The ancient Greeks in their mythological fables magnified the vices and virtues of the human beings by representing them as immortal divinities, whose whimsical desires triggered the adventures of men on earth.
With extraordinary sensitivity, the classical poets were able to grasp and differentiate the subtle intersections between instinct and rationality on which Western culture is founded, even before philosophical thought began to systematically theorize human existence by regulating the impetuous flow of being. With the complication of thought and history, the mythological deities have gradually lost their immanence and their interference in human affairs and have increasingly withdrawn into the abstract and rational limbo of archetypes. This passage, if on the one hand allowed the survival of their memory over the centuries, on the other hand profoundly distorted their essence, transforming their uncontrollable vitality into an icy and unattainable mental projection. Among all the mythological personifications, one of the most fruitful for the development of philosophical and psychoanalytic thought is the opposing couple Apollo – Dionysus, still commonly used today to indicate the contrast and complementarity between rationality and instinct, virtue and vice. But what remains today of the unbridled imagination of the ancients and their highly refined predisposition to think through images and stories capable of condensing the mystery of man’s earthly life without impoverishing it with artificial theorizing?
Alias Trate, a self-taught Canadian artist living in London, seems to be asking this question. After having painted secretly for twenty years, he made his public debut in 2019 with the Emotive Brutes series, in which he carried out a lucid investigation into the troubled states of being to arrive at a naked and disturbing essence, naturally connected with the brushstrokes, charged with oil and raw emotion. In this catalog of visceral personifications, the artistic forces that once shaped creation and that still struggle in the depths of our unconscious to emerge. In the new series entitled Zeus’ Bastards, which will be premiered in London from 1 to 3 October in the spaces of 15 Bateman St., the artist continues this research with a more complex and thoughtful pictorial language. In fact, a greater indeterminacy is grafted onto the expressive immediacy of the previous paintings, as if his characters were evanescent metamorphic creatures that await the subterranean whispers of being to take on form and color. The strong contours that enclosed the characters of Emotive Brutes seem here to dissolve into thin interspaces of color that separate the figures from the background, as if their visible bodies were the pure chromatic emanation of an existential condition. It is no longer a matter of “sculpting” through color the violence of a mood to make it universal, but the idea is to find with subtle multicolored veins the possibility of re-building a new theogony of gaze that has its roots directly at the source of the mythological thinking.
The figures, which the absence of three-dimensionality places in an incorporeal and timeless dimension, make up a gallery of enigmatic and disturbing characters who fix their hallucinated gazes on those of the observer to the point of irreversibly hypnotizing him. A subtly threatening atmosphere, emanating from this short circuit of glances, seems to galvanize the surrounding space with a silent and hidden tension, in which all the expressive power that distinguishes the artist is manifested. It is as if Alias Trate brought into his work an intimate connection with the mysterious sources of human emotions, which on the one hand he tries to address by suggesting, as the ancients did, a sketch of a narrative condensed into an image, on the other by abandoning himself to need to penetrate into the heart of the invisible, impregnating the material with unspeakable and intangible suggestions. His is an imperfect genealogy of divinities who survived the shipwreck of life, of idols dispossessed of the original aura of untouchability that crouch in the dark corners of our conscience, ready to avenge the treason and to regain control of our impulses.
Zeus’ Bastards, i.e. Apollo, the god of the sun and Dionysus, the god of wine and dance, impersonate an archive of primitive obsessions without any ethical and aesthetic filters, in which the Apollonian principle of rationality goes beyond in the Dionysian orgiastic dissolution. The chromatic range used by the artist, finely shaded in veins of pure and precious colors, confirms the fact that we are faced with a powerful, sensual, seductive painting, which is the result of a personality capable of telling the spirit of our time without forgetting the centuries of history that are stratified in our visual DNA and that his brushstrokes are able to make us perceive as vibrant and alive. And perhaps this is precisely the most peculiar gift of Alias Trate, his ability to draw from the deepest roots of the myth, bringing back his animal and instinctive origin with a personal language in which the spontaneity of inspiration does not affect the precision of the gesture and the absolute control of the pictorial matter. It is no coincidence that the logo with which he signs his works derives from the reinterpretation of a coin minted by the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius, the adoptive father of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman philosopher King. The coin shows a faceless bust surrounded by the Latin inscription Fortem, Immortalem and the Roman numeral MCMLXXIV, the year of birth of Alias Trate. Working under a pseudonym that alludes to the human traits he paints, the artist in this series of paintings emphasizes the interconnection between rationality and emotion in that inextricable melting pot of solicitations and impulses that have shaped individual and collective destiny since the dawn of time.
Alias Trate. Zeus’ Bastards
1 – 3 October 2020
15 Bateman St, Soho, London, W1D