Artist Nicholas Alvis Vega in an enigma. In fact, we’re not sure if that’s even his real name as he switches his identity about as much as he changes his paintbrush.
Kicked out of a London art school for making body casts of his then underage girlfriend on school grounds, his career has been tinged with controversy from the beginning. This is continued in his latest exhibition, ‘Nymphae Nymphalidae’, in which he defaces and replicates classic paintings to question the legacy of the male gaze in art. We delve deeper…
EXPLAIN THE CONCEPT OF THE EXHIBITION TO US – WHY DEFACE AND REPLICATE CLASSICS?
I replicate and then deface Classic pieces precisely because they are classic, because we are no longer able to look at these works objectively. By defacing them I am engaging with them rather than simply being a voyeur. I am both destroying them and creating something from them. Ultimately I am asking questions of myself, and in asking those questions I am involving the viewer.
YOU EXPLORE HOW WOMEN ARE DEPICTED IN ART AND SOCIETY -HOW DIFFERENTLY ARE WOMEN DEPICTED IN ART AS OPPOSED TO FASHION OR ADVERTISING?
Art has always dictated how women are portrayed in both fashion and advertising, both of which still revert to a Renaissance idealisation.The virgin/whore dynamic would still seem to be the paradigm; the prevailing cliché.
HOW DO YOU THINK WOMEN ARE VIEWED IN ART NOW?
Over the last century male artists have sought to deconstruct the idealised feminine but the results have revealed a deep-seated misogyny. Somehow the male gaze has penetrated the female psyche and for the most part women fall in to the trap of objectifying themselves. Women are the animating principle; something that perhaps can only be expressed in abstract terms.
WHY DO YOU THINK ‘THE GODDESS’ IS LOST?
I think that men are fundamentally afraid of women; a monotheistic religion that enforces the idea of a God serves to assert the masculine as the primary universal force, which is patently both narcissistic and absurd. It seems to me to be a catastrophic and elementary imbalance.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM CREATING THIS WORK?
I learnt that engaging is more important than revering.
WHY DO YOU SHOW UNDER DIFFERENT NAMES?
I like the idea of working under different names. In my experience names carry very particular energies and associations. One set of names is insufficient; we are constantly changing, constantly evolving and moving on, yet we are stuck with the same name for life. We can all be chameleons. Everybody should change names and identities every 10 years.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO BE AN ARTIST?
I didn’t. I fight against it everyday! I have no choice!
YOU HAD A CONTROVERSIAL START – BEING THROWN OUT OF ART SCHOOL -DOES NOTORIETY AND CONTROVERSY HELP YOU CREATE? AND DOES IT IN TURN CREATE INTEREST IN YOUR WORK?
I have never set out to be controversial; controversy for its own sake is a dead end. Children question everything, adults don’t, I do. I don’t regard what I do as controversial; I think I am asking legitimate and frankly elementary questions, the kind of questions that kids ask and that parents struggle to answer.
WHAT THEMES DO YOU INTEND TO EXPLORE NEXT?
I am working on a series of paintings that echo The Scream by Edvard Munch. It seems to me that everybody is screaming, but no one hears any one else’s scream, because we are all so entirely self obsessed. The scream is an incredibly visceral painting and everybody seems to relate to it; is the figure male or female? It’s irrelevant.
Nymphae Nymphalidae opens on March 9th at the Rove Gallery in Hoxton Square.