Exhibition

Alexis Soul-Gray. Immutable Fragments

22 Jul 2023 – 9 Sep 2023

Regular hours

Saturday
10:00 – 18:00
Wednesday
12:00 – 18:00
Thursday
12:00 – 18:00
Friday
11:30 – 18:00

Free admission

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Bel Ami

Los Angeles
California, United States

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Bel Ami is pleased to present Immutable Fragments, Alexis Soul-Gray’s first solo exhibition in the United States and the culmination of her two-year MFA at the Royal College of Art in London.

About

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” – Lewis Carroll

Alexis Soul-Gray’s unique process combining painting, drawing and collage allows her to performatively investigate how imagination illuminates a pathway forward through sadness and loss. Like Lewis Carroll’s journey through the looking glass, Soul-Gray shows how curiosity and experimentation peel back hidden layers, revealing the emotional life of childhood and how it conditions our perceptions and responses into adulthood.

Appropriating photographic imagery of mid-to-late 20th century family life from popular British magazines and books, Soul-Gray finds clichéd tableaus of women and children, choosing them for their artificial quality, “where family is often faked but also, somehow felt.” She then delicately draws out eerie moments that seem unexpectedly real, for example, a backward glance or a playful gesture. To break through the surface of these staged and stylized arrangements, Soul-Gray obliterates the facade by rubbing, scraping, or even using caustic chemicals like bleach. She paints over or collages the figures in an attempt to reconstitute their unstudied, piercing humanity (or punctum in the language of Roland Barthes). As the washed-away images become more transparent, the reassuring texture of the canvas, linen, or paper shines through. Through luminescent veils of blue and gold, Soul-Gray’s children, trapped in a vision of the past, suddenly rise to the surface with a burst of lifelike realism. In Look Away a kerchiefed girl is encouraged by the overlay of bright paint to venture to make eye contact. In several works, such as Little Bunny Blue, the figure disappears into a sea of abstraction, while others–for example a rare-self portrait, Disqualified–are left relatively unembellished. 

For this exhibition, Soul-Gray sources illustrations from fairy tales and the nostalgic imagery of advertising, designed to invoke in the consumer their own desires and fears. The found images function as screen memories, referring to Sigmund Freud’s concept of a falsified image that stands in for an experience too disturbing to recall. Several years ago Soul-Gray began sifting through knitwear and clothing catalogs seeking traces of her mother, who was a textile designer, as a way to grieve her death and access painful trauma; when Soul-Gray was twenty-five, her mother chose to end her own life after suffering from cancer. “I am searching for touch. For a touch I cannot remember or perhaps never received enough of,” Soul-Gray says. In her vibrant compositions the stock imagery and fantastic elements surrounded by clouds of color and unpainted spaces reveal how our minds stutter and stall, or take off. In Put In a Finger and Pull Out a Plum, an adolescent girl prepares to do a cartwheel, while behind her storybook figures–a tiger and a bear and a baby doll–grin demonically, discouraging her or egging her on. A wall-sized work, The Waves of Biarritz, shows athletic women–a dancer and a swimmer–attempting to emerge from a foreground of scribbled lines suggesting floral patterns, bubbles and jazz. 

In contrast to the immutable memory, Soul-Gray’s dreams dissolve, metamorphose, or leap off the canvas. They refuse to be stilled.


Alexis Soul-Gray (b. 1980, UK), lives and works in Devon. She earned an MA in Painting at The Royal College of Art, London (2023) and a BA in Drawing at Camberwell College of Arts, London (2003). She is an alumni of The Royal Drawing School, London having completed the Postgraduate Drawing Year in 2007. Solo exhibitions include Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm (2022); Irving Contemporary, Oxford (2022); Exeter Phoenix Gallery, Exeter (2022); and Delphian Gallery, London (2021). Recent group exhibitions include Paper, Tristan Hoare Gallery, London (2023); Conscious Unconscious, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London (2023); Women Celebrating Surrealism, Islington Arts Factory, London (2022); What Was lost, PAPER Gallery, Manchester (2022). She was the winner of the Delphian Open in 2021 and recipient of The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant in both 2021 and 2022.

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Alexis Soul-Gray

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