. In terms of process, Alex otherwise works in solitude and sometimes likes to, “to live on my own planet,” enforcing media blackouts. Recently, he’s found himself retreated from the Manhattan art scene, believing that, “trends come in cycles.” Alex does however do studio visits, enjoying the dialogue it creates. Alex also visits the Museum of Natural History and The Whitney amongst others and enjoys the materiality and humour of artists like Philip Guston.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to be an artist?
I really imagined myself going into science; at first marine biology and then particle physics. Perhaps the pivotal moment was in high school when it became evident that my math ability just wasn’t where it needed to be if I wanted to be at the LHC in Geneva. Art seemed to be a natural alternative. Fundamentally I feel that the arts and sciences are doing something very similar.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
I feel like I move between different modes in my process and often in no structured sequence or order. There are times occupied entirely by research. Then there are cycles of exploration that can be very much about physical material, seeing what is physically possible, but this can also be entirely meditative where ideas are pushed and pulled in new directions alongside the physical. Finally, there is iterative production where things are made.
What piece of your artwork would you like to be remembered for?
Definitely the last one, and I hope it isn’t something I make soon.
If you could work within a past art movement, which would it be?
I think it would have been fun to work in a truly pre-digital time. To solve the problems in studio that I do now but with entirely different tools. I wouldn’t have to be stuck there permanently though, right?
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
Let’s say there’s an innate human capacity for spirituality of some kind. I’d say it resides somewhere close to there, and that means it has something to do with death too.
Do you have a favourite photograph or painting, which inspires you?
I look at Philip Guston a lot lately, especially the work during the 1970’s.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Fresh uni (sea urchin), Vaporwave
Can you offer some insight into the culture of Brooklyn?
Well, it’s changed a lot. There’s still a vibrant community of artists from all over the world here. It formed out of necessity and then became a contingent. I arrived in Brooklyn in June of 2001 with very little money and just in time to see the world change from across the river. It wasn’t the artisanal luxury real estate Mecca that it is now. It was still rough, dirty, and dangerous. If you can believe it there was a time when living and having a studio in Brooklyn wasn’t considered to be a good thing at all. It’s rumored that while visiting Yale MFA students in the late 90’s Dave Hickey referred to Brooklyn as the “City of lost souls”. Now days you are incredibly lucky if you can still afford to be here and have a moderately sized studio with windows.
Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?
Marcel DuChamp, Alan Turing and David Bowie who I have been listening to in the studio a lot lately.
Do you interact with the digital world/technology in your work?
It has found its way into pretty much everything that I do. Learning to code has really informed my studio practice especially the way I approach physical process. I use so many digital tools to make work. The paintings I make often use 3D scanning, physics simulations, 3D modeling, an array of imaging and vector graphics software, CNC and other digital fabrication machinery. I even wrote a program to estimate how much paint I need for a painting!
What do you wish every child were taught?
To question everything. To not accept the systems that structure so much of our daily lives, digital or otherwise. So much has become abstracted out of view via digital interfaces and I often fear that the younger generation is complacent about this.
Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?
Yes, that happened about 7 years ago. I had to rethink everything and it’s something that is ongoing.
What is your favourite art gallery in New York and why?
Obviously it’s Klaus von Nichtssagend! The less biased answer would be Rachel Uffner, Nicelle Beauchene and 11R, because when the world financially imploded they had real vision and decided not to stay in Chelsea working for whoever was still standing, but to build something different and at a very challenging time.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
Issey Miyake, because he’s a true visionary.
Why do you make and receive studio visits?
It’s about community. Artists, curators, writers, friends, ...we all help each other through that structured dialogue. I learn as much from hearing what people have to say as I do from hearing what I say. It’s very revealing to listen to oneself attempt to explain one’s own work or describe another’s. There are some things that can’t be uncovered in any other way.
What visual references do you draw upon in your work?
Textile design, prehistoric animals, it’s always changing though.
What is your daily routine when working?
I try not to turn on the computer until I really need to. I often start by writing in my studio journal. Quiet mornings have an exquisite clarity. I try to plan the day with a list of things that I want to do and then begin working. A simple lunch, and then keep working until I feel like things are about to get sloppy. Clean up and start again tomorrow.
What advice would you give to a young artist following in your steps?
Find your community, meaning people whose work you respect. This doesn’t necessarily mean other visual artists and it doesn’t necessarily mean in the same vicinity, though that helps. You support each other and each other’s work. It takes time so be patient but also mindful. Be fierce but not without a sense of humour.
Do you find that New York’s art scene inspires or influences your art?
Very much, but it’s a relationship that has evolved for me. I don’t see as many shows as I used to. I don’t feel that I need to see as much. It’s important to be connected to what’s happening now but there’s a balance of influence that I need to maintain. My studio is my world and I like it.
Do you love what you do?
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com