Alexander Yulish wants Latest Exhibit ‘Out of Order’ to make you feel your humanity

by Kylie Obermeier

Alexander Yulish can’t stop comparing his paintings to x-rays. But the metaphor is perfect. The painter approaches the canvas like a writer approaches their journal: guts ready to be spilled.

His latest collection of work, Out of Order, continues Yulish’s study in artistic honesty. It’s not the first time his work has graced the ACE Gallery; 2015 saw his series “Immovable Thoughts” displayed in the space. But in comparison to that last exhibit, Yulish has pushed himself even farther outside of the boundaries of easily recognizable figure and foreground.

The ACE Gallery’s description waxes poetic about the “delayed reaction” one experiences upon viewing the paintings, and I experienced this myself. What at first glance might appear to be an energetic jumble of colors, lines and shapes reveals itself upon a second viewing to include a figure. Or two? Or three? I found myself trying to make sense of these crossword puzzles, to impose order on the disorderly. Whether you do the same or you embrace the chaos, you learn about yourself. You feel something: your humanity. And in doing so, Yulish achieves his hopes for those who gaze up his work.

We talked to the artist about the ambiguity of “Out of Order,” the simultaneous anxiety and excitement in making art, and just how paintings are like x-rays.

Take me through process of doing a painting.

Usually it starts with unrolling the canvas. It’s kind of a ritual. It may seem mundane at moments, but--you take the canvas, unroll it. Staple it to wall, a big, big wall. That whole process is a little nerve-wracking, even though it's supposed to be kind of a calm thing, but you’re in the anticipation of everything that has to come on that painting. Then all of a sudden you see a big white canvas stapled to wall and it’s completely looking right back into you. It’s like looking into a mirror, a mirror that has no reflection. It’s exciting and terrifying at same time, it’s like being on a rollercoaster, or having to meet someone for the first time. You can get anxiety about it, but at the same time I’m excited for all the possibilities that can happen at that very moment.

Do you put your emotions into your work?

Oh my god, yeah, completely. You put every fiber of your being into those paintings. They’re almost at moments like x-rays. And you hope that you’re being as intimate as you can in the work. It’s one place that you don’t want to hide. At least for me, that's the one place I can’t hide, the one place I can be completely truthful.

Tell me about “Out of Order.”

I love the name because it has so many different meanings and it can be taken in so many different ways—it has a lot of levels. It’s like taking an elevator, and going either up or down, lower floors or higher floors. You get to pick as the viewer, which one it means to you. You could think of something that’s broken. Another thing you could think of it something that’s free, that was confined and it out or order, it’s not in norm. Some people will think of it as a political statement of what’s happening right now. So it’s a myriad of different ways of seeing it, which I love. Everything you think is actually true, which is wonderful. One moment if you think it’s political, that’s definitely in there. So there’s no wrong answer, it’s just how deeply you want to look into it.

You’ve said of the paintings in this exhibit: “I experienced them in L.A. and painted them in New York.” Can you expand on this?

When I come out here I get fed; LA is extremely important to me. I live here the majority of the time, but I had to be in New York. So I would get fed in LA, a place I love so much. But they were painted in New York. So they’re a hybrid of LA and NY. But there’s definitely longing in there to be in LA. I miss this place very much and that’s something that I think is in those paintings. LA is my home.

This exhibit is more abstract than your 2015 exhibit at the ACE Gallery, Immovable Thoughts. What’s behind this evolution?

I just wanted to have the freedom to not hold onto shapes as much as you think. I wanted to get away from the idea of a head being head, an arm being arm. I wanted to feel kind of an emotional discharge of that, and they slowly get more abstract. Still, at least for now, they’ll always be figurative for me, but they’re getting more and more movement.

What do you want people to feel when they look at your paintings?

I want them to feel their humanity. On a perfect day, you want them to feel every emotion in the book. Even if—on an emotional level—they just deal with two, that's enough for me. But there’s what you wish for and what you get. Everyone is very different. Some get emotionally overwhelmed when they see the work, some don't feel anything. It’s just they’re circuitry and how they’re built and how they see the world. So you’re fucking crazy if you think everyone is going to like your work.

What’s your favorite painting you’ve done and why?

It’s always the last one. You love all of them—you have to love them, because they’re intimate parts, and you become attached to all of them. But after a moment I stop becoming attached, and then you can let them go, they go into people’s homes, they leave the nest. But as long as they’re honest, then they’re all special. The minute you start doing paintings that aren’t complete and haven’t finished a conversation or a dialogue, then you start not relating to any of them. And I won’t do anything that’s like that.

What are you trying to achieve with your art?

An internal conversation that’s expressed externally and that gets mapped on a canvas. And it will stay there until this canvas disintegrates.