5 May 2016

Spotlight on Alex Gillies at ‘Above and Below’ exhibition at Graydon Gallery

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

From what I understand, if you’re a creative person, you can have a restless personality.

You have a fairly constant feeling that you have to do something. There’s an almost manic overwhelming desire to bring something alive. It seems to be almost akin to anxiety - where a feeling swells to a point where there’s a gush of art, writing, music.

I think Alex Gillies is a bit like this.

He didn’t start really being creative until he was in his 30s. But from there he caught that all consuming feeling that compels people to create. 

“I decided that... I should do something creative because I was kind of frustrated that I hadn’t done anything and I ended up buying a drum kit and taking up music.

“But it wasn’t until seven or eight years ago that I actually started getting into visual art as well.

“And that was only because I had to design a album cover for a band I was in. And through designing that album cover I got interested in print making.”

His art is pretty specialised - Alex does wood carving that’s used for making prints. The images can be really detailed. There are hands, faces, birds, skulls, cowboys.

“When you start allowing your imagination run wild and then be creative in whatever way you think you can get away with, it definitely has a part in you figuring out who you are as a person or what you want to say, what you want to do with yourself.

“It changes the way you do things, for the better. It seeps into just about everything you do and see around you.”

One of Alex’s favourites is a self portrait. He’s writing on a typewriter, which Alex decided to depict because he “really like[s] the texture and the detail of the typewriter, the way the keys and the hammer keys worked”. 

Apparently initially he wasn’t super in love with the piece. But when it was exhibited, people really liked it.

“The response that I got to that was unexpected and it ended up being a piece I’ve sold a lot of prints of and over time it’s become one of my favourites.”

For a highly-technical art form, it’s pretty impressive that Alex is effectively self-taught. 

“I basically just went to my library and would borrow any books I could find... and just experimented.

“I’d see a technique or the way something was done in a book and then try and incorporate that and how that worked.

“I took inspiration and education wherever I could find it.”

Alex says he has a new idea for a print almost every day - that his head whirs with images.

“Just like you go through a whole range of emotions - I go through a whole range of ideas of what I might want to do next.

“Some of them stick, some of them just fall away.”

But now, after doing some 200 pieces, Alex just really wants to bring whatever he’s currently working on into fruition.

“Maybe when I first started I had a trajectory of sorts, that I wanted to do art shows and I wanted people to see what I’ve done and maybe to take some kind of artistic avenue.

“But over the last couple of years, my goal is whatever I’m working on at that very moment. 

“I just want to try to articulate whatever idea is in my head.”

And really that’s a life-long goal. Because those ideas won’t ever stop coming. Like an irrepressible deluge, it’s forever. It’s a love and the curse of the artist who can never really stop creating.

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