Visual Art

Alika Herreshoff on his Addiction to Painting: the Discipline That's "Died so many Deaths"

Alika Herreshoff is addicted to painting. It's the art form he can't let go of and he's not planning to try anytime soon.

In the early 2000's, Herreshoff was a member of Dearraindrop, an art collective that was based at that time in Virginia Beach. He worked alongside the other members to create works with different forms of media, using an aesthetic he describes as "a tidal wave of psychedelic and cartoon imagery."

Today, Herreshoff works alone. After traveling extensively and exhibiting throughout the world, his studio landed in Houston and he's earning a reputation as one of the notable painters in the state. Earlier this year, he was one of five Houston artists in a show at Ware:Wolf:Haus that was one of the better painting shows we've had this year, and certainly the most contemporary, which is where he connected with RE Gallery, which hosts his first Dallas solo exhibition this weekend.

His work in The Imp of the Perverse draws inspiration from literature to painting, to comics and psychology, referencing both Edgar Allan Poe and Rene Magritte. His use of vivid colors and fluid figures is tantalizing, which is why we wanted to peek into the studio. In anticipation of the opening at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 26, we chatted with Herreshoff about where he's from, how he uses inspiration, and what keeps him painting.

You were born in Hawaii - did you spend your childhood there? I spent the first 10 years of my life in Hawaii. Those early impressions of tropical flora and fauna, lava flows, and coral reefs have definitely had a profound influence on my use of color and shape.

Do you consider it your hometown? My family relocated to the Seattle area in '89, and I really consider that to be my hometown. It was within the context of the 90's independent music scene in the Pacific Northwest that my interest in art really grew. Like many of my contemporaries at the time I was making zines, home recordings, and "mail art" loosely in the style of Ray Johnson. By the time I finished high school, these varied artistic efforts had more or less boiled down to an obsession with painting.

You appear to be well-traveled and have exhibited all over the world, what brought you to Texas? My wife grew up in Houston. We were living in Berlin prior to Texas and when we decided to return to the States, Houston was the most sensible place for us to crash-land. The bigger surprise for us has been that we've continued to stay here - and I credit that decision in large part to the discovery of so many great artists who call Texas home.

How did you end up in the show at Ware:Wolf:Haus and is that how you connected with RE Gallery? Yes, the exhibit was curated by a talented painter by the name of Ryan Storm and featured the work of five contemporary Houston painters. Wanda Dye (of RE Gallery) and I met on the opening night of the Ware:Wolf:Haus exhibit, she was enthusiastic about my work and here we are!

Is Dallas a city you thought you'd find representation in? Not really, but I've been surprised and pleased by what I've found here. I didn't have a lot of context for Dallas before the Ware:Wolf:Haus show, but the art scene seems really exciting to me: on one hand there are numerous top-notch institutions with great programs, and on the other, there are upstart spaces like Ware:Wolf:Haus keeping things fresh, and cutting-edge talents like Nathan Green, whose work I love.

Obviously you draw from a range of literary and artistic sources. Do you feel like you're able to render those inspirations in the final output? I don't think there's a one-to-one relationship between what I'm reading, thinking about, and looking at and the paintings I make, and I wouldn't want there to be. Those references (the shortlist in this case includes Poe, Magritte, Freud, and Felix the Cat) filter into the work and are useful as a general framework, but I've always thought that in the end the paintings speak on their own terms and remain open to a variety of readings. My paintings walk a line between representation and abstraction and that's probably in some way a reflection of this balance between the specificity of references on and one hand, and poetic uncertainty on the other.

Your work is playful and has an almost airy lightheartedness to it. Is that intentional or is that just something I'm assigning to the work?

One of my personal criteria for art is that it contain humor and that's something I try to deliver, even if it's only via suggestion rather than punchline. I love it when a work of art makes me chuckle on first contact, even, and especially, if the mechanics of its comedy are not immediately clear.

What keeps you painting?

Painting is such an antiquated activity, it's no surprise that the discipline has died so many deaths and is chock full of endgame gestures. But for me that historical burden is also a blessing, I'm constantly finding new connections and historical threads and out of those come new ideas about how I'm going to proceed as an artist.

On a basic level I keep painting because I'm addicted to the experience of color, shape, and line at varying scales, and the thrill and challenge in attempting to create a compelling image. Painting also has this Janus-faced quality of being both picture and object, which is obvious and well-explored within the history of art, and yet is still fascinating to me. In other words, it's not just about making an image, it's how one deals with materials, scale, the surface, the support and frame, the wall, the context, etc. This ostensible contradiction between depiction and objecthood is a part of what keeps me interested in the broader "project" of painting despite it's reputation of being long dead.

The Imp of the Perverse opens at Re Gallery with a reception at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 26 and remains on display through September 6.

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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart