“A method is posterior knowledge, art is a-priori practice.”
In 1996 Stenzel is drawn to the visual arts. Without any formal education, self-taught as he was in all of his occupations, and having been an autodidact throughout life, Stenzel teaches himself how to paint and begins exploring the new medium. Having worked as a designer, for fifteen years in the fields of fashion design, product design, graphic design, and conceptual architecture Stenzel now was looking for more creative freedom. He spent afternoons in the Beverly Hills Library browsing through art books, feeling out what kind of art he was attracted to. He was putting together lists of his favored artist and art movements and studied them thoroughly. Additionally he visited galleries and museums in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Paris, London, Madrid, Berlin, and Tokyo. He took likings to romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich and his painted ruins; German Expressionists’ sharp lines, found in Franc Marcs’ and Meidners’ work; expressionistic brush strokes found in Franz Kline’s work; Pollocks’ textures; Rothkos color fields and Diebenkorns’ landscapes. Stenzel wasn’t fond of art that presented literal subject matter and found conceptual art too much of an intellectual pursuit, which he thought was compromising the freedom and immediate experience of art itself. Sculptures and installations were often to stiff and staged for Stenzels’ taste. Stenzel was drawn to the intensity and pureness of color, the freedom of painting abstract forms and the feeling of brushing paint onto the canvas. In 1997 Stenzel starts seeing beauty in weathered artifacts, such as rusted fences and broken windows. It stirred up romantic feelings in him, similar to the ruins found in romantic paintings. He begins photographing them in abstract ways. At the same time he studied Japanese Zen Gardens, early rock art and the rituals of the Australian aboriginals, in the outback and how they interpreted patterns in their landscape. “Stenzel artwork is inspired by a deeply spiritual experiences in the Aboriginal Australian Outback. When he was surrounded by intense color, vast scales and sublime rock formations, something that Stenzel had always felt revealed itself on a much deeper level,” it says, in the 2001, Coleman Gallery press release. Not satisfied with just the photographs by themselves Stenzel glued them to canvases and painted over them with thick bold brush strokes. He named the paintings “Fractals” according to Mandelbrot’s theory on chaos. Stenzel had studied extensively Charles Harrison & Paul Woods’ book “Art in Theory” and was well aware of the criticisms that had been posed by Greenberg and Fried, regarding painting, working in the two dimensional realm and dealing with illusory space as a whole. Stenzel also had studied various scientific theories on vision, and was familiar with philosophical thoughts on the subject. He understood that the self was a subjective construct, which included space and time and he thought that the objections made by the critics were justified. Stenzel also, just like Greenberg, felt that three-dimensional illusory space was negating the actual object, the canvas, which was the only substance, along with the actual paint, available to the painter. A remark made by the 17th century philosopher George Berkley stood out for Stenzel: “we don’t see shape and space but we feel them.” It became clear for Stenzel, that the criticism wasn’t just a dilemma limited to a specific medium, such as painting, nonetheless justified, but it was related to the laws of “self” and how it constructed itself and therefore space and time. Stenzel, when seventeen years old, had read Immanuel Kants’, thoughts, in his “Critique of Pure Reason” on “aesthetics”. He remembered that it was dealing with space and time and apriori conditions that Kant called intuitions. Kants’ writings had always appealed to Stenzel, in a way a beautiful painting speaks to once soul. Everything had its place and nothing could be replaced. When sentences were wordy and complicated there was reason for it. Kant, unlike most of philosophy that came after him, didn’t make things more complicated or lacked the ability to tie together complex subject matter. For Stenzel it was clear that the world of philosophy still stood on his shoulders. Space and time are existential question which couldn’t be answered by science and if he wanted to gain a deeper understanding of space and time he needed to look at Kants’ writings again. One can not understand art without understanding existence, he thought.
Believing that he had come to grasps with things and knowing what to avoid, as a painter, working with illusory space, in the two dimensional realm, Stenzel went on to experiment with different mediums. Between 1997-2000 Stenzel produced oil paintings, collages, pastels, sketches, transparent photos, glued to light boxes, and Overpainted-Photographs. He dripped paint on photographs, scratched them, brushed paint over them, and rolled paint onto them. Stenzel tried nearly every possible thing to merge the detail found in photography with the tactility and energy of color. He created mostly Overpainted Photographs-Fractals (photos of weathered objects), but Stenzel also created a body of work of Overpainted Photographs-Fairies(photos of faces). He staged woman, wearing abstract cardboard cut outs, wrapped in tin foil and their faces painted, with bold lines of make up and set against abstract, colorful painted backgrounds. He then photographed the staged settings, printed the images as large format C-prints, glued them to canvases and painted over them. Stenzel divides his work into three categories: Forms, Fractals and Fairies. Forms, depict abstract painted female bodies; Fractals, abstract painted landscapes and abstract Overpainted Photographs of weathered objects; and Fairies, abstract faces of woman, and Overpainted Photographs of mainly female faces with strange eyes.
In 2001 in a solo exhibition, as part of the L.A. Biennial, at the Colemen Gallery, in Hollywood, Stenzel showed a new style of Overpainted Photogaphs-Fractals. Instead of the loose bold brush strokes, as seen in his earlier Overpainted Photographs, Stenzel now had layered solid and transparent color fields over his photographs. In some sections there was no paint at all and the glossy surface of the photograph could clearly be seen. Other photographs were thwarted with thick straight brush strokes, often in black and brown. Some photographs were painted over and sandwiched between Plexiglas, which also was painted. Other works exhibited were: three acrylic paintings, a transparent photograph glued to a light box and a photograph of a weathered fence, diasec mounted to Plexiglas. All works had one thing in common: the surfaces of the paintings or Overpainted Photographs and photographs were divided into three proportional distinct rectangular fields; two sections were forming an unequal one-sided L-shape, at the edge of the painting or Overpainted Photograph; the other rectangular field, which was larger, was on the inside, next to the one sided L-shape; it was either a color field, or an Overpainted Photograph or a photograph; Plexiglas pieces had just a clear Plexiglas L-shape, on one side of their edge; all three fields were connected with one unifying top layer, either straight lines or, a transparent color field. The title of the exhibit was “105.000 tons“. Stenzel had come to the conclusion that tactility was equal to the perception of weight, and the title for the exhibit was the symbolic sum, of the combined weight, of all works in the exhibit. “A new visual language surfaces at the Absolute L.A. International.” writes Huffington Post art critic Bruce Helander , in his Palm Beach Times Review.
Stenzel thought that he had found a way to work with illusory space, in the two dimensional realm, without that it could flee the support (canvas, paper or photograph). It was the very thing the critics had cautioned about. But for Stenzel it was not necessary to eliminate illusory space entirely, like it can be seen in Pollocks’ paintings. Stenzel’s layers, lines and fields were able to tie illusory space down, leave it intact and have it hover behind a “veil of color” and juxtaposed. Painting didn’t have to be limited to it’s own medium. Stenzel technique allowed him to merge photography with painting. Stenzel had lifted some of the limitations from the history of painting, but still didn’t quite understand why.
The year following Stenzel spent much time in his Pacific Palisades Studio reflecting upon his work. He dedicates much time comparing different pieces from his “105.000 tons” series. Overpainted Photographs 6 tons, 7.5 tons, 9 tons, 10 tons, and 11 tons became the main focus of his studies. 10 tons, one of the Overpainted Photographs, which was also featured on the cover of the L.A. Biennial Catalog, received most of Stenzel attention.
In 2002 Stenzel produced a new body of work of Overpainted Photographs. It was exhibited in another solo exhibition at the Don O’Melveny Gallery in Los Angeles. Although similar in style, Stenzel now had swapped paint, applied by hand, for mechanically printed ink. The “Overpainted Photographs” had become C-prints that were diasec mounted against Plexiglas. Stenzel had continued, dividing the surface into three distinct rectangular fields, layering solid and transparent color fields over the photographs, juxtaposing them next to each other and leaving some sections unpainted. The photographs were still of weathered objects. But now all was printed and the color fields were created digitally. Stenzel had already incorporated Plexiglas in works shown in the “105.000 tons series”: 15 tons, 25 tons, 2.5 tons and 5 tons . Yet in this body of wok Stenzel had achieved a greater unity of photography and painting. Photographs, Plexiglas and color; everything that Stenzel had experimented with in the past, was integrated in one inseparable, immediate experience. It was slick, it wasn’t raw anymore, it was an evolution and it was mature. It wasn’t better but it was a push forward into an unchartered realm. Art Critic Peter Frank writes in his L.A. Weekly, “Art Picks Of The Week” review, “There’s perceptual shifting going on, too, in Alex Stenzels’ paintings and photographs and painting-photographs, but Stenzel’s approach involves little optrickery and a lot of more, er, traditional pictorial concerns: Gesture, composition, form and color contrast, collage, all those modernist factors that just won’t go away.”
Stenzel was convinced that he had discovered underlying principles of how we construct space and that his method was enhancing the “weight” of the two dimensional surface. But still, he was curious, why? Between 2002-2008 Stenzel continued his studies understanding space.
In 2009 Stenzel emerged briefly from his hiatus with an exhibit at Seyhoun Gallery, he named it “June Gloom” showing a combination of works: a series of trist black and white photographs of L.A. beaches, a self portrait and a series of abstract collages using foam board, Plexiglas, building materials and different colored insulation tape. The work exhibited was partially new work, and a retrospective of work shown earlier.Alex Stenzel@Wikipedia