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In Conversation: Taj Alexander (Deams)

With a keen interest in architecture and design as well as society’s increasing dependence on digital systems, Taj Alexander’s latest body of work – which is largely influenced by these two things – has us enthralled. ‘The Limits of Control’ explores Taj’s personal concerns of a future world heavily reliant on technology, through sculptural pieces championing his distinctive style of painting that we know and love.

Can you tell us a bit about what led you to being an artist and what you enjoy most about your practice?

The path towards ‘being an artist’ is as mysterious as it is traceable. Both my parents were very formative in my development and nurtured my creativity from an early age. I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between being an artist and making art professionally. What led me to being an artist was a natural interest in discovery, curiosity, innovation and the realisation that there is so much to be learnt about yourself and the world by creating and problem solving.

What led me to making art professionally was consistency, determination, diligence, passion and an uncompromising vision for what and how I wanted to create. This is also an ongoing process; by no means do I consider where I’m at currently to be complete in any way. I still feel the same excitement, wonder and torment as I did in the early days of creating. What’s changed over time is experience. I have a much deeper understanding of what I’m doing, the intimacy of my process and how to realise the ideas that I have.

The early prototypes of this new series focused on shifting the two dimensional image.
Taj describes the pieces as 'sculptural paintings' that incorporate his traditional painting process.

‘The Limits of Control’ explores concerns surrounding society’s dependence on digital systems and technology. Is this a personal concern and why did you feel it was an important concept to explore?

It is definitely a personal concern and I feel like it’s an undeniable universal concern being that technology is increasingly prevalent in every aspect of our lives. The concern is for what is lost through our obsession with these tools and the way in which the digital world is compromising our natural ability to connect with each other. Second to this is the phenomenon of misinterpretation and manipulation that we see infecting our consumption of information through media and social platforms.

I do realise there are arguments from both sides about the benefits of technology in its ability to connect socially but I feel that this argument has echoes of early Silicon Valley entrepreneurs with an idealistic vision for a utopian future. I felt compelled to express these concerns as a means to encourage awareness and spark ongoing debate. At the end of the day all we really have is our ability to talk openly and question everything. If the only space we end up talking in is a virtual environment then the limitations and agendas of said environments would continue to threaten that debate due to the way they are designed. These environments seem to bring out the worst in people. It would be great to see less credit being given to what has been dubbed ‘digital road rage’ and bring the conversation back to a much more direct and human connection.

'The Limits of Control' explores Taj's personal concerns surrounding society’s dependence on digital systems and technology.
I now have a much deeper understanding of what I’m doing, the intimacy of my process and how to realise the ideas that I have.”
— Taj Alexander

Your latest pieces are as much about the vibrant and mesmerising swathes of colour, as they are about the scale and shape of the blocks that act as the canvas for each work. What do each of these elements mean and how do they work together in this series? 

The early prototypes of this new series focused on shifting the two dimensional image; a sort of sculptural painting that would explore these ideas without deviating too far from my traditional painting process. I wanted to create an image that captured an analogue interruption, as a representation of an interruption in the digital realm. Simultaneously I sought to resolve the composition and maintain balance. This ended up posing quite a few challenges as the process of shifting the image can produce ineffective results aesthetically. I really had to go back to the drawing board and start to paint differently in order to enhance the effect of the shift.

The first two pieces were finished in October 2018 and were destined to be part of a larger collection to be shown that year. It quickly became clear to me that the work needed a lot more time and development before it was ready to present. I reconnected with the collection again in December 2018 and found it much more approachable after the production of my last collection ‘Waves’ in September 2018. I have been working on its development since then.

The resulting collection has far exceeded my original expectations and pushed the initial ideas further into physical space with the exploration of the freestanding sculptural works. The sculptural pieces are really a natural extension of the paintings. I found myself being drawn toward the physical features and illusions in the shifted painting works. Things evolved quickly, how far could I extend the idea of limitations, control and interruption within physical space? This process really opened up a lot of doorways for me creatively. All the works that evolved from this process further solidified my understanding of what it was that I was trying to convey.

After initially completing some works for a collection in 2018, he realised the pieces needed further development before they were ready to present.
He reconneced with the series and delved deeper into the concept, producing 22 works that now stand as a striking and cohesive series.

This body of work has a strong 3D element to it. Why have you decided to explore this in such a big way? 

Sculptural work has always been on my agenda even though I am traditionally known for my work as a painter. I have always had a keen interest in architecture and special design and I’m continuously exploring this in different ways in my mural wok. I always felt that sculpture would emerge organically over time and it has really done so over the last year.

I think there is a lot to be said for sculpture and objects in the context of art. The way people relate to form is very interesting; scale and weight come into play, lighting, environment, context and materiality become essential considerations in a way that painting works often don’t require. My intention is to continue to explore sculpture alongside my more classic painting collections. I would like to scale these works up to be fully immersive structures that can be walked around or even climbed on. Who knows, the potential to extend these works is huge.

Aside from technology and the digital world, what else would you like to explore through your work?

In the past my work has explored perception, introspection, psychology, emotion and abstraction in both image and mental framing. As an artist I battle with questions of relevance, meaning and purpose within my practice. I feel it is important to pursue ideas that affect me directly and locally, to explore experiences that are of meaning to me personally yet accessible to all.

Sculptural work has always been on Taj's radar and he's interested in how people interact with form, as opposed to paintings.
His intention is to continue to explore sculpture alongside his more classic painting collections.

Quick-fire questions: 

What time do you get up in the morning?

Whenever it’s necessary, my schedule is always changing depending on the type of work I’m doing at the time. Generally around 7:30 – 8:00am. I’m not very good at sleeping in anymore.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing? 

Architect/ Chef/ Psychotherapist/ Musician.

What are you listening to at the moment (music and/or podcast)? 

Leafar Legov, Jonny Nash, John Coltrane, Stan Getz & Jao Gilberto

If you could purchase one thing for your home, and money was no object, what would it be? 

A rooftop glass-bottomed pool that looked down into the lounge room.

What destination is at the top of your travel wish list? 

I would love to go back to Japan.

While most of the works are smaller, this piece titled 'Out of Phase 2' stands tall at 1237mm high.
Nothing is out of the question; Taj says scaling these works up and creating fully immersive structures is something he'd like to explore.

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