Words by Christian Hilley
"Alex Lazzari is a Baldwin County-born artist, designer and screen printer based in Montgomery. He has become the artist-in-residence of sorts for Matter, a creative studio and print shop established in 2011. His senior art thesis at Auburn University “Nothing + All” featured his signature minimal, abstract expressionist style, using pen-and-ink stippling to create worlds both organic and transcendental from hundreds of tiny ink dots of a uniform size and color. He recently designed promotional material for the anniversary screening of Big Fish, an Oscar-nominated film Adaptation shot in the Montgomery area, which included a book signing with the original author."
I’m sure as a child you were full of imagination and creativity. When did you realize that you wanted to pursue art in your adult life?
I was in high school, a sophomore taking my first high-school level art class and just really got ignited with passion for the arts. And from then, I took two more classes in high school, and it was during my senior year of high school that one of the art teachers...just really helped me with all my creative ventures and encouraged me to pursue art.
What drew you into beginning to screen print?
I heard about screen printing growing up because my parents worked for a t-shirt printing company. That’s where they met. So, I had heard about it, didn’t know anything about it, but then when I got to Auburn I started working at a screen printing shop there that did apparel, called Tiger Rags, and they do a lot of collegiate apparel for the University. So it was at Tiger Rags where I started learning more about screen printing.
Now I focus on it artistically because it allows me to manipulate and multiply my work. It’s really about the process of taking an initial drawing, then picking it apart to create layers and using those separations to piece it back together using printmaking. It allows me to still draw, which is my favorite part.
Where do you go for inspiration?
My inspiration comes from books, and/or just getting outside and exploring nature. Using photography and also using the internet, like Inspiration Grid and Gig Posters. That's a host website for print shops and artists with links to their websites. And when I read, that comes from works like the Bible, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other transcendentalists because their work is about God in nature. And that really gets me goin’. Oh! And music! I forgot to say that.
There’s a lot of preparation involved before an artist’s work can be printed. Can you share about what your pre-printing process looks like?
Sure. Like I said, it starts with the initial drawing and separating the drawing based on colors, which usually follows the light-to-dark scale. But you base your stencils on that system. Then once your stencils are done, I usually prep screens, which means cleaning out any existing images from previous work, and then re-coating screens with photo emulsion and then allowing that to dry in a dark box because photo emulsion is light-sensitive. And once your stencils are dry and your screens are ready, you use an exposure unit, which uses high-powered UV light to burn the stencil into the screen. And then washing that out and letting it dry again, and then your stencil is in the screen and you’re ready to print!
One thing that separates you from other artists is that you hand-draw your pieces before mass-printing them, rather than designing digitally. Do you think this has helped or hurt your ability to pick up creative work?
I would say that it helps me, because then I’m working for a less broad market, and I don’t really like to think of myself as someone who can just mass-produce “items” or “products”. I like that I’m more refined, or focused, and it really is about the drawing aspect that separates me, because I would say that a lot of screen printers and illustrators are using digital software to compose their prints, whereas I’m using my hands I think to the fullest. It just allows the work to be more free and less restricted by business or marketing.
You recently had your senior art show on display at Matter called “Nothing + All”. What was your process for creating those pieces, and what can you share about the significance behind them for you?
Yeah! My senior thesis project really had nothing to do with screen printing. It was about the drawings themselves. (Alex reads from his senior artist statement about the work):
“Like a gardener to his garden, a relationship is formed with artist and work. Paradoxically, there is also commitment and submission to the idea that I am not capable of creation. This belongs to God. He is the ultimate Creator, and I am His workmanship. The series is an intimate reflection of my spiritual relationship with God, evoked in large part through the process of stippling. The words from Ralph Waldo Emerson epitomize my process: ‘I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.’ Stippling allows nothing to become something, and I am the vessel that brings its deliverance. Each dot of ink placed is brought to life by every dot surrounding it, and each work contains areas of intensity and disparity, depth and atness, tension and disruption, calm and chaos. These are used to suggest broad concepts of space and time, atmospheric and celestial bodies, and earthly landscapes and life forms.”
What is your dream in this? What do you hope people will experience through your work?
I really dream to operate out of my own shop and just to have my own studio and to be able to focus independently on my own creative work so that I can show it in galleries and exhibitions. Just to be able to share my story. Because my work is just an embodiment of me, and to be able to share my work is to be able to share who I am, what I am, and how I came to be it. I want to be able to spark conversation through my work; to make people think about who they are and what they are.
*Alex has since moved to Birmingham, Alabama where he has worked with Great Bear Wax Co., Octane Coffee & Bar, and is currently developing his own company. Bellum will follow along on his journey to update readers as he continues in his entrepreneurial quests.