I’m gonna break right into heaven

One can almost feel the craft shudder as it hits new atmospherics, the engines screaming as they come across the sky.[1] The passengers are stoic but in awe. Nobody onboard, for all their experience, has encountered such celestial lights, such awe-inspiring vistas. These are new worlds with only the faintest kinship with our own. “Is this heaven?” somebody asks. “I hope so,” someone says in reply. “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die…

While this sounds a little too sci-fi and fanciful, such a description is both true and false. Giles Alexander’s portals do indeed remind us of the more convincing moments of Star Trek, views of worlds from a galaxy far, far away. In reality, the artist who is transcribing these visions is indeed an alien. He was painting these vistas in a world not his own.

Alexander was in fact several universes from home. Born in the United Kingdom, in 2000 he moved to Australia. But more recently he has resided in the Philippines. Despite their surreal and distinctly otherworldly sensibility, these are in fact earthly in birth, the blazing, petro-chemical hued sunsets as viewed from a sixth-floor balcony in the township of Tondo. The Sun is the same in a relative way…

That is, of course, a fiction. Whilst Tondo is, in fact, a town in the Philippines, Alexander is in reality lifting the Renaissance term for a circular painting, tondo when he describes these works. And while these paintings were inspired by a sixth-floor balcony, it was near his home in Sydney. But given the sheer, otherworldly strangeness of the resulting works they could have been painted anywhere – if not the tropical Philippines then a balcony of a new settlement on Mars. We are, perhaps, Reminded of Australia’s own Westernised art history, evolved as it is from aliens from planet Europe. 

For eighteen months Alexander wrestled with paint, re-teaching himself to trust a gestural thrust. In the past his work relied on a far more graphic and tight sensibility. Not only had there been a massive change in locale, but simultaneously Alexander made a momentous move aesthetically. In some ways he was adrift, perhaps akin to David Bowie’s astronaut in Space Oddity. But unlike that hapless character, Alexander found a way home.

The searing palette with its broiling crimsons and depthless ultramarines represent a new journey for the artist. But if one scents a whiff of nostalgia, that would be understandable if not inevitable. Adrift from his original home in the UK, Alexander was also adrift from his usual stylistic traits. He was a stranger in strange lands, both physically and creatively. Like all good romantics, which at heart Alexander is, he turned to the music which had sustained him for many years. Thus we recognise the titles of these works, hailing as they do from the likes of Pink Floyd, The Stone Roses and Radiohead. Once there was a way to get back homeward. Music that has the “rather neat ability to transport us somewhere else to a different time, a sort of collective nostalgia,” he notes. 

 His new home, at least on his canvases, for all its tumultuous and broiling turmoil, is a strangely beautiful place. Finally I am free of all the weight I’ve been carrying. He had broken free of his own aesthetic rules, setting his palette aflame as his ship entered the atmosphere of a new heaven, a painterly paradise. “In a time of global mass movement, my larger inquiry into humanity’s sense of belonging became reframed,” he says of this shift in style. The raw linen with which Alexander frames his portals, suggestive as it is of a kind of aether, a void, hones this sense of discovery, the notion of landing in strange and new environs and indeed, finding a new sense of belonging.

 Ashley Crawford. 2015

 [1] Borrowed from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973): “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.”