A coffee with Alex Bartleet
A coffee with Alex Bartleet
We met at Imperial Lane. I ordered a peppermint tea. It's a substance I drink a LOT of at g&h HQ; mainly due to the influence of our local health guru Allan, but also because it reminds me of my mum. The time was 1pm and Alex ordered a coffee, his first of the day. I found this quite impressive as I’d already consumed my daily quota of two before 9am.
Alex Bartleet is an artist. He got in touch recently to say he liked g&h, which led me to the immediate conclusion that he was a good and useful human being. When I had a look at Alex’s work I happily discovered that I recognised it from last year’s Art Fair. Unsurpisingly, there was a lot of art at that Fair, so the fact that I remembered it suggests it’s pretty damn cool. He creates structures/collections from the debris of daily life. It’s impressive and shiny and puzzling (or puzzle-like).
So Alex was quite consumed on the day we met by his upcoming solo exhibition at Warwick Henderson Gallery in Parnell. It’s his second solo exhibition. Each work is created through a fairly labour intensive process involving glue and resin. He works flat, which helps him to achieve an effect that looks random, but is in fact carefully arranged. Alex has been working with a company called Metalier for his most recent creations. Each work is sprayed with a metal coating - either brass, copper, aluminium or iron - and then painstakingly polished. For the iron ones he actually sands them back and then sprays them with a solution that creates rust.
Where did he come up with this idea? I wonder out loud, and how did it evolve? Well, Alex was a painter, and he was particularly intrigued by the starting point; the blank canvas, the white page. You know that moment when you’re about to start something and it’s difficult, because you don’t necessarily know what IT is? Well, rather than putting brush or pen to his blank page, Alex’s compulsion was to scrunch it up. That’s how it started. This is what it’s become. Cool no?
So how did Alex become a full time artist? Well he completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts at AUT and was pretty inspired and encouraged by some of his lecturers, including Reuben Paterson. They were teachers, but also mentors, and with their guidance he pushed himself and developed his unique style and approach.
After Uni, Alex actually worked in advertising for a couple of years. He liked it too, but winning a couple of awards meant the dream of focusing totally on his art became a real one.
What else does Alex get up to? Well he’s involved with running art workshops for school kids in Avondale and Mt Roskill. They make sandwich-boards of their hopes and dreams. Sounds cute. Acutally, it made me think that when I was little I wanted to be able to fly (tick) and have a wardrobe like Cher’s in Clueless (luckily, my priorities have changed since then, now I just want Juliette Hogan’s entire summer collection in my wardrobe…).
Every conversation I have about art inevitably arrives at the Banksy film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, because that meta-mocumentary piece of amazingness really got me thinking about how you measure the success of art and of artists.
Alex thinks that the value of art is vastly different from the success of an artist. A person who sells their work for $100 per piece might be more successful than the guy who pulls in hundreds of thousands of dollars for just one. Which artist is more successful? Who chooses that? There are so many arguments to be had, from so many different standpoints.
I can’t help thinking there must be some kind of clear relationship between the price of art and the hype about it.
This is tricky though, says Alex, because once you’ve put your price up it’s difficult to lower it again. I hadn’t really thought about it that way before.
At that point, our conversation travelled further into the future, to Art in the Dark - an amazing collaborative light and art event coming up this November (its third year!). Alex is working on some kind of interactive piece for it. The whole thing is still quite conceptual, but we’ll probably tell you more about it as it unfolds because it sounds cool and we all like cool things.
We have an Auckland moment then, where we lapse into talking about people we know. It just so happens that I'd met two of Alex's friends that morning, Ella and Celia, who are two of the shining rays of brilliance behind Art in the Dark. They are funny and nice and I like them. We start plotting ways to get g&h more involved with Art in the Dark.
This is going to sound silly, but I can't help thinking that the social structure of Auckland is kind of like one of Alex's metal collections. Seemingly random, but with a secret, puzzling order to it. Filled with shiny people that seem like strangers, until you discover they're actually familiar, and by that I mean, they actually date your neighbour, or are your family friend's daughter's best friend.
Alex’s exhibition, Metal, is opening next Tuesday at Warwick Henderson Gallery in Parnell. Check it out.
A weekly ray of sunshine in your inbox! We scour the city for the best ways to optimise your week