Alex Zohar is a rare breed of contemporary artist. Young, upbeat, bi-coastal, and with an enviable self-awareness, he shines a light on the malaise of the millennial twenty-something. Through his watercolor pieces, done with child-like irreverence, he speaks for a generation thrust into an abjectly hopeless economic climate with wit and humor. To meet him is to be taken down the philosophical path of Willy Wonka and Where’s Waldo. A delightful, humorous, exposé of the psyche of the new lost generation.
View a selection of Alex’s work in the Slideshow above…
When I started doing these paintings, I was just trying to make people laugh by painting things that no one else would take the time to paint…
Where are you from?
I’m from Los Angeles by way of New York. I grew up and went to school in LA but was born in New York. Most of my family still lives in NYC so I spend a lot of time out there, which is cool.
Where did you attend school?
I went to the University of Michigan, but didn’t go to school for art. I graduated in 2009 with my BA.
How did you get into painting?
I began writing graffiti as a kid so it really all started from there. In 1999, I first saw Steven Powers’ seminal book, The Art of Getting Over; that book was definitely a key element in my schooling. From writing graffiti, I began to form an appreciation for art and since then I’ve always pushed myself to practice art and to also try things outside of graffiti.
In all of your work there is this overarching element of introspection, as if you are exposing a piece of yourself to your audience in a very honest way. How would you comment on that?
Yeah, that’s definitely the case. When I started doing these paintings I was not intending to examine things in my life or the world around me. Rather, I was just trying to make people laugh by painting things that no one else would take the time to paint, and in a very dumbed down way.
I try to be an honest person in general, life is better that way. Sometimes it’s tough to move beyond surface level conversations in your daily life, so for me it’s often easier to paint about it than to talk about it – I find it to be a much more eloquent result. If I can take a heavy idea or experience and spin it to have this surface level humor too, I think I have succeeded.
It’s extremely interesting how you work within the medium of watercolor and in a childlike manner but often depict adult subject matter. I like the irony there. Would you say that one of the themes in your work is the examination of the experience of growing up and becoming an adult?
Thank you. I like to work with watercolor because it’s reminiscent of your childhood. Like when you were a kid, making mistakes wasn’t such a big deal and they were typically forgiven. As opposed to being an adult, where mistakes are less tolerated and everything is this big deal when it doesn’t need to be. I think this idea comes through in my work too; I’ve developed this utter disregard for formal technique when using watercolor.
As for the theme of growing up, yeah that’s definitely something prevalent in my work, if you look at “Aspiring Adult” that painting is all about that. I think our 20’s are a really interesting phase of development in our lives and for me, there were a lot of expectations that didn’t quite meet reality. But that’s OK – I think this realization is something that most people go through and is a big part of this stage in life; it helps us grow as people.
There are a lot of changes going on – stuff like transitioning to the professional world and figuring out how you fit into that, becoming financially self-sustaining, all the way to the changing landscape of relationships and dating. For me, and I think for a lot of my peers, your circle of friends gets tighter as you get further into adulthood, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s different from how it was growing up. And then there’s dating, that’s the worst – like where do you meet good girls now? So there’s definitely a lot of re-learning and navigating this new landscape called adulthood and that’s something I try to depict in some of my work.
Your work functions on many different levels, there is a duality to it – what do you think of that?
Something I like to do in my work is setting it up for multiple interpretations. I think if an artist only paints about heavy shit, it can limit his works’ range and effectiveness. So I like to humor it up a bit and make light of subject matter that usually wouldn’t be seen that way. And it definitely works the other way around too – I paint a lot of commonplace things, but the idea or meaning behind them are usually far from that. In the work that I create I try to keep the imagery lighthearted to compensate for the sometimes heavy nature of the main subject, so the viewer can have it either way.
You are a very funny person and have a great attitude. Given the weight of the concepts you are exploring in your work, how do you keep it so lighthearted day to day?
Thanks, I really appreciate that. I think it’s just easier to live with a good attitude; shit is so much better that way. I’ve always liked to joke a lot and make people laugh – I would always get in trouble as a kid at school for joshing around. As long as I am kind to others, grateful, smile and don’t expect much, I usually have a great day. I just try to be a good sport.
You also worked at FRANK151 for a minute, what was that like?
Working at FRANK was really the best. I’ve never had a job like that in my life, so it was definitely a huge departure from the corporate world. I got to hang out with some of my favorite artists and I met some really good people there. Just the work environment was so different, it was more like a bunch of really creative people working together to make some really ill, creative shit – it didn’t feel like work. And that’s what we all strive for – to love what you do and let it actually be a part of you – rather than it taking a piece of you. I don’t work there anymore, but I’m really grateful that I had that opportunity and that my current job is similar too – working with friends, having that freedom and being able to get creative with what we do.
Do you listen to a certain kind of music when you are painting as opposed to when you are not?
Yeah, in general I grew up with a lot of 90’s East Coast Hip-Hop, which is my staple. I listen to a lot of old and new Rock too – Sublime, Allman Brothers, Beck, The Growlers, a lot of Surf Rock… But I really listen to everything; I don’t discriminate by genre. When I paint, I do find that I tend to listen to a lot of Dub and Reggae – there is something very calming about hearing the same loop over and over again. I also have really been into Tame Impala lately; they definitely have to be one of my favorite bands. Three albums in two years? I can respect that!
Lastly, who are some of your favorite artists that you look up to?
That’s a hard one but to name a few I really like Steven Powers, Roe Ethridge, Alexis Ross and Barry McGee. But I also appreciate artists who I think have that California aesthetic, like Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Steve Harrington.