Born in Stamford, Connecticut
Resides in New York, New York
The American Dream, reforged and refinished in the fires of the industrial age, promised great reward for hard work, and prosperity and peace for meritorious actions. The scrubby lads of Horatio Alger’s 19th-century rags-to-riches stories set the stage for a national mindset: if you work hard you will be successful. We know more and more that this isn’t the case, that the odds are forever against sudden prosperity, but the rose-tinted glasses still cast their hue on something deep-set in how Americans were raised through the end of the 20th century. Growing up in New England in the 80s, Alex Golden pushed himself to work hard with the ideal that focus and drive lead to importance and prominence. As a gay man coming of age during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, he found it imperative to go above and beyond to prove his worth to himself and others. Golden’s practice explores the realities and fictional constructs inherent in late-stage capitalist society while infusing universal notions with biting personal commentary.
Often working with the transfer of digital line to printed surface, Golden creates meticulous drawings of subjects that have come undone. Thinking about those ideas with which he has become disillusioned, namely the American Dream and the glossy faux-ideals of modern life, he painstakingly produces representative drawings that lose hold of their illusionism due to the simple fact that they are more detailed than life. The artist notes, “My current prints were born of a romance and heartbreak with the ideological motifs of the United States. The intricately hand-drawn and layered prints are inspired by printed ephemera like currency, decorative papers, and fashion textiles, conveying diaphanous patterns whose spidery webs dissolve their own illusions.“ Akin to the anti-counterfeit designs of a twenty-dollar bill, each hatchmark and fine line within the portraits of celebrities lost to AIDS, the dilapidated gold mines, and talismanic objects exists within a multi-layered composition that merges pattern, color, and mark into a sensory overload. From a distance, these things look perfect and simple, much like their subjects, but on closer inspection they explode into detail and intrigue which only hints at the complexity of the source.
Drawn in hyperrealistic detail, works like Félix González-Torres (2017) take a crinkled gold foil candy wrapper from one of the late artist’s ‘spills’ as subject, using a meditative process of drawing and mark-making to reproduce something so simple that has such an inextricable link to greater issues. The candy has been opened, taken, and eventually replaced, leaving the colored foil behind as a witness to the exchange. Translated through Golden’s stylus, each crease and ridge becomes a new point of inspection to which we can fix our gaze and ruminate on the subject. Similarly, in more traditional portraits like Marlon Brando (2013-15), Golden reproduces childhood photographs of famous men that, through virtue of his fastidious approach, separates the well-known visage from the actual individual.
Playing upon this notion of process, time, and introspection, Golden also maintains a time-based practice that encompasses some of the same ideas found in the aforementioned pieces. The artist focuses on ideas of disillusionment by using the human body as site. Whether using himself as subject, or working with videos of others, Golden is able to establish a broader conversation about American ideals that connects on a personal, individual level. His stop-motion operas, themselves works of exquisite technical finesse, feature seemingly absurd narrative tableaus that toy with the commonplace. Most recently, Golden, who must do battle daily with Crohn’s Disease, began to think about the disillusionment that is part and parcel of broken systems as he sequestered himself in the bathroom each day. Translating his inborn notions of productivity and work into a performative thought process, the artist struggled to “make something of value” during otherwise fruitless mornings. Using a karaoke app on his phone, he has slowly taught himself to sing, and the smooth, nostalgia-inducing strains of Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” (which can be fittingly applied to a rosy-colored look back at both persons or idealistic ethos of the past) now echo off his washroom walls.
What happens when something starts to come between you and your goals, even your happiness? It’s a situation that I think everyone is experiencing to some degree right now as the pandemic races on, forcing us to stay home completely, or at least to give up some of our most treasured social and cultural traditions. For most, the current frustration is wearing, but I had a head start with all of this. Il'l explain.
I’ve had Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory condition of the gut, since 1991. After decades of heavy medications and surgeries, things have progressed to the point where I normally can’t leave the house for a good portion of the day. In essence, I have been experiencing my own lock down for nearly two years now, though for me, most of my time has been in the bathroom. As months went by and it became clear that this was my new normal, I became preoccupied with the frustration of confinement, but also with the very idea that I should be doing something, being more productive. I wondered is there really inherent value to productivity and forward motion, or can there be equal value in stasis and reflection? Had I internalized the American ethos that one is only as valuable as their accomplishments?
The desire to work and be productive is deeply ingrained in all humans, regardless of nationality, but stasis can be as important as productivity. Given the circumstance, I decided to use my downtime intuitively rather than struggle to draw in such small quarters. I began to listen to all kinds of music and I was surprised to realize that I could sing some of it. During the first 40 years of my life, I had mouthed the words in school chorus, I was too shy to ever join in the birthday song, and I just assumed that I couldn’t sing. I decided that I would teach myself to sing with the help of a karaoke app on my phone, and “songs from the throne” was born. I hope this project inspires people to question their assumptions about productivity, and I hope that it shows the potential of frustration and stasis. Maybe, we can learn from this pandemic, defy the rip currents of American capitalism, and embrace the nourishment of slowing down. Maybe, we can slow down enough to appreciate the melancholy beauty of a breakup song, and when we’re ready, move on to a more suitable lover.