Alex Bierk at General Hardware Contemporary

Alex Bierk’s solo exhibition How do you let go? at General Hardware Contemporary, is based on his personal experience and memories. Most of his realistic paintings originate from his photographs, a commemoration of the passing of time and a process of self-definition.

Alex Bierk was born in 1982 in Peterborough. His memories of that small town surface in his paintings in a realistic and transparent way. However, his paintings are more romanticized than photographs.

The large piece titled, How do you let go? is a poem but also a painting, using two panels to extend it out of the usual frame into the external space. The poem gives voice to the artist’s sadness about the passing days of youth. Although there is no graphical indication in this artwork, it is connected to Alex Bierk’s paintings, setting the mood for them. The second stanza of the poem draws the audience into his memories of an era when people were still using film cameras. The “room window” or the “car window” become frames for Bierk’s paintings in this exhibition of reimagining old memories and personal history with a touch of nostalgia.

Alex Bierk, How do you let go? 2021, oil on linen, 18.5” x 31.25”

In “Write her name in the sky” Night, the skillful composition of cool-toned colours, subtly captures a moment of a night. The street lights are on and the night sky fades from cerulean to deep navy blue in the distance. The most eye-catching part is the flashing fireworks in the upper right corner. The lights play an important role in this painting, as underneath the fireworks an orange streetlight glows, balanced diagonally with the blue light coming from a car – bringing movements into this otherwise still composition. It is a very poetic piece that seems to tell a story, but leaves most of it to the viewer’s imagination. Every detail in this painting appears to be realistic but the dominating darkness and the underlying emotional feeling makes it somewhat surreal. We don’t know who the ‘her’ is but it must be the most important person in the artist’s life and very much loved if he wants to write her name in the sky, comparing it to the amazing blooms of fireworks.

Alex Bierk, “Write her name in the sky” Night, 2021, oil on linen, 15” x 18”

In the painting From the window of our room Bierk refers to the last lines of his poem, in which the morning sunlight shines into the house from outside — a refreshing view. This painting is a good example of Bierk’s precise control of oil paint, since this semi-abstract composition is almost as transparent as a watercolour. The pastel colouring of the gray, yellow and green corresponds to the ‘mottled colours’ in the poem, gradually leading the viewer into a corner of his memory.

Alex Bierk, From the window of our room, 2021, oil on linen, 12” x 9”

The simpler the subject, the more special it appears under Bierk’s rendering. In addition to oil on linen, Bierk also creates mixed media works, like Numbers, where he combined oil, metal and found objects on linen and wood. Although the foundation is still linen, the different materials bring the viewer into a different space. The wooden panel on the left side is like another window, framing the painted view of a landscape with blurred signal towers as it might be seen through a moving car’s window. On the right there is a collage made of various metal tags that could be disassembled parts from old gates or car licence plates, showing numbers. This piece is more abstract than Bierk’s previous works and is reminiscent of collages made by Dada artists, especially Max Ernst.

Alex Bierk, Numbers, 2021, oil on linen with wood, found objects on linen, 21.5” x 35.75

While considered mostly as a representational painter, Bierk’s works are also often blurred and radiate feelings of melancholy and marginalism. In Factory, part of the industrial building at night is depicted in dark tones. The only element that illuminates the picture is the light coming from its windows. However, we cannot peek inside because they are too blurred, creating a barrier between the inside and the outside. The viewer becomes an outsider instead of a voyeur. Factory seems marginal in the middle of nowhere, making us feel lost and lonely.

Alex Bierk, Factory, 2021, oil on linen, 8” x 10”

While we marvel at Bierk’s compositions, we are also being pushed away from what we think we see, giving a sense of alienation. These contemporary paintings have a somewhat vintage stylistic sense, while the high contrast and the obscuring shading remind me of aging Polaroid photos. Radiating from the paintings, Bierk’s emotion-filled memories invite the viewer to explore more in his unique world.

Installation view of Alex Bierk’s How do you let go? at General Hardware Contemporary

Vivian Sun

Images are courtesy of General Hardware Contemporary

*Exhibition information: Alex Bierk, How do you let go, November 18, 2021 – February 5, 2022, General Hardware Contemporary, Front Gallery, 1520 Queen Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat 12 – 6 pm.

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