Interview by Tiana Ashley
Earlier this year, I caught up with abstract artist Alteronce Gumby while en route to LA, following the closing of his latest solo presentation in Mexico City’s Zona Maco. A body of work fueled by his continuous exploration of the color and codes of Black, and featured mosaics of crushed glass, rich pigments, and obsidian – a gemstone recognized by early Aztec culture for its metaphysical properties.
Fast-forward to this fall, Gumby’s solo debut at Nicola Vassell Gallery challenges the iterant – glance & onto the next – viewing decorum. His paintings capture imagined and existing otherworldly scapes through the conscious use of materials such as resin, glass, and gemstones.
He invites the viewer to navigate panels of cosmological refractions of light, color, and energy, where the senses outside the typical parameters of awareness are activated. After seeing the captivating works in person, I had the pleasure of speaking with the artist about The Color of Everything.
What are some key takeaways from the show that you would like viewers to leave with?
This show feels different from my other shows. It feels like I’m having this evolution show where I’m showing techniques and control with two different mediums but resonating on the same ideas and how those ideas can transcend from medium to medium.
I want viewers to see that dynamism. As a visual composer, I’m looking for signs and cues that really hold my attention within the work, which will then hold other people’s attention too.
I hope they’re thinking or perceiving color in a new light. A part of my practice is constantly trying to redefine color for myself, so I hope that my work, and visiting my show allow them to see color in a new life, form, and experience. And also seeing paintings in a new way- my paintings are not the traditional or textbook definition of a painting. Paint out of a tube on stretched linen, hanging on a wall – you’re not really seeing any of that in my show. You’re seeing alternative mediums like glass, gemstones, and resin. I’m trying to push the genre of abstract painting forward, and painting in general. In order to do that I have to develop a new identity almost for how my paintings are perceived, or constructed. I hope that other artists can come to my show and they’re inspired, the same way I’m inspired by other artists.
Have any new definitions of color or color codes come up?
I’m not necessarily using words to define it. I think it’s a different perception of color; sometimes, that’s just an experiential thing.
I don’t believe that everything needs to be put into words. I think that’s what art is made for – a way to present an idea to someone without using words. I think activating one’s mind through my work is another way of allowing someone to define these things for themself and find that language.
This is your first show since announcing the official representation. How do you feel about opening your show during Armory week?
I’ve always admired Chelsea and its galleries, especially in September – it’s primetime!
To show work in Chelsea during September for a solo exhibition is a major milestone. I know how hard I’ve worked to get here, and I wanted my work to feel as strong as possible. Having an amazing gallerist like Nicola helps with that process. The love & response that I’ve been getting from my community has been astonishing.
I feel like I’ve crossed over and transcended into a new level of my career.
There are many reflectional pieces in this show – is this new?
Since the glass works, I’ve been intentional and mindful of the reflective quality of the paintings. When I’m working with resin, there’s more clarity, and I’m leaning into it more. I use reflection as a tool.
What is it about reflection that you are drawn to?
There’s so much happening materially, gesturally, and chromatically that the viewer almost doesn’t notice or see themselves right away. You get lost in the abstraction, imagery, and imaginative space in which the painting takes you. But then, at a certain moment, you find yourself.
You catch yourself staring at yourself – you catch your own eyes within the work. I think that’s a really magical moment because you’re seeing yourself in another light.
The resin works distort the here and now so much that you see yourself in another dimension. I feel that’s another way we as human beings need to perceive ourselves – not only in the now and in the physical but also in the spiritual and the mental. I want my paintings to have that reflection, not only in light and color but in space, allowing people to reflect on the possibilities here in the world.
During our first interview you mentioned travel plans to Asia. Did your trip have any influence on The Color of Everything?
I went to Tokyo for a month, which was my first time in Asia, and that was a magical time. It was a culture shock but one that I appreciated. I traveled to Kyoto and Nayoshima, an art island in Japan.
I visited the Chichu Art Museum, housing select artworks of Claude Monet and James Turrell. Looking at Monet’s water lily painting – the way the colors vibrated – I began to ask myself, what does it take to make this painting?
I’ve been to Traverny, and stood at the foot of the pond near Monet’s house. I remember staring at this painting and picturing Monet trying to render this moment. Staring at the pond, painting these reflections on the water – the willow trees around him, the sky, passing clouds, and this fleeting light as the earth & sun are rotating – the light is constantly changing as he’s staring at this pond. I imagined him staring so hard at this reflection of a sky – in some way, you can look past the sky and capture moments of what’s beyond the clouds – beyond the sky – a cosmic landscape.
As someone who makes cosmic landscapes, I’m always trying to activate my imagination, and think about seeing colors in a new light. That idea of reflection, and capturing shifting moments of light within a painting became really relevant to me. Especially looking at Monet’s work, and in comparison, James Turrell’s work – two artists who dealt with color and light differently.
I started thinking of myself as a light artist as I was working on this show because of how relational or activated these paintings are to light and the atmosphere that they’re in.
Have other travels influenced you recently?
I also went to Arkansas. I went to Avant Mining to mine Quartz some time in July. That was an amazing experience! I plan to go back and visit other mines. All of the quartz in the paintings was mined in AK.
I’m looking to do more collaborations with gemstone mines. It felt great to pull it out of the dirt myself. There’s something special about it – the discovery. I brought back a few larger specimens that aren’t in the show, that are now part of my personal collection. I saw one in the trenches and thought ‘this is just a beautiful boulder’ – initially it was covered in clay with only a few visible clusters, but after it was pressure washed there were more than I ever imagined. Tons of clusters were still attached to the matrix.
I’m saving a few for the next generation of paintings.
Q. Your last show, Zona Maco, featured lots of Obsidian. What gemstones are we seeing in The Color of Everything?
In this collection I used Agate, Quartz, and Bismuth. The moonwalkers had a lot of Bismuth. You can’t beat Nature.
What are you working on currently?
I’m working on some paintings for my first museum exhibition with Allentown Art Museum, in my hometown, Pennsylvania. And some commission pieces for Sterling Hill Mining, using fluorescent materials.
I was captivated by the galactic-like, purple and black painting. Can you tell me more about it?
Oh, Infinite and Beyond! That was a very special piece – it gave me the most sleepless nights – I was embarking on a new journey during this time. I was an explorer.
I’d never made a resin painting that large before. I didn’t know what would happen – I was taking a risk and painting with faith. I was using the knowledge of all the paintings I’ve made before to make this painting do what I intended, and it went beyond my expectations. That was a gem for me and gave me a boost in confidence and what I’m capable of. I can’t wait to make more. [Us too, Alteronce, us too.]
I see so much more now; it’s hard to describe. It’s almost like the Truman Show – he’s in this box, and as he’s sailing out, he realizes the world is much bigger than he thought it was. It was like that moment when he walked through the door at the end – where did he go, what did he do – I feel like that painting is that door.
Alteronce Gumby: The Color of Everything is on view through October 31, 2022, at Nicola Vassell Gallery.