Alexis Pye's paintings offer intimate glimpses into the garden-immersed environments of her portrait subjects; however, in works like Longing and Flower Boy, the subjects are more visible, whereas in Feuilles tombantes I and Feuilles tombantes II, these figures are more enveloped by the dense foliage surrounding them.
Pye's portraits aim to capture the sensitive and softer side of male masculinity. She uses the traditional medium of portrait painting "to unveil complex truths about the relationship between art history and race." Exploring portraiture as a way to express the Black body outside of its social constructs, Pye uses family members, friends and strangers as the subject matter of her paintings in order to capture these subjects in moments of joy and confidence in their own spaces. She begins with a sketch from a source photo, using images drawn from many different places, including Instagram, family photos, books and paintings. After working out the composition, Pye executes an underpainting by way of a black crayon to lay the groundwork and then builds out the painting's surface with oil paint. She sees her choice of the oil medium as a visceral action, one that creates, as she states, "an interpretation of how I see myself in the world along with others in my community."
These verdant, garden-themed portrait paintings are also imbued with art historical references. Her angular, solid brushwork, coupled with bold outlines, recalls the work of German Expressionist painters, such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Franz Marc, while her interiors resonate with vibrant colors reminiscent of Matisse and other Fauve painters of the early 20th century.
Pye's work can also be viewed within the history of abstracted figures in Black painting. As she notes, "Clementine Hunter, Jacob Lawrence, Kara Walker ... these artists have joined the tradition that uses the silhouette to display a figure we see within all of us. I see myself with the many artists that line Black bookstores, bible bags and grandparents' walls. I was trying to take something that I often saw in my youth and mix it to something that I saw in my generation."
Alexis Pye: The Real and the Fantastic / The Irrational Joys of the Axis is on view at Inman Gallery through Saturday August 21, 2021. This will be Pye's first solo exhibition at Inman Gallery.