“An exhibition is always a tricky moment,” says Alexandre Diop. “It’s a moment where you show your work — but it’s also the moment the work disappears because the show is already finished.”
The Franco Senegalese artist is at his parent’s home in Paris following the recent Paris+ art fair. Even after the inaugural fair wrapped, Diop’s work lingered at the Acacias Art Center through Nov. 19. “La prochaine fois, le feu,” marked the 27-year-old artist’s first exhibition in the French capital and the culmination of his experience with the Reiffers Art Initiative’s mentorship program, which pairs young emerging artists with accomplished counterparts. He was matched with renowned figurative painter Kehinde Wiley, whose work was shown alongside his own. Diop notes that the experience pushed him to stretch toward new qualities within his practice, and now describes Wiley as like a big brother.
The Basel-going crowd will have another chance to catch Diop’s art in Miami at the Rubell Museum, which will present his work in a solo exhibition, “Alexandre Diop: 2022 Artist-in-Residence,” in time for the fair. Diop completed his residency at the Rubell in Miami at the start of the year and the show will include many works created while he was onsite at the museum. Pieces on view veer larger and more figurative than many of his previous works and Diop notes that the exhibition is an opportunity to show the diversity of his practice.
“I wanted to show different aspects of my works, from painting to sculptures and objects,” he says, adding that there will also be a video component; a friend shot a mini-documentary while he was in residence. “I try to learn and work at the same time.”
Many of Diop’s evocative mixed-media works are crafted on wood panels, incorporating various found materials like metal, fabric, rope and discarded objects in the spirit of the Arte Povera movement. His markings — whether paint or the trail of staples — take on a kinetic quality, and his complex compositions have a sense of contained entropy. Sometimes those marks take the shape of words and phrases in the background, beckoning the viewer further into the painting. His signature, a gestural uppercase “AD,” is embedded in many pieces and often enveloped in the scene: in a nighttime sky, it’s transformed into a star.
He points to his triptych “L’Histoire du Monde — Le Temps et L’Espace (The History of the World — Time and Space)” as a central work on view at the Rubell and also one of his largest pieces to date, both in literal size and scope of the subject: the state of humanity. In another large triptych, “Troisième de la Lignée (The Incredible Crossing of Abdoulaye the Great, Third in Line to the Throne),” his mélange of figures propel their way forward and across the panels.
“I was more in the museum than in Miami,” says Diop, asked about the city’s impact on his art. “So I wanted to do something in relationship with time, with chronological references,” he adds, influenced by the museum’s range of artists and works on view. “I wanted to show that I’m able to recap and rethink what is behind me as historical elements, but also assume what could happen, or artistically shape a new future.”
The artist creates quickly, aiming to spend at most two or three days on a piece. By limiting his time frame he’s unable to overthink his aesthetic decisions, which leads to unexpected revelations. “I’m always experimenting,” notes Diop. “It often happens that I experiment a bit too much. Sometimes I have so many ideas I go somewhere and then realize it’s not exactly where I want to go.”
While audiences only witness the finished composition, that state of failed experimentation and process is what Diop finds most compelling in his work. “I notice that the more I meet problems while I’m doing a piece, the more complex and interesting the piece will be,” he says.
“I don’t speak often about this because now I’m a young artist, emerging, and I have a lot of success around me — so people don’t see so much struggle; people speak more about the talents. But the frustration and difficulty is always really close to my practice,” he continues. “Art was always a lot of frustration for me because I had so many ideas and so much ambition. But I also noticed that I would be really far from what I wanted to do.”
He credits his desire to embrace that difficulty with pushing him to become a better artist, likening his approach to that of the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. “Giacometti said that he’d go to the studio every day because he would hate what he did the day before. You know, when you see Giacometti’s works, you don’t usually feel hate, you just feel ‘wow.’
“This is what is important and interesting in art; art is a self-questioning. It’s a way to live — not only for others, not only in the capitalist art historical context,” he adds. “I think maybe [art] is the act of living, and life is of course associated with pain, with struggle, with death.”
In mid-December, Diop will head to Dakar in Senegal, where he plans to continue to experiment with new materials, reconnect with Wiley and use his platform to lend support to his friends and family around him.
“The gears are always turning, so I cannot sleep,” says Diop, adding that the sculptural quality of his paintings may soon move him off the canvas. “I think also maybe I’m a frustrated sculptor,” he says, the hint of a smile in his voice.
There’s also a homecoming on the horizon. Diop is currently looking for his own apartment in Paris, intending to split his time between the city and his studio in Vienna, where he moved several years ago to study at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.
“Paris is a city really close to my heart,” says Diop. “I feel it’s time for me to come back to where I’m from.”