Axel Wilhite is a Los Angeles-based artist and writer. He holds an MFA in fiction writing from New York University. His interest in the intersection of literature, storytelling, and visual art has led to numerous collaborations and experiments. The first international exhibition of his art, “Un Jeu de Cartes,” was held in December 2013 at La Manutention in Paris. Axel has since developed several trajectories in his art but often use Japanese culture and arts as main source of inspiration.
Found materials come with their own particular history and perspective that makes conversation between material and artist possible, which is why I have come to like using discarded materials as substrate for my works.In these latest paintings, I’ve taken damaged and discarded Japanese woodblock prints as my substrata. I have gravitated towards these prints as a material in part because I love to look at them—I’m in awe of their imagination, design, and craftsmanship. Additionally, I know that the production of each print is the result of a laborious process that requires many master craftspeople applying their various arts—from the papermakers to the illustrators to the printers, and all the steps in-between. By working with these discarded prints, I style myself as an extension of that process. My art in the case of these works is to rehabilitate and repurpose these prints from the Edo to create images that speak to our crisis-ridden, globally-connected era.
My techniques are culled not from Japanese craft, but from the European surrealist and Dadaist movements of the early 20th century. I use the surrealist gestures of interjection and juxtaposition via collage, assemblage, and Western-style painting to transform and embellish and amend the scenes on the prints into something chimerical, something at once fantastic but recognizable. For inspiration, I turn to the images that proliferate in art history, natural science, current events, and the rest of the enormous wealth of imagery available through the internet.
My artistic sensibility is guided according to my sensibilities earned through training in literature and poetry. (I have no formal artistic training.) I strive to conjure scenes through my images that elide easy categorization or explanation, to pose questions that vibrate with ambiguity and at various simultaneous emotional resonances.