Mourning, Cartier, and Countering Loveless Art: An Interview with Artist Alex Jovanovich
For our spring issue, we're so excited to showcase Alex Jovanovich's artwork chosen by our Art Editor Wallace Ludel. Wallace interviewed Alex about his drawings, artwork that demands attention, and the sincerity of portraying love in contemporary art.
Wallace: Can you tell me about the title of the piece we chose for our cover, Sister?
Alex Jovanovich: For the last eight years, I’ve named all my drawings Sister. They’re descendants of a drawing featuring a frilly bra-and-panty set, rendered in black ink, floating in this anxious-looking void-space, traced out in pencil. The underwear looks haunted, damaged. It was made in honor of an old drag queen friend who killed herself. She and I parted on bad terms many years ago, but I was always fond of her. She was insane, difficult, funny. Though the first drawing is called Sister, she’s really a mother.
W: When you show these works on paper, you display them on custom plinths with an inlay that allows them to rest facing upwards. This, for me, recalls vitrines, bringing about memories of pinned butterflies and religious totems among a myriad of other artifacts. The work is regarded differently; it gains a certain objecthood. How did you arrive at this method of display?
A: Yes, you hit that right on the head. I want people to come away with those impressions. They are meant to look religious, funereal. I like “pinned butterflies.”
I also like that my delicate, “fussy,” “faggy” drawings get in your way. When they hang from a wall you can ignore them—they become unobtrusive, pretty wallpaper. But on a box you confront the images differently. They’re sculptural because of the specially-made plinths they sit on top of. Suddenly this dainty little thing is in your face, and demands that you look at it, give it a listen. It has a lot of weird secrets it wants to share with you, provided you’re willing to receive them.
W: Your work has always felt incredibly generous to me. There’s an honesty and tenderness to it, an empathetic attention paid. In your work on paper this comes across perhaps most clearly in your reverential and delicate handling of form and material. I’m trying to shape this into a question. Is there, perhaps, a level of love or familiarity (or vulnerability or humor or melancholy, etc.) in your process or in the way you approach your artmaking that might account for this?
A: Thank you. Love is a part of everything. Mourning is an act of love—and Jesus Christ I’ve been in mourning for a long goddamned time. Maybe too long. Almost all the work I’ve made since 2008 has been mourning art. It can be exhausting living in that headspace for vast stretches of time. It’s why I don’t have racks filled with “product.” But I don’t think that’s a bad thing, making slowly and with great care. Every piece I make is good. I realize that sounds pompous, but it’s true. Lots of artists are Kay Jewelers. I’m Cartier.
Anyway, for almost a decade, when I was living in Chicago, my art—sincerely and without embarrassment—was about love. And that fucked a lot of people up, because they wanted irony, distance, “cool.” I’m happy that you can read love into the current work. I always want that to be there. Too much contemporary art feels loveless.
W: Much of your work seems to imply a narrative, not that you’re trying to tell a story but that there’s a sense of ongoingness. That somewhere in the world exists a before and after, siblings and parents and lovers, physically or otherwise. (I’m thinking of these works on paper as well as of your 35mm slideshows.) Is this a conscious approach?
A: Absolutely. I work with narratives. Everything has a story and, as you suggest, an afterlife.