Not to start with too much vanity, I do collect Alexanders work since 2009 and really find joy in them ever since. This piece is no exception: Robert Mapplethorpe and the Giraffe (2014).
There are several aspects in this work that are striking and fascinate me: Initially, propably everybody is amazed on the depth affect of the Giraffe. Wow, this is pure craftsmanship, obviously it must have been a master at work. A Holbein-like passion for detail, but nonetheless contemporary. This is irritating to many, since modern or contemporary art has refused this approach for decades. Ornamental and beautiful patterns? That is not art, at best Kunsthandwerk! Aesthetic Craftsmanship was not too important, destroying the form was everything. Almost like a 3D-Photo Print to some it is unbelievable, that this is a miniature painting done by hand. Even the tiger skin is so natural, you cannot deny this breed of giraffe is a phantastic creation; it must live a happy life somewhere in Asia, maybe this giraffe is a smaller cousin of the african type, walking through the Jungle.
The miniature technique is applied by Riyaz Uddin, whom Alexander is working with for quite some time, a unique setup: Alex is based in New York, Riyaz in Jaipur; so the product is a cross-cultural artwork. That distance is a challenge for both of them. On the other hand it immediately reminded me of my personal setup at Crumpler, the bag company I was working on in 2006-2009. There, our marketing and sales department team was based in Cologne, in the western hemisphere. This is literally the “story telling” department in this corporation. Our designers working close with manufacturing instead were all based in Saigon, Vietnam (HCMC). Our management was therefore forced to frequently travel from continent to continent, where either the creation or the manufacturing takes place. A typical setup in the global economy, and without the socialistic or negative connotation, it exploits regional advantages to produce something unique and valuable and works well in capitalism. But this what we are looking at is not a consumer product, this is an artwork and therefore it allows us to do more with it in our heads. And certainly there is more than craftmanship about this work, it rather deals with our ways of making meaning to things, as Alex put it.
Behind the Giraffe, we see the physique of the notorious photographer Robert Mapplethorpe stepping out a volcano, masked in unique patterns that are hiding the original photoprint, super ornamently decorated in a phantastic country behind the rainbow. Only the eyes and hand make it clear that this is Mappethorpes self-portrait holding a knife (see below). Alex says, he is looking for iconic photos and paintings that appeal to him, it is not necessarily a intellectual scheme behind it or symbolism. But it is always good, if it is stuck in your brain somewhere and has meaning to you as the context will bring your story to collapse. It is clear that the original photo has meaning in the western hemisphere and tells a story genuinely, with all the side effects one is or is not wishing for.
This story, however, is a narrative we cannot follow with our deductive thinking. It is not immediately rational or works with our understanding of symbols. What does a Giraffe mean for us? Does someone hold charaterics behind this symbol? Usually one will lack some, except the long neck makes it easier for this animal to eat, but more difficult to drink. Instead of a knife, Mapplethorpe is holding a sculpture, which Alex calls biomorphic forms. He steps out of a volcano or it was his shell. This form is colorful, vivid and even sexual. And he wears a clownesk nose – just to destroy your next interpretation attempt. Biomorphic forms are the default of Alexander when he is painting, he said to me and when he does not know what to produce, it can end up subconsciously in this kind of form. There are somehow absurd, even grotesque. You can use various ideas on what this picture will tell you, none is applicable for everyone.
Around the center we have a richly garnished frame, using gold paint. It is the framing of a religious icon? As the Giraffe and its avatar appearance, this links the painting suddenly to earlier artworks, to medieval idols and saints paintings from the 8th-13th century. Not only the material, the setup can make sense as a new, contemporary icon, but certainly not a capitalistic consumer icon. It is obvious, that the giraffe has taken the lead in the story, but maybe only because it is been manipulated in the background. The giraffe is a creation by man as it is painted or you interpret it as a new evolution of nature, which is as cross referenced to two breeds as the whole work is referencing icons. The narrative of a child, who has not heard Hollywoods stories inside out, can hold the key, if you are able to reactivate this kind of uninfluenced and pure story telling before the drama telling of Aristoteles washed away all that never-ending, random stories in your brain.
How difficult it is for a school and university formed and trained mind to come up with an alternative narrative, that is not typical for a western capitalist society. It may start something like this:”the clown Robert is hiding behind the perilous giraffe in his splendid circus of emotions, where he hid in his volcanic shell. He is holding a tree of red and black squeezed rubber to tame the Giraffe, the long neck queen of the jungle, so it does not kill us instantly. The mouth maybe closed, but the tiger skin reveals how dangerous the giraffe really is.” Or see it playful: “The kitty is quite kittenesh and salivating Robert is tickling her G-Point – what a pity the giraffe cannot show more joy!” This may sound childish or not evolved, it is up to you to come up with something yourself that creates meaning.
Alex mentioned to me that the creation of the Giraffe was a little accidental: The shape of the animal was used before in earlier works, but it never came up to him to change something. While he was working on the Swatch watch edition of his, lawyers of the Swatch company flagged that for the publication in the swatch magazin, the animals in his works that wore the skin of a phantasy animal or the skin of a different animal were not allowed. In arabian countries where they adhere strongly to islam and to the letter of the koran, one cannot change nor recreate gods perfect creations. It is not up to man to do so. Not on a painted picture, probably not in genetic engineering, it is censored. This is how the giraffe found its way out of the swatch magazine into this painting, where no corporate lawyers stop the artist. One can easily imagine that Alexander would not allow somebody to censor him, this will not happen to him as well as to Robert Mapplethorpes homoerotic photographies. They must be available in any open society, so Mappethorpe and the tiger giraffe are both questioning your shame barrier. And there are no laws or moral theories that would allow you to withhold them from public. They would not be published in countries, where religious interpretations are sacred and freedom of speech is less relevant, but that is too bad for them not to enjoy Alexanders art. How sad when phantasy is limited.
As what religion is tight to, the meaning of life and how to interpret the story of life, that is what Alexander is up to as well. He wants or would like you to challenge your traditional way of “making meaning”, say from adverts: “This lipstick means to make you sexy, so buy it.”;”This car in this ad will enable safe travel over the autobahn in April at high speed and increase your reputation in your social hierarchy”,”This iphone is a god like device that will help you to create yourself as an android, you are the new god!”.
Whatever it is, it is not what television or the internet in the western world has trained us to do, to repeat the story of modern icons. So instead of Andy Wharhol having challenged our advertising eye for icons, Alexander Gorlizki is challenging our whole mind reading and deductive concept. To me, this continues the story of the Dada movement, as Max Ernst viewed it and reinterpreted it later on. Certainly it is even more playful than the Loblob-bird of Max Ernst as his Alter ego. Alex has not a bird, he has a zoo of phantastic creations. Technically, there is some coincidence for example with Marx Ernst “The Hat makes the Man“, photography and drawing is mixed technique and at first, it instantly denies a normal understanding of what art is, it is not about a disciplined approach of craftsmanship.
Alexander can ignore this, he does not have to make the same claim and can easily implement the extremely disciplined drawing of Riyaz in his not so disciplined, playful motive. But he does not use abstract art, which challenges the form. He challenges your interpretation and this creates contemporary art by the use of traditional miniature painting technique. The technique of miniature painting to do that is an old tradition and comes from India, where hindu rites and ancient religions always created a different narrative than the christian bible, the Thora or Koran. Their icons and gods are almost unlimited in numbers as well as shapes. We cannot decipher them and it is interesting, whether a hindu will instead deny my concept and clearly identify his icons in it to support a traditional religious interpretation, we do not know thid, but you should rather doubt it.
It is fun for Alexander to work against the iconic story of holy books, use his humor to destroy false prophecies. He is quite serious when it comes to this. To show these religions naked to what they are and how they wash our brains with their iconic pictures, is a personal motive. How easy it is to create new saints! You say mine are ridicoulos? How about yours? It cannot be that god created those saints, that is to manlike to do and too easy to abuse. As philosopher Kant said, the meaning of life is not given to us, we have been given the task to give meaning to it. Alex forces us, well, at least he reminds us, that we ourselves have to give meaning to our life, not a religious book that is interpreted for us by a church. And we have to find our own way to make meaning to everything in life, not only art. It can be the worst things as the killing of fanatics recently in Paris as the birth of our own child, we must give it our own meaning and not simply retell the story we have been told elsewhere. What was your genuine emotion when your child was born? Was it spiritual or did you visit hell?
We can give life the meaning as Robert Mapplethorpe did in his photographies, never boring, iconic, bold, clear and pure, as an animal, as as creative person or as an epicurean individual, as a dragon dancing in the sky or whatever it is that you are up to, Alex may continue and step in with his creations. Everyone is an artist, Beuys said. But not only while creating art, but also when you decipher it for yourself. Create your creative skills instead of consuming what others create, is another imperative we have heard and it is rarely understood when we hunt for capitalistic dreams of consumption, for sneakers or yachts. Somehow, a playful piece of art is suddenly morally very strict, probably since I did interpret it for myself now and this is an important reading for a native catholic which has tried to overcome the contraptions of this ideology, that have locked me in a guilty conscience. We will see, if I can give it meaning later, but religion is not the niece guy around it pretends to be.
Alexander Gorlizki: Robert Mapplethorpe and Giraffe (2014), Pigment and Gold on bookprint. 31 cm x 23 cm