Of course, you have choices in life. Even in the midst of coercion, there are selections to be made, however narrow they are. Maybe a hand is around your neck: do you tense your muscles, or relax against the pressure? Both approaches have their benefits. Perhaps you can ask to be strangled by a different hand, if the texture of the current one doesn’t please you. Even though you can’t always speak, perhaps quiet humming can be accomplished.
It’s true that you are forced to luminesce beautifully, as you are crammed into small corners, surveilled by others, not clearly friend or enemy. Usually, you can find a pillar to hide your blank face, which is a reasonable option at times. Logically, if you can’t see the interlopers, they can’t see you, and they give up, eventually, and move on.
But sometimes, when you feel social, you become entangled with these so-called people. Momentary friendships can really light up a dull weekend. Generous acquaintances will allow you to touch them, occasionally. Being a person of few words, you do not utter or weep as you feel another body beside you.
Amidst these small adventures, notions bob to the surface of your mind. You recall being in Long Beach. You remember little bright drinks, polyester shorts, soda water, first- and second-hand smoke. The sky was almost painful. The water was glassy. You had a clear objective. And friends, mostly trustworthy, mostly quite attractive. Some wore little clothing. Helicopters woke you. And now you’re here, in the sunless desert.
Life can play out in all kinds of ways.
There is a certain beauty to it, though: this garden of silences encased in time. One uniform sky, free of unhygienic stardust. Everything is served in harmless plastic and eaten out of sight. Nobody knows your diet, and nothing is distorted. You have entered your adulthood. Children are out of the question. In the half-light, you grope for a platform to climb. Not plunging into oblivion sometimes takes all your strength. But of course, that was always true. You have always been climbing. You could never just take a year off.
This morning, joy appeared, like liver on a neon cobblestone. It was warm, unrequested, and it unquestionably belonged to you alone. You looked at it for a moment, and thought of asking it a question. And then it was gone.
All things considered, you’re cool and collected. But certain things are lost when you’re forced to keep it together. You have to be on your own, discard your identifying marks, become as general as weather. It’s difficult to believe, but trust me when I say that you were, at one time, more specific. Inside you, though it’s muted now, there is a differentiating factor. I know your head is a little foggy. But try now, to remember.
Sasha Chapin, Los Angeles, 2021
Alex Gardner paints luminous figures, with, as of this date, no faces, in a delicately colored expanse. You may see this as a grim situation, being that you are, assumedly, reliant on your own features. But these figures are not to be pitied for their condition. While you may think it a disadvantage to be faceless, recall that much of life doesn’t require a mouth. Typically, speech will not alter the course of nature or institutions. As for a nose, getting lost in a blue-grey barrenness isn’t a matter of odor. Nor is being pursued by someone who wishes you harm. And, given that seeing distorts the thing being regarded, one could posit that blindness is more accurate than vision.
Free of the obligations entailed by lips, Gardner’s characters are pure, elegant and frightening—limbs in love, torsos in distress. They are human nature, unobscured by superficial particularities, slogans, or grimaces. We spend so much time trying to bend ourselves into a distinguished shape, to be recognizable. This can be a lovely process. But it’s naive to think that Alex, or anyone else, needs to know who you are to recognize what you are.
Alex Gardner (b. 1987, Los Angeles, CA) lives and works in Long Beach, CA. The artist received his BFA from California State University in Long Beach in 2011. Solo exhibitions include Long Beach Museum of Art (Long Beach, CA), Loyal (Stockholm), Koenig (Berlin), The Hole (New York), SCAD Museum of Art (Savannah, GA), New Image Art Gallery (Los Angeles). His work is included in the public collections of Museo Jumex (Mexico City), Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (Miami) and X Museum (Beijing). Gardner’s solo exhibition “We All Exist Right Now” is on view at the Long Beach Museum of Art from December 9 through May 1, 2022.