Alias Trate | Wonderland

This lockdown period has given us the time to reflect, namely on the things we miss most and what we’re going to do first when this is all over.

And for those of us that would usually spend our weekends perusing galleries or exhibitions, it’s been a bit of a tough adjustment to make. But thankfully, one artist is now giving us a chance to get our culture fix – but with a digital and immersive twist.

In his light-flooded east London studio, Canadian artist Alias Trate has been chronicling the human condition in its most stark form with his haunting oil paintings. The “Alias” in his name refers to the human traits which he brings to life on his canvases – contorted, genderless forms that penetrate the gaze and follow the viewer. Shocks of colour amidst sinewy lines – constructed from walnut, safflower and linseed oils – playfully make up these spectre-like figures, allowing us to input our own perception of their meaning.

And now, this Spitalfield’s space has been opened up and turned into a 360-degree virtual gallery, titled TECHNICOLOUR MALAISE, dousing the viewer in a full-body immersive experience, with an eerie soundtrack to match. Roam the gallery and enter another world.

Why do you paint?

An innate need. For me, painting has always been a reflective exercise and an emotional outlet. The physical act of mixing oils, laying colour on canvas, forming and deforming humanity, offers me the chance to render intelligible the chaos of my emotions. The canvases then take on a life outside of my imagination and illuminate emotions I too often struggle to come to terms with in my thoughts alone.

What are these emotions?

Painting provides a raw channel to delve into my subconscious, to give form and meaning to the emotive states I feel, but whose meaning remains otherwise elusive – love, loss, belonging, isolation, elation, longing, sorrow, hope.

Are your works portraits?

My work is figurative, but not really portraiture. Although I have painted portraits, my paintings are sourced subconsciously and are amalgams of different emotions and people, real and imagined. I tend not to plan, sketch out or even know what I am going to paint until I have a canvas in front of me. The act of painting is quite fluid for me. Shapes, shades, contours and ultimately meaning emerges organically as each painting progresses.

How do you see your paintings?

For me, I develop an intimate bond with my paintings. They become living beings. And that relationship transmits meaning. The lines of their faces, the embodiment of emotion in their eyes, the pull of the colours on the canvas engages me in a story.

What does the Alias Trate stand for?

I’m obsessed with physical traits, particularly those framing eyes. I love staring at people and observing how their characters are etched into their physical form. From brooding shadows under eyes, darkened by long sleepless nights, to subtle, nascent lines, born of moments of joy and anger, to soft contours, the last fleeting traces of innocence. Physical traits are essential to my work. My paintings capture traits of character, real and imagined, and the alias Trate plays off of this.

Why an alias?

I am a fairly private and solitary person. The alias picks up on that and also has an amusing, playful side to it.

Where do you draw inspiration?

My imagination – interchangeably deforming and distilling my experiences – is my primary source of inspiration.