This week Brighton Journal spoke to local artist and architect, Alej ez. Alej predominantly creates panoramic prints of Brighton & Hove, Sussex coastal scenes and the surrounding countryside. He is currently the artist-in-residence at the West Pier Trust, where he is creating new work inspired by the sea and the West Pier. His work is being exhibited every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the West Pier Centre throughout the residency. We discussed Alej’s inspirations, upcoming projects and recent exhibitions. Keep reading to find out more about Alej and his wonderful work.
What are you doing today?
Today I am putting together a collection of prints that will be exhibited at the West Pier Centre. Some of the prints are rather large, A1 size, and my panoramic prints are 1.2 metres long. I have to be very careful, cutting them to the exact size is tricky. In April I started an art residency with the West Pier Trust. Every Thursday from 11am to 5pm I open their Centre to greet visitors and work in their space creating new art. The West Pier Centre is located on the West Pier Piazza, east of BA i360.
Describe where you do most of your creative work.
I belong to Studio Greenhouse, we are based at Bond Street in the North Laine, right in the centre of Brighton. We are on the top floor and our windows look out to the roofs of the Dome and the Brighton Pavilion. There are lots of seagulls around. The folks at Studio Greenhouse are artists and creative people with a true spirit of supportive camaraderie. I joined the cooperative in 2013. I have a desk, an old adjustable drawing table that belonged to an architect friend and some shelves full of antique books with prints and poetry.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
As a creative type, the most exciting work is often the one I am working on. Throughout last November, I exhibited my prints at Gallery 92 in Glyndebourne as part of a group exhibition. This gave me recognition as an artist and has without doubt excited my artistic guts to work harder and create more art. Exhibiting is always exciting: having an opening day, inviting collectors, friends and press. My best memories are from exhibiting at the Regency Town House and most years in May for the Artists Open Houses.
What made you decide to become an artist?
I am a trained architect. I worked as such for more than twenty years and loved it. But somehow maybe seven years ago started a path that directed me towards pure creativity. There is something magical about sharing with others your own expression of the World as it is today. This is us now.
What are you currently working on?
Two years ago I visited Dartington School and in the grounds there was a sculpture by Henry Moore. I have not been able to shake it out of my system. Then at Glyndebourne grounds I saw another sculpture by him, and finally at Pallant House Gallery I saw a show with some of his drawings of people in the underground shelters in London. So my next art piece will deal with this enigmatic obsession. It is a large conceptual print with the West Pier, starlings and a figure. It sounds cliche, but it will be very different.
Also I am completing a series of large and complex architectural prints of historic buildings in Brighton and Hove with the background of the sea. These are large prints that take nearly a month each to complete so sometimes I like working on smaller fun prints, so at the same time I am creating a collection of small prints with people and activities that take place at the beach, these are inspired by the work of John Minton and Keith Vaughn.
What are the key themes in your work?
Panoramic views: the city, coastal scenes and the countryside. Brighton, Sussex, the South Downs, the white cliffs. Though lately I am also creating prints with people and the sea.
What would you like people to notice about your work?
I would like people to connect intimately with my landscapes; with the movements and musicality of my compositions. Landscapes have their vanishing points, but also proportions, line of directions, densities. Rather than just recreating a view, I aim to create a sight that connects with the viewers’ sense of memory and familiarity. I want to create a sense of déjà vu: “Have I seen you before? Have I been here before?”
What attracts you to the medium you work in?
Line drawing is the medium I prefer. You would be amazed how I can draw a perfectly straight line without a ruler. It is the most basic form of expression from prehistoric times. I am mesmerised by how the brain interprets a line drawing as a reality. Also, I love the personal calligraphic quality of it. It is like handwriting, line drawings are very personal and often recognisable. I love the line work of Jean Cocteau and Picasso. Colour is then another world. I see colour as an expression of emotion and feeling. Often my panoramic prints have large expanses of a sky that is just a constant colour with no clouds or birds, but they are full of emotion.
What equipment could you not do without?
I love ink in every shape and form: extra fine liners, calligraphic pens, Asian brushes, thick graphic markers. My practice mixes new and old techniques. To complete one of my prints I need a camera, ink and paper, and my laptop.
Who or what inspires you?
Poetry, old books, landscapes and other artists. I am a ‘responsive sponge’, this means that when I learn or see something that inspires me, I cement this knowledge by trying to incorporate it in my work. This year I have been inspired by the work of Constable, Turner, Eric Slater, John Minton, Keith Vaughan, Henry Moore and other less known Brighton artists such Stella Langdale and Donald Maxwell. I also keep my eyes open when I am out and about in Brighton and in the countryside looking for possible subjects for my next print. My panoramic prints invite you to stand and stare, to take a big breath and lose yourself in the landscape.
How is your work affected by living in this area?
Brighton has a multicultural open-minded mentality and is also very much supportive of the arts. I became an artist because I live in this city.
What’s your favourite thing to do locally?
Sea swimming is my passion. In Brighton there are always a couple of weeks with clear transparent waters, the rest of the year the sea is a bit murky, but I don’t mind.
What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?
In Chichester there is a fantastic museum of Modern British art. It is called Pallant House Gallery. I am a friend and go to most exhibitions there. It is housed in a beautiful Queen Anne House with a super sleek modern extension. The restaurant is also great.
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?
At Christmas I got a book about Constable in Brighton. I have been following his steps around this city admiring his compositions and use of colour.
What’s your favourite colour?