By VITTORIA BENZINE March, 2020
Many artists talk the talk. With pensive eyes and a measured cadence, Alexis Kandra defies this stereotype. Her work speaks for itself, lilting in powerful tones that betray immense technical ability and an innovative eye for conceptual design. Kandra’s creations come stocked with dichotomies; they juxtapose oil paintings of the softer natural world against quantum physics’ precision.
Kandra paints hyperrealistic animals and sets them atop stark space-time fields. She dedicated herself to painting animals while attending Tyler School of Art. There, a professor encouraged her to determine a unique focus that would offer consistent inspiration.“At the time, I was going to the Natural History Museum in Philadelphia pretty frequently, because I’d become friends with an ornithologist who was doing research there,” Kandra recalled. Taken by the museum’s scientific illustrations, she decided to perfect the style and subject matter within her own work.
Dissatisfied to settle for mere technical conquest, Kandra developed backgrounds that allow her animals to truly shine. “The grids that I use are inspired by computer-generated imagery, the idea that there’s some kind of underlying structure and the world is built on that structure,” she explained.
Kandra creates these grids using metal foil, noting that this material “was originally designed for interior design and furniture.” She appropriated it for her purposes because “It’s got a glossy finish, it has a very rich color, but it also comes in lots of colors that gold leaf does not come in.” Kandra finishes by drawing lines in an oil-based pen.
New York attracted the fledgling creative upon her graduation in 2013. After arriving, she began participating in a variety of smaller shows. October 2019 marked a major milestone in Kandra’s career with her solo show, ‘Life On Spaceship Earth,’ at Williamsburg’s Lucas Lucas gallery. ‘Spaceship Earth’ presented Kandra’s largest body of work to date, with pieces that challenged her established style to actively promote conservation.
Prior to this show, Kandra employed her animals as actors to portray psychological and social situations central to human life. “Some of the setups of my animals are not necessarily natural,” she stated, “but I am staging them in a way to try to make that connection with humans.”
‘Spaceship Earth’ added new elements of profundity; the pieces she’d created for the show eliminated certain foreground animals, casting their profiles in blank space. On this new technique, Kandra explained, “It was fascinating to me, this idea that we’re living with animals that will be gone in the future, but we don’t know exactly which ones… I made the choice of which animals to be removed more based on the balance of the composition, and not necessarily which animals are extinct today.”
Kandra continues to contribute her work to group shows, including the upcoming ‘Mothership’ exhibition at Jersey City’s Deep Space gallery. The gallery encouraged its twelve female contributors to submit works regarding femininity. Kandra expanded upon the notion of motherhood by contemplating parent-child bonds. Again, she defies nature by arranging family structures that generally don’t take shape in the wilderness. In each of her contributions, which feature Asian elephants and foxes, Kandra included only one parent and left their gender ambiguous. In doing so, she highlights the raw strength of the parents’ love.
She gleans a great deal of intrigue from bearing witness to her own development. It's weird, you can sometimes feel you're maturing in your thought process,” Kandra laughed.
Even her subject matter is evolving. Kandra continued, “My brain is processing all the work that I've been making up to this point and preparing for new, more complicated things… I’m starting to think more complex in the lighting and the environments that I'm painting around the animals.”
Plant life has become a greater focus in her pantings. After working with endangered animals for ‘Life On Spaceship Earth,’ Kandra became interested in endangered plants as well. “We don't hear about them as much and people don't study them quite as much, in part because we're so drawn to animal life, because we're animals,” the artist mused.
It’s conceptually challenging to comprehend that plants are just as alive as mammals, but Kandra and I agreed on the fact. She said, “there’s a general feeling that consciousness is some kind of a gradient… I think plants are definitely in there and conscious in some kind of way. If you cut a leaf off a plant, the plant knows that it was harmed.”
Kandra believes that drawing attention to the importance of plant life will provoke action and positive chain reactions throughout the Earth’s ecosystems. She explained, “It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we as humans have this emotional connection with other creatures that are more like us. There's a way to use that.” That way is to create work so beautiful that it sparks adoration for every part of our natural environment. When we care for the environment itself, it fosters greater health all the way up the food chain.
I am wary of the personal responsibility placed upon individuals to save Earth from demise. I see eco-trends as a tool by which corporations offload their spectacular guilt. When I outlined my qualms to Kandra, she gently eschewed my cynicism and expressed the hope that her work empowers viewers. Kandra said, “I want to bring beauty into the world, and I want to help people feel like they can do that as well, whether it’s through art or helping to maintain biodiversity.”
Her work is more celebration than spectacle. It’s not a show, it’s a dance that we can all share in, honoring the mystical force that imbues every living thing from fern to fish to fox. Like this, Kandra just might inspire a better model for living. If not, know that she loves painting predominantly as her method to relish the sensation of being alive. Such images are worth more than anything that could be simply said about them. Action is always superior to talk. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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