A painting may change as you gaze at it. If you stare long enough, shapes shift. Light plays tricks. Pigments take on different shades, and human figures alter their expressions.
I witnessed this while looking at a piece called “Family Portrait” from artist Alexander Yulish’s new show at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills. In the painting, two people sit in chairs facing the viewer. Depicted in a swirl of vibrant color, the room’s walls float in the background, the subjects’ bodies flatten out, but the eyes, like a photograph in perfect focus, ground the painting’s blur in a direct expression that leaps across the space between the viewer and the canvas.
Despite their immediacy, these eyes seem sad and somehow at a distance—like they’re simultaneously close enough to touch and impossibly far away. This makes the painting, which is big, quite poignant.
His use of bright, bright hues gives the work great force. In Yulish’s paintings, colors carry weight and movement. He describes his process as a “chess game,” where each decision alters his creative calculus. On “Family Portrait,” he points to where “red creates pressure” and demands to be balanced elsewhere, while “orange stops the painting,” and “yellow just screams.”
The results record his “inner dialogue” and the transmutation of his day-to-day experiences into lines and curves and arcs of paint—an “x-ray of what’s going on” in his brain.
Everything is fuel—conversations, music, a leaf on the street. Yulish keeps himself receptive to the world’s chaotic buzz. He often feels raw and exposed, and sometimes “even a handshake feels difficult.” Walking through Ace Gallery’s LA spot, Yulish points to prints of lightning and sculptures that look like bones. “That feels like my spine half the time,” he says. “That feels like my nervous system.”
He wants to work at the unpredictable edge, where he does not feel in control. He lets go of plans and fixed ideas for a work: “If you hold on to it, then magic doesn’t happen. The urgency is done.
“I try to commit to the first stroke fully,” he says. “Then the next stroke fully.” He waits for a vision to migrate from his head to his chest and become a “visceral assault,” when “the painting carves itself out like it’s a flood coming down,” cutting and churning boulders and trees.
“I want my paintings to literally beat the shit out of the person,” Yulish says. “The last thing I want is for people to say they’re beautiful.”
In pursuit of urgency and constant growth, he will destroy his own work, which he’s done “in the last 10 minutes” after spending days and days on a painting. Though he says this is “devastating,” he keeps pushing till he makes a breakthrough and gets at something honest.
This exhausting process has produced his new show, Immovable Thoughts, which opened October 8th at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills. Smiling, Yulish says the paintings in the show form a “dysfunctional family.” He completed the year-long project in late September, when he suddenly felt it had run its course. “It was the end of the conversation,” he says now. “I had nothing left to say.”
Whatever he creates next will be different, yet this difference will illustrate a thread common to all his work: his openness to change. Despite the frightening unpredictability, embracing risk keeps the work from becoming repetitive. For Yulish, there’s no other option. “I love taking chances,” he says. “I hope I hold on to that.”
Immovable Thoughts is on view through November at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills
9430 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90212