Antigone 3000 (5), 2014, oil on linen, 90” x 80”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
Antigone 3000 (4), 2014, oil on linen, 90” x 80”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
Antigone 3000 (3), 2014, oil on linen, 90” x 80”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
Antigone 3000 (1), 2014, oil on linen, 90” x 80”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
Antigone 3000 (2), 2014, oil on linen, 90” x 80”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
Antigone 3000 (6), 2014, oil on linen, 90” x 80”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
I was born to love not to hate (1), 2014, mixed media on paper, 126” x 72”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
I was born to love not to hate (2), 2014, mixed media on paper, 126” x 72”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
I was born to love not to hate (4), 2014, mixed media on paper, 126” x 72”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
I was born to love not to hate (3), 2015, mixed media on paper, 126” x 72”. Photo credit: Brian Forrest
by Kate Durbin
It is apt that Los Angeles painter Alexandra Grant’s newest series, Antigone 3000, is inspired by images of the Rorschach test, though cut in half so what’s left is a stain. Whether full or partial, a Rorschach reveals only the viewer—nothing of itself. It is a mirror in which we face our deepest desires and fears. When it comes to Antigone, the half-Rorschach-as-stain is an ideal emblem. This revolutionary figure invoked time and time again through history—birthed by Sophocles in ancient Greece, radicalized by director Jean Anouilh as a subversive symbol of Nazi resistance, recently stripped bare by poet Anne Carson in her book Antigonick—is now experiencing another rebirth in our era of economic disparity and climate injustice. The famous psychological stain of duality, that beautiful, messy abstraction, a kind of explosion, embodies not only what Antigone has meant thus far, with her polyphony of interpretations and colors, but also the rich potentials still unrealized within her, that is to say, within us.
Antigone has often signified danger—in her boldness and her unwillingness to compromise, even in the face of certain death. But she holds another, perhaps more treacherous, risk in her openness to interpretation. Is her desire to bury her brother motivated by ethics or born of something less nameable, a kind of morally indefensible passion?
Grant’s paintings do not answer this question, this crux at the heart of Antigone. Instead, the paintings perform the question, posing it again and again. Unlike her prior Century of the Self series, these new works offer us very few avenues for interpretation. The large paintings are stunning, literally—shocks of ornate color disrupt clean, black-and-white lines created by ruler (the lines of the state, the rule of law) but are also disturbing in the associations they conjure: wine spilled on an expensive dress, blood appearing suddenly on a white wall. The blooms of color have textures rough and bumpy over smooth lines below. One can’t help but feel a sense of the uncontainable when looking at them, a fear for what they might do to whoever witnesses them, what they might stir up within.
This question of who will bear witness is one that Antigone raises. Her brother happened to be on the losing side of a rigged game, the game of war. This unlucky coincidence could happen to any of us. So who will bear witness for us, in the event of our great shame? Grant’s viewers must face this question when confronted by her paintings—for they are nothing if not confrontational—and the paintings, in their silence that shouts volumes, implicate viewers as witnesses. Grant’s vibrant stains force us to face our own unnamable passions, those parts of ourselves turned off, shut down, hidden away from this world, and for fair reason: so we can succeed socially, so that we can survive economically, and, if we are lucky, get ahead.
So that we aren’t put to death, as we secretly fear we deserve.
But passion, Grant reminds us, cannot be contained. It spills out, soiling everything it touches. It leaks from tiny cracks in our guarded hearts. Her paintings reveal that Antigone never really dies but is continually resurrected, revived out of our passion, a passion that is life itself.
(This essay was published by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs in its 2015 COLA Master Artist Fellowship program catalog.)