One-on-one with Leslie Alfin, London, UK/ Egremont, Massachusetts USA
What is your work about?
My recent work explores literal contradictions presented by the use of physical boundaries (walls) as paradoxical metaphors for current socio-political ideologies (eg. build walls to achieve freedom from this or that) and the use of “walls” to confine/separate/lockdown perceived threats (are “we” locked in or are “they/it” locked out?). Ironic in that walls have been employed for millennium not only as boundaries, but as delivery systems for the communication and documentation of ideas, history, identity, ideologies, art and dissent that are typically associated with perceived “freedoms” rather than the restrictions that walls inherently imply.The choice of painting as a delivery system is meaningful as paintings can be seen as either a metaphorical “wall” or “window” driven by the individual viewer’s perspective.
Do you have a studio routine, strategy or ritual that helps you get in the creative zone?
My work strategy consists of 4 simple guidelines that I have found effective for many years.
- My mind/energy is most receptive to creative thinking in the morning so get to the studio early.
- Once in the studio—I allow the process to lead.
- At the end of the day, if I am not scared by where the process is taking me…I haven’t done enough to push out of my comfort zone. This is where my best work lives.
- Feedback from others is important but, in the end I’m the critic that matters most so brutal self-reflection is essential.
How has the pandemic affected your art practice?
As an artist who works daily, all alone and very focused in my studio, the lock down actually seemed like just another day. However—the response to the pandemic by governments, individuals, activists etc. has been a charged source of working material for someone who has for many years, harvested news media in all its forms for the inspirational and literal content that is foundational to my work. It has also reinforced for me how artists in general are an important, critical, influential and documentarian “voice” in the most consequential issues of the time. A case might even be made that we are workers that are “essential” to the health and well-being of society and therefore must be better supported.
What is your greatest reward, memory, accomplishment or proud moment as an artist?
I am a full time artist who has taught, mentored, and created a robust and resilient studio practice. I’ve made and continue to make work that I am proud of and there is no end in sight. I have had some recognition for my work in the form of sales and exhibits. So I would have to say there has been no single “great” moment. It is all fabulous and I have every reason to believe it will continue. It is all great!
What is one thing you MUST have in your studio?
Music, podcasts and a smudge stick (or equivalent).
What would you tell your future self about being an artist right now?
Art is both timeless and timely. Iteration keeps it relevant in both cases.
How has the Art NXT Level Academy improved your art career?
I came to the programme to re-fresh after a few years of running a social enterprise. Because I also switched up my SOP by taking on a new skill (painting), it’s taken my work awhile to get to a place that I am happy with. I am there now and will spend the next few months building a body of work that I feel good about getting out there. So—as a result—I have been pretty singularly focused and haven’t pro-actively availed myself of the things offered by Art Nxt Level. That will change rapidly over the next few months as I am beginning to organise my strategy and plan for introducing my work to the market. In the meantime, I have used some of the tools and information offered and enjoyed connections with the Nxt Level community members on social media.
What is the best art career advice you’ve ever received?
As an “older” student in my graduate program, I wish I could say that my age wasn’t an issue but it clearly was for far too many. I was consistently told, or heavily hinted, that art is a young person’s career and that I was likely wasting my time if I aspired to anything more than a hobby. So supportive advice has been scarce over the years with one exception and that was when I met a curator who had seen an installation of mine at a local school. Her advice came in the form of a huge vote of confidence by including my work in a number of exhibits in a well-known Brooklyn venue and selecting me as one of “12 Brooklyn artists to watch”—recognition I was told was out of reach. Moral of the story: sometimes the best advice comes in actions not words.