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Alexander Maw's Mortal Vision

Words:

Edd Norval
October 30, 2018

Alexander Maw focuses on the symbolism of the cycle of life. Think skulls, candles, flora and angels. He's a self-taught artist that was mentored by his father and his paintings contain that sort of enclosed feeling of an heirloom, as if they're a pandora's box of curiosities passed down through generations.

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His modus operandi focuses on exploring the phrase, 'all that lives must die'. How hard can it be, it's only five words? Of course, it's five words, two of which are 'lives' and 'die'. Maw is exploring birth, the cycle and mortality - the infinite inspiration for artists and one of the richest wells of inspiration for anyone to draw from.


With the dark hues of his forefathers like Goya and Blake, eras long gone are evoked. His composition has many classical elements pertaining to the balance he seeks to examine. On the scales of life and death, especially in art, it must be clear exactly where they sit - otherwise the works can be uncomfortable, it can overcloud the richer symbolism by challenging the audience to interpret the literal, rather than decode the symbolic.


Maw's work, in this regard, is crystal clear. We know what we can see, now it's up to us to think about how it makes us feel. It's not as visceral as Damien Hirst's dead-meat, nor as psychologically galling as a Bacon or Freud, but it's almost gothic in its grandeur. The still-life's feel like a snapshot from Count Dracula's castle. The moon and candles flicker to illuminate the shapes as wolves howl overhead.

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English born and bred, Maw identifies with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. This was a secret society, deeply enthused with art's return to nature and its depiction of the natural world in a realistic manner. The symbolism and poses would reflect the inner feelings of love and loss rather than the 'corrupting' influences that they saw creep in to art through the work of their contemporaries.


Their dogma pertains to moving away from the mechanical and embracing the organic as the the Truth, the essential, the meaningful beginning and the gorgeous end. Art critic John Ruskin's influence was immeasurable on this 'brotherhood' of young artists and his own background instilled within the artists a sense of religiosity. It was through the iconography of religious art that they would express their own ideas.


With this lens over our eyes, Maw's work begins to merge the omnipresent technique and concept that makes a painting gain its affecting presence on the viewer. Maw seems deeply indebted to his father, Depicting him in a self-portrait that engages through its unique interpretation on depth-of-field. His discipline in sticking to his particular style also plays out like a homage. Their relationship is present is all of his work.

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Eyes and skulls are recurrent themes in his work and a recent work-in-progress shot on Maw's Instagram shows the two coming together. The sketch, as yet to be covered with paint, shows a skull that's half-showing through the fleshy face of a young man. It's a mournful and contemplative piece, something that, given the many eyes and skulls to have proceeded it, looks like a major movement towards producing a coherent vision for his future.


Maw is a young artist, still in his late 20s, but despite this, his influences are worn on his sleeve, as is the case with those who choose to pursue classical arts in our contemporary world. His fascinations, subjects and curiosities remain his own though and if they continue to shine through in his work, it is this - his personality, his own signature, that sets him in best stead to forge his own identity in a style that can often make individuality take the back-seat to technique.

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