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A lot can happen in one year. Time can just fly unnoticed – that is, until you stop and take stock.

That’s what local artist Alex Gillies is doing with his first exhibition of woodblock etchings and prints at Nine Lives Gallery in July 2009. Coming just one year after Alex took up woodblock carving and etching, this exhibition captures 12 months of furious creative energy, hurdles and discoveries in a medium exclusively produced by only a scant few.

A self-confessed latecomer to his creative pursuits, Alex doesn’t have a background in printing, painting or any kind of art form to speak of. “I failed every art class I ever took in school,” Alex says. “My teachers always suggested I do something else with my time. I did try photography for a few weeks in 1993, but my camera was stolen so I gave up arty things altogether.”

In 2004, after 11 years and only three or four photos to show for it, Alex bought an SLR camera and started to take photos with fervour. His skills steadily grew, but with no training or discipline it was really nothing more than a hobby, with the occasional amazing photo. It wasn’t until a few weeks before his 30th birthday that he decided to finally do something creative and bought a drum kit. Twelve weeks later he was in his first band, 12 months later he was in his third band and three-and-a-half years on he has achieved much with his music, his fourth and current band (No Anchor) having just released their second album in the past 12 months.

Alex’s self-taught journey through photography and music paved the way for his latest and most focused addiction: relief printing and woodblock etching. Having garnered some skills with a camera, he held a series of small exhibitions at The Alibi Room, Ric’s Bar and The Outpost, which led to the opportunity to be part of 2008’s I Used To Skate Once art show. “But everyone has a camera these days and it takes little creative flair to be a photographer – mostly it’s trickery anyway,” Alex says. “I guess at the heart of it, I wanted to rebel against the glut of photos in the world and create images that took real skill and were laboured over, not just point, shoot, next. So I took the skateboard and did the most opposite thing I could think of from what I knew how to do.”

Alex’s “experiment” of carving an image into the skateboard worked and ignited his interest in the medium that came from the Renaissance, was the norm in illustration 100 years ago but is on the fringe in art circles today. As with everything else, Alex found some dusty books in a library and proceeded to teach himself. His exhibition at Nine Lives Gallery encompasses the first chapter of his newfound passion. In just one year, Alex has come to articulate and realise detailed prints, life-like portraits and surreal images.

Taking the unusual path of shedding light on the carved images themselves as much as the images they generate, Alex will be exhibiting the part of the medium you never actually get to see, the woodblock itself. “To me, the tactile nature of the block is where the real art of it all lies – something that’s so hard and unbreakable, with something on it so detailed and delicate.”


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