'Tank the Bull' oil on canvas, 130 x 100 cm
When it comes to humanities relationship with the animal kingdom, forget the food chain. There’s a pecking order in place, but it’s based on aesthetics rather than appetite. Throughout history we’ve assigned the animal fraternity a hierarchy based on visual appeal. The top tiers; consisting of tigers, pandas, elephants and other such lionised beasts (like lions for one) are practically celebrities. Charities strive to protect them, they ‘star’ in the occasional Hollywood movie and artists across the world immortalise them in everything from verse to sculpture. By comparison the more humble, ‘boring’ animals like sheep, cows and chickens get short shrift despite literally keeping humanity from starvation. For the most part the most a farmyard animal can hope for, as far as artistic representation goes, is getting frozen in formaldehyde.
'A Bull on the Hill' oil on canvas, 50 x 80 cm
'Yasmine the Cow' oil on canvas, 40 x 60 cm
For most of the artistic tradition (barring the Neolithic vogue for daubing cattle on the walls of their caves) ‘working’ animals have only been portrayed as doing just that: working. Whether its war horses rearing under imperious conquerors or farmers driving their cattle to plough the fields, the animals are just set dressing for the people. However, for Alexandra Klimas, it’s these neglected animals that are the stars and the human masters who are cut out of the picture. Often painting on huge canvasses, she renders her cast of animals with such arresting vibrancy that the observer feels frozen under animal eyes that sparkle with both intelligence and judgement.
'Tank the Bull on the Hill' oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm
When standing in front of Tank the Bull the viewer can’t help but feel the weight of its bovine bulk erupting through the canvas out of the monochromatic backdrop. Klimas’s approach to hyperrealism doesn’t stop with physicality however. Once the viewer moves past the initial shock of the beast’s rippling form, you can’t help but be drawn to attempt to decode the enigmatic emotion burning in the bull’s gaze. Whilst someone who encountered the real-life Tank on a countryside walk might spare him no more than parting glance; Klimas’s mastery of her craft means the painted version pulls the observer into the animal’s interior self with magnetic force.
'Friends' oil on canvas 100 x 130 cm
Each of her paintings are an invitation for overstimulated modern eyes to reckon with the individual existence of creatures that many perceive as something close to background noise. From Lily the Sheep’s fey, almost sarcastic expression to Hannah the Cow’s noble repose against a sucking white void of sky; Klimas presents her models as individuals who crowd out the world around them. One of Klimas’s inspirations was seeing how working animals have increasingly disappeared from our day-to-day experience; to be concentrated megafarms where they are out of sight and almost completely out of mind. Her work is a shot across the bow against this mental and physical segregation from the animals we rely on. Whilst no human is ever present in her work, the nature of our absence feels like a challenge or a dare. Whilst the animals she paints are prime examples of the hyperrealist form, she is using the art style to force our attention to an underlying reality that we have trained ourselves not to see.
- Max Feldman
'Rosie the Calf' oil on canvas, 100 x 130 cm
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