In the vertiginous world of Jason Shawn Alexander’s painting, the stark realism of Lucian Freud or Francis Bacon is blended with the stylized romanticism of Egon Schiele. Visceral nude figures, individual or bound in sinewy groups, populate much of his work. Lush, painterly bodies morph in and out of drawn form, with coarse black lines—like memento mori—interrupting the light-drenched figures. Glimpses into the painter’s process are visible in his seemingly frantic paint application, lending the work an immediacy that heightens the presence of his subjects.
Alexander’s draftsmanship is both precise and theatrically exaggerated, and evokes the dramatic space of graphic novels and superhero futurescapes, conveying a narrative, existential tension. His current exhibition at 101/Exhibit, “No Good at Exits,” involves a more passionate exploration of the painted surface and a greater emphasis on color dynamics than in the artist’s earlier work. The transition from a more graphic, contrast-based approach to this painterly, chromatic space softens the angularity of the figuration and lends a dreamlike reverie to the artist’s brooding environments.
Though the majority of Alexander’s works features nudes, there are several recent works based on images of blues musicians. Viewing these solitary figures in moments of creation seems to offer a glimpse into the mind of the painter. It is as though he is trying to emulate the longing of a great blues song in his intimate and psychologically complex figure arrangements. With all the flash and virtuosity of his craft, Alexander’s true subject is in the interior life of the subject and the artist. And though he is a consummate craftsman, it is ultimately the fragile selves beneath the sensuous surfaces that drive this artist to create.
“No Good at Exits” is on view at 101/Exhibit, Los Angeles, April 4–May 23, 2014.