Thesis Thursday: Alexia Vogel

Familial Distance

The compact print of the film cameras from the mid to late 20th century have produced photographs that have a specific aging aesthetic attached to them. Fading images that blur into an overall pink surface have a curious quality that intrigues me. I have been sifting through old family albums for some time, collecting images that spark an emotional connection. The consequent emotion that these images inspire could be defined as nostalgic. The photographs are mostly of my parents and siblings, documenting a time before I was born. I am never in the images. The nostalgia is therefore fictitious.

Field II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Field II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

This constructed feeling questions the ownership and legitimacy of memory, as a relationship develops between the images and me. The photographs in their amateur and fading quality are beautiful, sentimental objects that have been looked at countless times, prompting me to create something beautiful from them. Consistent revisiting of the photographs has created visual impressions, translating into a ‘false’ memory and envisioned experience of my own. The fragmented nature of memory allows possible reconstruction- inventing a place that is neither of then or now. It is from there that I have created this exhibition of paintings that explore the settings and blurry moments of these photographs, using them as points of departure to try and capture a quality of imagination.

Palms. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Palms. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

The photographs are used as aids as I begin each painting by zooming in and cropping it into a low quality, granulated image. I work from their backgrounds, eliminating the figures and specifics of time and place. Due to the photograph’s age, their quality is constantly deteriorating, as the colour fades into an overall, dirty rose hue. The degradation of the physical photograph and my own interference in the images further shifts the relationship of the photograph from a notion of a captured reality or truth. Triggered by these fading pictures, the paintings grow into places that are more illusory, as I work from the impression of the image and let the process of painting unfold.

Roseate. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Roseate. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

The process of abstraction is highly evident in this body of work. Blowing up the photograph causes a loss of information, breaking down the tightness of the figurative image and allowing me to play with tone, colour and depth. The enlarging of the background represents a further investigation into the moment captured, searching for a way to infiltrate the places presented. The simplification of these cropped moments has created compositions that are without horizon lines, holding a moment of suspension, of floating orbs, emphasising an imaginative state.

Willow. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Willow. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

I work from the impression of the image and let the process of painting unfold.

Suspension is further explored through the loose use of paint that is applied in thin glazes across the entire surface. The painterly translation of these banal photographs into different compositions of light and darkness attempt to disrupt the familiar through the process of glazing and erasure. Once the paint is built up to a level of opacity I remove it in certain sections, revealing the stained canvas underneath, creating glowing globes of erasure. This process of disruption exposes the fragility of the surface reflecting the inevitable loss of memories: the fragments that are forgotten.

Daisy Tree II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Daisy Tree II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

Ephemerality is investigated in the hinted subjects. The suggested flower motif appears across many of my paintings. The depictions of flowers and foliage are informed by 17th Century Dutch still life paintings. Historically, these Vanitas paintings depicted the transient reality of life. They were often filled with an abundance of flowers symbolising fragility and the certainty of death (Ringling Museum,1999).

Hibiscus. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Hibiscus. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

The exploration of faded, simplified flowers in my paintings is a reminder of the reality that these moments captured in the photographs are of the past, and just as the flower will wilt, the memory will fade.

Hydrangea. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Hydrangea. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

Along with the flower there is also an exploration of dense foliage in a landscape. This vista created with dark, transparent colours layered upon each other, attempts to construct the sensation of a dense and fertile paradise. The idea of an imagined paradise comes through the romantic associations that I have with my photographic sources. The illusion that these images hold better, more beautiful places has developed a Pastoral idea that I am consequently trying to depict in my work. The projection of an ‘otherworldly’ paradigm reiterates the fact that I have not been part of the experiences. A discomforting tension is created between what is real and invented, as the places that I am depicting do not exist now, and perhaps never did at all; a clouding of reality occurs.

Clouding. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Clouding. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

The escape from contemporary reality into an imagined past is translated through the use of tertiary, chemical colour combinations. The colour pink is a significant starting point in each painting, it reflects on the visual quality of the old, discoloured photographs. The ‘pink gaze’- viewing the world through rose tinted glasses- sets up the nostalgic atmosphere, sweetening the pictures into idyllic landscapes. The landscapes are created by innocuous depth through the use of curious, pungent colour relationships of dark and light.

Scape II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Scape II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

There are visible colour shifts present across my paintings. They range from dark, dense paintings composed of greens, reds, blues and purples, to muted, pastel paintings of pinks and greys. These shifts aim to expose a change in process; the darker images come from close cropping of the photos, whilst the lighter paintings have developed more from my memories of the photographic images. Their pale quality emphasizes the fading recollections of a moment, as the distance between myself and the desire for the memories gets further and further away. This distance has occurred through the morphed ideas of a nostalgic bliss that I think these images contain.

Flamingos II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel
Flamingos II. Oil on Canvas. © Alexia Vogel

My paintings come from a need to create something beautiful. As problematic and naive as this statement may be, it is a true reflection on my starting point in my painting practice. The paintings that I have created are the traces of intimate conversations between the aging photographs and me. They begin in wonder, doubt and curiosity and it is through the impulsive desire to paint from the sentimental objects that my practice of abstraction of light and colour has developed.