Shrine, 2016. Gold leaf, nails, earth, coffee and archival varnish on wood. All images courtesy the artist and October Gallery, London
Unlike most painters or artists, the most important tools in Alexis Peskine’s arsenal are not paint brushes and palettes but nails, hammers and a bit of gold leaf. He brings images to life through a technique he specialises in called Accu-painting, where powerful portraits are literally nailed into wooden planks. The portraits often pay tribute to the many individuals undertaking the dangerous boat journeys from North Africa to Europe.
In Accu-painting, Alexis carefully hammers nails of various sizes into a canvas at different heights or lengths to get the right densities and introduce a third dimension. He then uses gold leaf to achieve the brown finish in the skin tone. What he ends up creating are intricate paintings of black skin that are literally nailed into wooden planks. To him, the nail represents transcendence; it expresses pain and the force of resistance.
The Afro-French artist was born in Paris to Brazilian mother and a French-Russian father. He says that having this unique mixed identity makes him feel closer to Africa, which is something he explores in his work by looking at subjects like immigration. “l wouldn’t push an artist who is not woke to make conscious art. Just be true to who you are," he says.
His experience of growing up black in France as well as his travels for education and work to places like USA, Jamaica and Brazil played a big role in shaping his outlook. “I am Afro-French. I have always been frustrated with the idea of race; the fact that we don’t address it or do it in a hypocritical way. l was always encouraged to be an artist. But when l looked around me, there was no one who looked like me. l used to ask myself if I was an exception or if art was a white vocation,” he adds.
Matu Nu Mabele, 2018. Gold leaf, nails, earth, coffee and archival varnish on wood
Alexis’ body of work focuses on the black experience while questioning notions of identity, the plight of African refugees in France and the dynamics of colonialism. He also makes time to experiment with other materials. For instance, he made a range of outfits using the Ghana Must Go bags for a project called Raft of the Medusa. The bags get their name from a 1983 order by the then Nigerian president Shehu Shagari, who ordered all immigrants without proper documentation to leave the country, most of whom were from Ghana.
Alexis holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Howard University, Washington DC as well as an MA in Digital Arts and a Master of Fine Arts. He is also a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship. He has exhibited around Africa in places like Johannesburg, Durban, Dakar and Addis Ababa, as well as South America, USA and Europe. His work was also part of Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2018.
The article was first published on Design Indaba. This is part of an exchange programme between Design Indaba and Design Fabric to introduce the rich works coming out of Africa's art and design scene to South Asia, and connect one culture to another.
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