In Charlie Alston’s studio in Downtown Los Angeles, every available wall and beam has a painting leaning against it. There are so many towering canvases that impromptu rooms have been created in the open studio. Some of the works that are bound together, have only just found their way to each other. With time, their connection has been revealed to themselves. Every canvas is painted independently of one another, but as the paintings evolve, Alston discovers natural conversations between the works. He is open-hearted, always seeking to reach deeper levels of relating with others. For Charlie Alston, life is neither binary, nor homogenous, it’s fractal, integrated, it’s about everything working together, talking and feeling.
Throughout this series he is in conversation with Pop and Abstraction. Pop has been a regular form of discourse in Alston’s paintings as an accessible way to communicate ideas and remove any insecurities viewers might feel when looking at art. Pop, literally meaning “popular,” is a long-storied genre in the United States, where it repurposed and re-contextualized everyday consumer items to engage with popular culture and the broader American audience. Alston engages with a large spectrum of icons from Bird’s Eye, TWA, and Globe to images and ads pulled from LIFE, Ebony Jr. and Jet Magazine. In digging up these icons from the past and repurposing them, he’s able to examine the systems they stand for. Each symbol, each icon, represents a system, a way of being in the world under which groups of people came together and created communities.
In BOARDING PASS, a zoo scene plays out with text from a TWA boarding-pass laid over it. The zoo scene feels so familiar that the name of the cartoon is on the tip of the tongue. But that’s the clever, emotional trick of the work. Because for many viewers, unless you were a regular reader of Ebony Jr. in the 1970s, you likely haven’t read this particular cartoon. In this way, Alston’s references are multivalent, acting as an aesthetic trigger to elicit curious engagement.
In The Wind Rises, two modular-panels sit side by side. To the left, is a sizable abstract painting that blends vibrant tones of blue, yellow, and green, with bold brushstrokes ranging from small and swift to large and expressive, with vigorous splatters. There’s a wit to his lines, a whimsy to his brush. Next to this, sits a slim panel with a replica of an etching of the steamship, the SS Roosevelt - the famous vessel that voyaged in 1908 to discover the North Pole - being battered by windswept waves at sea. While these two panels started out as standalone canvases, they are now circumscribed as a larger entity, like islands in an archipelago. This encounter is an expansion of their individual worlds, an extension of their meaning.
Alston’s abstraction furthers the conversation. He asks you to be uncertain. To listen to the shades. To accept the world as a fundamentally mysterious experience, under and above the forms of intelligibility. He refuses the assumption that you can ever fully understand things, and invites you to walk into the unknown.
In his practice, Alston sees experience as a whole. Employing the styles of Pop and Abstraction in these works, he shows that there’s no hierarchy between the two. What is left is an interdependent relationship. The beaten path and the wilderness as one.
Charlie Alston (b. 1997, San Francisco, CA) received his BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2019. Recent solo exhibitions include Block Party, Your Body; a North Star in the West at Deli Gallery in New York, NY. He has been featured in group exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum, Philadelphia, PA; Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ; Twelve Gates Arts Gallery, Philadelphia, PA; and California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA. This is the artist's second solo show with M+B. Alston lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.