Vikky Alexander in AnOther Magazine

Rewriting the Language of Fashion Photography

Blue Obsession, 1983-2015© Vikky Alexander, courtesy of Cooper Cole Gallery

Blue Obsession, 1983-2015© Vikky Alexander, courtesy of Cooper Cole Gallery

Text by Isabella Smith
Who? Canadian artist Vikky Alexander came of age artistically in the 1980s New York of Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, and Sherrie Levine. She was the youngest and least recognised of this famous group, and used conceptual photography to demystify and understand visual codes. Like her more established peers, her strategy was one of visual appropriation, manipulation, and re-contextualisation: she re-photographed and manipulated generic images of female beauty taken from European fashion editorials, then re-presented fashion’s fantastical yet familiar images in a high art context. Where many artists have tried to shatter consumerist fantasies by offering explicitly critical alternatives, Alexander took visions of capitalist escapism— and amplified their effects to the max.

The Four Seasons, 1980© Vikky Alexander, courtesy of Cooper Cole Gallery

The Four Seasons, 1980© Vikky Alexander, courtesy of Cooper Cole Gallery

What? Alexander’s work recalls French theorist Roland Barthes’ dictum on the languages of visual culture: “a code cannot be destroyed, only ‘played off.’” By foregrounding the fashion photograph’s role as a vehicle conveying notions of physical acceptability, Alexander encourages viewers to become aware of ideological mechanisms at play. Alexander’s aim when making these works was to “look at myself looking at other women.” She is speaking both literally and metaphorically; her appropriated images are mounted on mirror-like black surfaces, so through a process of visual superimposition, the idealised image and the viewer gazing at it become, in a sense, one. Alexander is interested in the inevitable comparison that ensues from this collaboraion. “I don’t want to speak for all women, but I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with fashion," she states, "You can try, but you will never attain the idealised glamour of an editorial. There’s an ambivalent push-pull effect; one knows the unattainability of media images, but desire can make you blind to reality."

St Sebastian, 1982© Vikky Alexander, courtesy of Cooper Cole Gallery

St Sebastian, 1982© Vikky Alexander, courtesy of Cooper Cole Gallery

Working in art history-inspired diptych and triptych formats in this series was Alexander’s attempt to “give something fleeting and changeable, fashion, a longer lifespan of relevance.” St Sebastian (1983) alludes to ideas of physical martyrdom, connected to the pursuit of perfection. A swimsuit model, originally photographed lying down, is placed upright as if bound (Sebastian was shot through with arrows while tied to a stake). A masculine religious and historical trope becomes a secular, female, and contemporary narrative. Another work, Pietà (1981), in which a man watches over a reclining female model, reverses the roles of the Virgin Mary mourning the dead Christ in Michelangelo’s iconic sculpture. In this sense, Alexander’s women become less passive objects awaiting visual consumption in the space of an editorial, and more protagonists, existing in a rich historical lineage.

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Vikky Alexander at Cooper Cole in Toronto


Vikky Alexander
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
May 13 – June 18, 2016

Opening Reception: Friday May 13, 2016 / 6 – 8pm.

COOPER COLE is pleased to present a solo exhibition from Vikky Alexander.

This exhibition reintroduces a selection of photographic works that were completed when Alexander was living in New York in the early nineteen eighties. Moving there from Canada, she became the youngest member of a group of artists that included Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince, who were using photography to demystify codes and systems of representation through appropriation and quotation.

Drawing upon the editorial pages of fashion magazines, Alexander's primary subject matter consists of generic images of women that are conventionally thought of as beautiful by a patriarchal society. Through a system of cropping, rephotographing, enlarging, repositioning and reorganizing the images, Alexander aims to decontextualize these advertisements in a way to skew the viewer's perception of their original intent. These depictions of beauty and grace, along with the artists use of repetition within the formal convention of a rigid minimalist grid, challenge not only the commodification of female imagery in the mass media and the artifice involved in the world of fashion, but also questioning the true meaning of beauty, uniqueness, and individuality.

Vikky Alexander (b. 1959, Victoria, Canada) is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She is known for her large scale photo-mural installations and multimedia works that combine photography with sculptural objects. These works foreground a strong interest in the history of architecture, the fields of design and fashion supported by the production of drawing and collage. Her early work informed the movement of Appropriation Art and she is aligned with the Vancouver School. Having exhibited professionally since 1981, Alexander has shown in venues such as The New Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, DIA Art Foundation, New York; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, USA; Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK; Yokohama Civic Art Gallery, Yokohama, Japan; Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Tiawan; amongst others. Her works can be found in the collections of the the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, International Center of Photography, New York City, USA; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; and the Deste Foundation, Athens, Greece. Since 1992 Alexander has been professor of photography in the Visual Arts Department at the University of Victoria in Canada. Alexander currently lives and works between Vancouver and Montreal, Canada. 

Vikky Alexander
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
May 13 – June 18, 2016

1134 Dupont St.
Toronto, Ontario M6H2A2


Chris Cran, RCA, king!, 2012. Courtesy TrépanierBaer Gallery and Clint Roenisch.

Chris Cran, RCA, king!, 2012. Courtesy TrépanierBaer Gallery and Clint Roenisch.

Questionnaire: Chris Cran by Canadian Art

Calgary-based artist Chris Cran, a longtime mentor to emerging artists in Alberta, takes our questionnaire. Cran’s work can be found in the National Gallery of Canada and the Glenbow Museum, among others, and he selected works for the current exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art, “It’s My Vault.”

What work of art have you seen recently that you can’t get out of your head?

Rita McKeough’s installation, The Lion’s Share, at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD.

What images live in your studio?

Paintings by Ron Moppett, John Will, Gladys Johnston, Ryan Sluggett, a Vikky Alexander collage piece, an Evan Penny photo, woodcuts by Herald Nix, a number of my own works going back to 1978 and a painted illustration on canvas of a behatted man looking ecstatically at a bottle of beer in his outstretched hand. It was for a beer ad, I believe, and I purchased it in an antique store in St. Louis in the eighties for 25 bucks.

Where would you like to show your work and why?

The Prado, so I could get an all-expense-paid trip to Madrid.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever seen?

A toss-up between an Agnes Martin exhibition I saw in the 1980s at the Glenbow Museum that produced in me an inexplicable emotional response, and the big Roy Lichtenstein show at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012 that knocked my socks off, which I have not found to this day.

Can you name a work of art that changed your life?

A small Cézanne painting in a collections gallery at the Guggenheim in NYC. Don’t know the name nor have I come across it again. The painting was of a meadow on a hot summer day. I stood in front of it for a few minutes and suddenly I could feel the heat. I felt like I was 10 years old and in a field close to my home in the middle of summer. I knew how he did it. He got the light right by getting the colour right and my nervous system knew through zillions of experiences what the temperature of that light was. I stood there for several minutes, said, “Wow! Cézanne! Pretty good!” And then I decided to leave. My body turned but my head didn’t and I wrenched my neck painfully because I hadn’t extracted my gaze from the space of the painting.

Do you collect anything?


What do you like to read?

William S. Burroughs, Cormac McCarthy and a recently acquired set of books called The Colophon: A Book Collectors’ Quarterly, with many printed pages including a David Milne drypoint.

Who is your favourite Canadian artist?

Agnes Martin.

What does the Canadian art world need?

It doesn’t need anything. The rest of the world, however, could benefit from more exposure to what Canada has to offer.

What do you wish you thought of first?

Where I put my keys.

Calgary-based painter concerns himself with illusion in his works

Kari Pedersen
Arts Editor
Walk through the second floor of the O wing to see the works of Chris Cran on display. The Calgary based painter has been reviewed by many, including the New York Times. Photo: Albina Khouzina
Walk through the second floor of the O wing to see the works of Chris Cran on display. The Calgary based painter has been reviewed by many, including the New York Times.
Chris Cran, a Calgary based painter who has had his work reviewed by many around North America including the New York Times, focuses his work on perceptions and illusion. But as a sectional instructor at ACAD, he wants people to see art as a journey of self-discovery. An opportunity for people to think and feel in their own ways.
The Reflector: Your pieces often have interesting visual tricks or components to them. What is it about this concept that you feel catches the eye of a viewer?

Chris Cran: I remember, in my young days as an artist, someone saying that the mind cannot entertain two things at the same time. My response to this was to present two, or several things which cause the mind to travel and which, in the apprehension of those particular “things”, enjoys the travelling. Examples of two things — an image and the particular way it is made — the juxtaposition of two elements — an image and a title — an image and a framing device. Any number of possibilities.
TR: There are some similarities of your work to pop art. What artists have inspired your work, and if not who, then what has inspired your work?

CC: When I was 15 or 16 I heard “Highway 61” by Bob Dylan and it was a revelation. The surreal, casual, sassy language seemed so familiar. I began painting when I was 19 and I was most fascinated by Picasso, Matisse, Beckmann, David Milne, Vermeer. Later, artists like Warhol, Richter, Agnes Martin. My interest in some artists faded and others rose to the surface. Some have potently stayed with me such as Roy Lichtenstein, Matisse, Philip Guston, Raoul Dufy, Fernand Leger, Juan Gris, Cezanne and locally Ron Moppett and John Will. I am absolutely interested in individual works of art that surprise me when I happen upon them, whether I know of the artist or not. I saw a Walter Sickert painting from the mid 1930’s in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery selection at the Glenbow Museum last year that prefigured pop painting by twenty years. Several days ago, at the Hamilton Art Gallery, I saw a Charles Comfort painting from 1929 that did the same thing. Roaul Dufy was misregistering colour and line forty years before Warhol.
TR: You have said in the past that you like to leave room for interpretation in your work, not a definite message. How do you think that changes the way viewers look at your pieces?

CC: Something I learned specifically from Cezanne — do half the work. Let the viewer finish the work. In the case of Cezanne, he gave brushstrokes, some form, and precise colour, which translate into light and temperature. The viewer follows those few suggestions and supplies the space in the work.
TR: What upcoming art and culture projects in Calgary are you most excited for?

CC: Contemporary Calgary, National Music Centre and C-Space
TR: Why do you think the art and culture scene is so important for university students to be a part of?

CC: Art is about pleasure, feeling, thinking, discovery, self-discovery, sometimes all in a moment. It is useful to help increase attention spans. If it is not, then it is not. The art scene is a community and there is plenty of exchange there.
TR: What is your advice for university students?

CC: Learning is not about what one is taught, it is about what one learns. Who is responsible for that learning? The learner. Get excited. If you cannot get excited, there might be a job waiting for you at 7/11.

An Interview with Vikky Alexander

Vikky Alexander’s recent series of photographs, Island, captures the bursting greenery of the Palm House in Kew Gardens, England, as the overgrown foliage quite literally collides with the wrought iron and glass structure that contains it. These large-scale images, teeming with striking detail, are a continuation of Alexander’s ongoing fascination with our desire to experience the wonder of the natural world while simultaneously needing to control and tame it. Her surprisingly enigmatic and surreal work has consistently evoked this tension between nature and culture in a range of manifestations including photography, sculpture and installation. This dream-like quality that pervades much of her work, especially those photographs shot in fantastical spaces like the West Edmonton Mall or Vegas casinos, both mirrors and speaks to our desire to escape reality and enter constructed utopias. We’ve followed Alexander’s work for years and were thrilled to have the opportunity to ask her some questions about recent developments as well as ongoing themes in her practice and she very generously obliged:
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