Alex Carroll‘s art studio spans an entire floor of his family’s Shanghai home. After brewing a fresh pot of jasmine tea and leading me up to the second floor, he bittersweetly admits that there will be no such spacious luxuries after he and his family moves back to America next year. The room is filled with supplies and a series of works that range from pieces in the idea stage to fully completed works. I spent very little of the morning directing our conversation; Alex articulates his thoughts in the same way that he creates his large visual pieces – with purpose. His words are profound with meaning and balanced with both humour and humility. Through chatting with him over the course of an afternoon, I came to know him as a true advocate for boundless creativity and as someone deeply respectful of the China that he has come to call home for the last decade.
在Alex Carroll 位于上海的家中，他的艺术工作室便占了整整一层楼。Alex Carroll 为我煮了一壶茉莉花茶后，带着我上了二楼, 他苦中带乐地表示，明年他和家人回到美国定居后就再也不能享受到这样宽敞的空间了。在这个艺术工作室中，摆满了艺术用品和一系列由他创作的作品，既有处于构思阶段的作品，也有已经完成的作品。当天早上的采访中，只有小部分的时间我需要引导我们的对话，大部分时候，Alex Carroll都能准确清楚地来表达着他的想法，一如他在创作大型的视觉作品时那样，总是带着明确的主题。他的话语意味深长，又不失幽默和谦卑。一整个下午，通过与他的对话，我逐渐了解到他是一名真正在拥护无限创意的艺术家，以及他对中国所怀有的深深的敬意。在过去十年来，这里一直被他称为是自己的“家”。
Neocha: Each one of your pieces is extremely textural and fluid; what mediums do you predominantly work with in order to create the moving energy that is present within your art pieces?
Carroll: I play around a lot with the ideas of the physical and metaphysical. With a charcoal stick, I can communicate a bigger idea by bringing this “dead” material to life. I’ve always thought that working with charcoal was very romantic. I’m able to get this rich value from using black, with only the paper as highlights. I try to achieve density and transparency. Finding a nice balance between light and dark enables me to create the overall mood of each piece.
Neocha: Can you tell us more about your drawing process? How does your art go from concept to completion?
Carroll: Drawing is both an additive and a subtractive procedure. For me, what is taken away is just as important as what is put down. I go out and buy erasers in the same way that I buy pencils; I give it the same attention to detail because I like the erased mark as much as I like the drawn mark. Drawing is about having this vocabulary of marks that you can employ to create the work. You build up a language and the more words you can utilise in your speech, the more dynamic your speech is.
I like to get my drawings to a point where everything flows together – what really excites me is working in black and white with a figure. It’s about being able to trace softness, hardness, density and light. Because our figures are like that; the way we move, when we add stress on one leg, that movement is hard, dark and bold. For my Transient series, I set about capturing movement through space. Each piece is derived from photographs; it represents metaphysical bodies moving out of sync with the physical surrounds and how we all have an expiration date.
Neocha: How has moving to China influenced your art and the way that you create?
Carroll: Art is so valued here in China. The language itself is an art, writing Chinese is an art. Chinese calligraphy is a series of spontaneous gestures, but yet, every stroke is so learned and practised. I love that immediacy, where the brush stroke breaks and the white of the paper comes through. Coming to China and seeing this whole school of thought; that really affirmed what I was doing and it got me excited about the kind of work that I could create here. I have been so privileged to be in a culture that appreciates art and appreciates that kind of thinking – that just doesn’t exist in America.
Neocha: In addition to being an artist, you’ve also been an art educator for many years. How has teaching impacted on your perception of art as a whole?
Carroll: I believe that creativity from art paves the way to understanding the world and building self-knowledge. I didn’t grow up in a very creative household. For the longest time, I saw art as a hobby and drawing was something that I did to pass the time. My parents never discouraged it, but they didn’t encourage it. I think it’s so important for kids who don’t have an artistic outlet at home to be able to go to a classroom and see their creations as achievements. Beyond being fun, art is an achievement and it’s a joy to see kids exceed their own expectations – that’s why I teach. Art education is so important; I really believe that it is the key to building self-worth. There are some artists who are confident in what their art is and their artistic voice is so strong. But I’m humbled by art. I love that I can draw. I feel very privileged that I can draw and I always have. When I draw, I don’t necessarily see it as “this is what I can do”, but rather I see it as, “this is what was given to me.” And it’s my job to keep practising it. I’m not a religious person, but I am a spiritual person, and I see this ability as a gift rather than just a talent.
Carroll: 我相信来自艺术的创意能帮助人们理解世界和建立自我认知。我并非出身于一个非常有创意的艺术家庭；在很长的时间里，我一直将艺术视为一种爱好，把绘画当作打发时间的事情。虽然我的父母从未阻止我画画，但他们也没有鼓励我去画画。我认为对于那些在家中难以抒发出自己艺术创意力的小朋友，如果能够去到教室中学习，让他们将自己的创作视为成就，对他们来说是很重要的。除了好玩，艺术也是一种成就，当看到孩子们的创作超过他们自己的期望时，实在是一件很令人开心的事情。这就是为什么我选择做教育的原因。艺术教育是如此重要，我真的认为它是建立自我价值的关键因素。有一些艺术家对自己创作的作品十分自信，他们艺术风格是如此的强烈。但艺术让我感到谦卑。我很开心我能绘画，我感到非常幸运，自己会画画，并能够一直坚持画画。 当我绘画时，我不会觉得“这是我所能够做的事情”，而是“这是我所被赐予的礼物”，所以我的责任是不断地练习。我不是宗教人士，但我是一个有精神信仰的人，在我看来，这种能力并不纯粹只是一种能力，更是一份天赐的礼物。