How and why their individual approaches to Flower Paintings are distinct
Standard Space is pleased to present Flower Paintings, a two-person exhibition featuring recent work by New York-based artists Alexander Russi and Alexandria Tarver. Flowers are a dominant subject in each of the artists’ oeuvre. Their individual approaches, however, are distinct. Brought together, the effect of this shared dialogue is revelatory of the narratives contained within Russi and Tarver’s respective practices, as well as offering glimpses and keys to understanding a history of painting through contemporary renderings of a subject that has often been interpreted across genres.
Alexander Russi sources most of his imagery from the backyard garden adjacent to his Brooklyn studio. While maintaining this space, he observes natural cycles and documents changing forms with an awareness of their ephemerality. Alexandria Tarver’s approach is not so direct, as the quietude of the paintings suggests. Her most recent extended series, nights, recontextualizes the traditional floral motif into a space between memory, idealization, and presence.
The essential force propelling the work by Tarver and Russi is the repetition of disciplined observation and painterly documentation. The resultant works exhibited here essentially use the floral subject to catalog the passage of, and experience of being in, time. And what better tools are there by which to judge time, and our relation to it, than the presence of a flower — and the making of a painting?
Alexandria Tarver, New painting - nights, 25, oil on panel, 24 × 30 inches, 2020
Where are you from and what is your first memory of art?
A.R.: I grew up in Wichita, Kansas and western Colorado, surrounded by the vast scale of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.... I had my first meaningful encounter with fine art as a teenager, looking at O’Keefe and Hopper at the Art Institute of Chicago after traveling there from
Denver, CO on an Amtrak train with my father. I spent a lot of time traveling across the Midwest with both of my parents as a child, and I was often immersed in the eclectic world of antiques and collectibles, as my mother was an antiques dealer at the time. The connection between objects and their histories, and the human relationship with landscape are evolving ideas distilled in my current work.
A.T.: I was born and raised in Houston, TX, and my first memory of art was being asked to draw a tree in preschool, so I must have been 4 years old. The teacher showed us a photograph of an old tree and told us to draw it. I immediately had an existential crisis, unable to grapple with the possibility and my own capability as a child of 4 of drawing the thousands of leaves in this tree. But I sucked it up and drew it anyway because there really wasn’t anything else to do. I guess you could say that my methodology for making art hasn’t changed much since then - the only difference is that now I’m the one creating the problems for myself to solve.
Alexander Russi, Goldenrod, oil on canvas, 10 x 8”, 2021
How did you pursue your studies and career to be an artist?
A.R.: As a teenager I began studying painting with a Colorado based artist, Patty Ringer. I received my BFA in studio art at New York University in 2014, and while there I studied with Maureen Gallace. After graduating I began working with several artists in New York, including Ian Cooper, Van Hanos and David Kennedy Cutler, and have maintained a studio practice in my garden apartment in Brooklyn.
A.T.: I was never a very happy young person and was prone to escapism via a voracious appetite for books and music, and then later on drugs and alcohol played a part. My high school teacher, artist Terry Suprean, nurtured my interest in painting by introducing me to artists like Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, and Rackstraw Downes. He told me to go to The Menil Collection, and as soon as I could drive, I was constantly there in the Cy Twombly gallery mesmerized. Those trips showed me that I too could use the medium of art as a vehicle to get to some kind of truth for someone who is attempting to grapple with the world.
Acceptance into NYU brought me to New York City, the only place I wanted to be. I never wavered from my commitment to oil painting, which I took up at around 14, and if the studio was open, I was there. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I loved the city too much to leave so I got any service job that would have me. One of my former teachers, Maureen Gallace, put me in touch with Billy Sullivan, who I assisted in his historic Bowery studio a couple days a week between random service gigs. Billy’s utmost kindness, patience, and incredible generosity towards me was the real introduction to the lifestyle of a working artist I wanted to emulate in my own way.
Eventually I lived and painted in a studio loft across the street from an underground music/performance space in Bushwick called The Ho_se and began curating gallery-style painting shows there and finding new comrades to show with at my various jobs and through friends of friends. It was a fun time, and I never had any expectations of where my work would take me, I just wanted to keep painting and showing however I could and with a sense of integrity.
I met Max Marshall at this time. He worked at Matthew Marks then, whose programming I’ve always adored. He ran a very cool photography blog and was making pictures then too. We would exchange art books and ideas and just hang out and drink beers and see shows. One day, he told me he wanted to be an art dealer himself. He had a couple weeks left on an empty apartment from a recent move to show in, and asked if we could work together. I said of course! He called it Deli Gallery. We’ve grown up together a lot since then, to say the least. It’s been wonderful to be under the umbrella of such a consistent and caring partner on this journey.
Alexandria Tarver, New painting - nights, 46, oil on panel, 10 × 8", 2023
How did this collaboration, Flower Paintings exhibition, happen?
A.R.: I have admired Alexandria’s paintings for a long time and I was thrilled that she was interested in presenting together at Standard Space. We were both studying at NYU about ten years ago and it has been great to reconnect through painting.... Our conversation leading up to the show was considerate and insightful, and this exhibition is a meaningful opportunity to show our work. As painters I think we have come across similar conclusions but for different reasons and so it has been a joy to share the conversation.
A.T.: Alex asked me if I was interested in doing this show with him and I said of course! There’s so many parallels in our practice that at first I was a little wary of it being too one-note. However, the more we dug into the process of realization of the show here between ourselves and under the care of the Standard Space team, the more beautiful synchronicities and balances came about in our conversations and in just putting the works next to each other that made this show make perfect sense. I think we all had a few light bulb moments as this show came about,
which is always very exciting for me.
Alexander Russi, Nasturtium, oil on canvas, 10 x 8”, 2023
What has been the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of being an artist?
A.R.: I really appreciate the challenge of developing technique and craft in my work. There is always more to learn and that is exciting... One of the most rewarding things as an artist is learning from other artists. I am very grateful for artists and friends who have influenced me and my work.
A.T.: The most challenging aspect is contending with the limited number of hours in the day. The most rewarding thing is walking through the world like a live wire, searching for and finding resonance in music, art, environment, people, literature, history, and everything else to reinforce and inform my sense of purpose. And sharing that with others.
Alexandria Tarver, New painting - nights, 39, for Mimi Parker, oil on panel,
30 × 40 inches, 2022
What is your favorite piece of the other artist in the show and why?
A.R.: New painting - nights, 39, for Mimi Parker is my favorite in the show.
It is the largest work in the show and the scale activates the space in a powerful
way. The subtle sense of movement across the composition and the rich color
palette suggests an atmosphere full of an unseen presence. The surface in all of
Ale’s work is mysterious and deceptive and it is a pleasure attempting to decipher her adept brushwork.
Alexander Russi, Colorado Thistle, oil on canvas, 24 x 20”, 2022
A.T.: I love Colorado Thistle. Something about the density makes me more engaged with it, it’s a challenge to make sense of. If there’s anything I like, it’s a challenge. When you look at it long enough and patiently enough, there’s such a lovely dance going on with the composition and color balance that creates a wonderful sense of discovery, as well as that ineffable quality of existential relief. Foxglove touches on that too for me, but they’re all great.
Alexandria Tarver, New painting - nights, 47, oil on panel, 11 × 14 inches, 2023
Looking to the future, what do you have planned next?
A.R.: I will have some works on view with Halsey McKay Gallery at NADA Miami this year.
A.T.: I have a solo of new paintings at Deli Gallery in New York City in January 2024. Please come!
Alexander Russi, Tulip, oil on canvas, 16 x 12”, 2020