Giles Alexander 

An Invisible Piper


2nd April – 4th May


Opening reception with the artists 6th April 4-6 pm, with performance by guitarist Nicky Del Ray.

All welcome.

In April 2023 MARS is celebrating the intersection of music and visual art with the exhibition Relic, a new series of paintings by Wynne prize finalist Giles Alexander. The exhibition will comprise of Alexander’s meticulously rendered paintings of guitars, complete with a soundscape to reinforce the multi-sense nature of experience and memory.


Giles Alexander’s new paintings invite us on a trip down memory lane, through resonant realms of personal identity. Alexander’s meticulously crafted new works explore the nature of our individual and collective identities, tracing echoes of our past and contemplating the fragments that endure through space and time. Drawing upon his own experiences and intimate reflections, Alexander infuses his artistic practice with an unmistakable personal touch. Relic represents a new chapter in Alexander’s artistic journey, focusing his creative vision on the shape of music.


As the son of an architect, Alexander developed an inherent ability to translate the three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional canvas. Nurtured within the illustrious walls of London’s National Gallery, he cultivated a deep appreciation for the transformative power of art in capturing and transcending physical space and human time. His work to date has explored ubiquitous themes of faith, reason and the cosmos, these new works extend this already decades long exploration into belonging and personal identity. Alexander’s practice has always wondered about ‘us’ and asked how we find a sense of place in a landscape, in the world, indeed in the Universe? But while visual literacy was for him perhaps genetic, Alexander was also busy creating a deep auditory cache – growing up in a house where walls were clad with as many musical instruments as paintings… Like many of us he subconsciously created a sort of soundtrack, or playlist to his life. It’s with this front-of-mind that Alexander now pivots his artistic focus from the celestial to perhaps the most universal language of all – music.


For Alexander, the exquisite depiction of these musical instruments is deeply personal. As is the case with any gifted creative; his father practiced music obsessively his whole life. When the music stopped, COVID times made it impossible to make the northern hemisphere pilgrimage to his pay respects in person. These relics of a past life become an exercise in honouring a life well lived and in exorcising a still restless closure. Interestingly, as the price of highly collectable vintage guitars has rocketed, the ‘relic’ has become a fetish in guitar circles; imparting a sense of faux-time and ‘patina’, lending false ‘authenticity’ to instruments which are in fact new or nearly new. The tension of these sacred and profane readings is reflected in the paintings themselves through the handmade/mechanical photorealist visual conundrum.


Alexander’s exploration of musical instruments extends beyond their visual allure. Inspired by Holbein, Vermeer, and Picasso, who depicted musical instruments to symbolise the brevity of life’s fleeting nature; the musical art form existing only in the temporal moment, unable (until quite recently) to be captured, yet able to transport the listener through space and time. Music psychologist Dr Victoria Williamson says “studies based on how our memory is triggered from tiny clips of musical tracks have estimated that the average person has tens of thousands of music snippets in their mind’s jukebox by the time they reach adulthood. Just like all memories, music memories are rarely single-sense entities. The same song can have complex multi-sensory associations which vary wildly from person to person. These additional connected memories can be visual, tactile, even olfactory, immediately transporting you to a particular place, feeling and/or time from your past.” She calls this the “honey they’re playing our song” phenomenon.


Anchored in an academic tradition that upholds technical precision and craftsmanship, Alexander continues to fearlessly transcend his artistic boundaries, deliberately challenging the established norm. In doing so, he encourages viewers to reflect upon the dynamic interplay between our past and present selves. British art historian, curator and arts broadcaster Kate Bryan says “One cannot help but directly think of Giles Alexander in relation to the maxim Know Thyself. As a painter he belongs to a long standing academic tradition of virtuously handled oil painting and precision draughtsmanship, yet he stands aside from this, quite purposefully drawing attention to moments where he departs from tradition. This is not wilful contrariness; Alexander uses and abuses his polished aesthetic as another way of interrogating his world and questioning all that we hold dear. Alexander has always focused his attentions on real and imagined space, often drawing our attention to the shifting boundaries between the two. There is a visual pun in his paintings between ‘space’ as a crucial component of all painting and ‘space’ the final frontier.”


Through his brushstrokes, Alexander at once suggests the complexity of musical memories, and imitates the auditory experience each instrument creates. In this deeply personal journey, his paintings become portals to memories, emotions, and connections to our sense of place and time. Each painting prompts us to embrace the fragments that shape our unique existence. The resonance of the musical instruments depicted becomes a metaphor for the echoes of our past, the melodies of our present, and the harmonies that define our sense of self.


While this may seem like a departure from the celestial themes of Alexander’s past work, the recent confirmation of Einstein’s gravitational waves shows us that the whole Universe is humming; we can now begin to appreciate that every star, every planet, every continent, every building, every person is vibrating along to the same cosmic tune. It turns out that gravitational waves are more like sound waves in music – so what we’ve just observed for the first time is the song of the universe. The relationship between mathematics and music is well known, and with hindsight it has become clear that mathematics and musical instruments exist because matter is a wave structure of space. This is why all matter vibrates and has a resonant frequency. As Einstein mused “Everything is determined by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust – we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.” It’s with this in mind that Alexander now pivots his artistic focus from the celestial to perhaps the most universal language of all – music.

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