ABOVE: CHARLOTTE, 2012. OIL ON CANVAS, 100 X 70 INCHES. ALEX HANK. IMAGE COURTESY OF SOKOLOFF + ASSOCIATES, LLC.
As part of his latest exhibition, Roommates, Mexican-born, New-York based artist Alex Hank has captured English-French actress, Charlotte Rampling, in a swirl of red-orange-yellow and green oil paints. An ambitious project indeed; this is Hank’s first-ever oil-portrait show (his backgroung is in photography) and Ms. Rampling, a famous beauty, is also something of an artist herself. In the interview below, friends Hank and Rampling reunite to talk about canvas size, color choice, and brush width, and touch on the immortality of the medium of art.
ALEX HANK: Hello, Charlotte.
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: Hello, Alex. How are you feeling?
HANK: Good. I’m a little overwhelmed; apparently I have about nine days left to open the exhibit.
RAMPLING: Is this the biggest exhibition that you’ve had?
HANK: Yes, absolutely. I think this is my fourth solo show in New York, but the big deal about this one is that it is an oil exhibition and I have never shown oils, and there are so many pieces—26 pieces. Not that we will hang them all.
RAMPLING: You’ve actually done 26?
HANK: Yes, something around that.
RAMPLING: 26 of that size? They are big!
HANK: The biggest ones—like yours—there are only four of them, but are all pretty big, between six and eight and a half feet.
RAMPLING: And all in oil?
HANK: Exactly, so that’s a completely different thing for me. But I am very excited, and it’s time-I have been locked in my studio for three years now.
RAMPLING: I was fascinated by the way you made it happen. The idea of really putting yourself away in a space, and shutting all the doors and letting what you have happen. When I started doing art work—I do some stuff as well, you can’t really call it painting—I had no idea what I was going to do and I locked myself away a little, but for a much shorter time. It’s challenging, isn’t it? Challenging whatever gives us inspiration.
HANK: Absolutely. I had no idea that you were also painting—that’s incredible.
RAMPLING: Well, I don’t call it painting because I am not a painter. It’s not anything to do with figurative painting, or anything that can actually resemble real life, but I make it sort of look like some form of life through the way I bring it out.
HANK: But it is painting in the end…
RAMPLING: Yeah, in the end. If it comes into being, and that being actually works and is repeated, then it becomes something that is worth being called painting or sculpture.
HANK: Absolutely. Do you use oil?
RAMPLING: No I use acrylic paint, but no color. I am not into color at the moment, but I am sure that will change.
HANK: I started with a series in particular colors, the bases are the reds, yellows and oranges—I started trying to figure out how to get some sort of skin tone and I went with it. I have been trying to find some light in some of the paints. Like the light greens, and that evolved into blues. Now I use almost every possible color that I find. I guess I stay away from grey.
RAMPLING: But you started with only three basic colors, and then these three colors pulled in other colors little by little?
HANK: Exactly. And you say you don’t work with colors at all?
RAMPLING: I don’t work with colors. When you started talking about the grey I started laughing, my pieces are very dark. I bring light out of dark—the basic, bottom line is dark and then starts to get a bit lighter. I use sort of light amber, dark cinder or black, which is actually quite luminous.
HANK: And have you painted big canvasses yet?
RAMPLING: No, I don’t think that’s my thing at all. Certainly not paintings as big as yours. [laughs]
HANK: [laughs] I started really, really small, with 12-inch canvases, and it was so hard. I’m a big guy, six foot four, and I’m kind of a brute when I paint. My brushes are really thick, and I do the whole painting with one brush. It’s about a four-inch brush.
RAMPLING: Is that sort of like a house painting brush?
HANK: Almost. There is only one company I find that makes oil brushes that wide, and I use one single brush from start to finish.
RAMPLING: But that brush is it cut across the top, or slightly pointed?
HANK: No it’s cut. It’s cut like the one to paint walls, it’s not pointed.
RAMPLING: And you don’t use your hands at all? You always just use that brush?
HANK: Yes, just the one brush.
RAMPLING: Wow. That must be really interesting to see.
HANK: When we were thinking about doing a catalog for this exhibit, we switched it to a documentary film, for anyone who wants to see it for the rest of time.
RAMPLING: There’s a kind of madness and overexposure at the same time.
HANK: Well, it’s permanent and historic. I think we might resist it, but I come from a time when the Internet did not exist.
RAMPLING: You’re a baby! You were born in what, ’74?
HANK: ’73, yeah.
RAMPLING: That’s when one of my boys was born, ’72. But that’s right, you weren’t born with a computer in your hand.
HANK: Yesterday night I had a mini-movie Charlotte Rampling marathon, I put on The Night Porter DVD, and after I saw it I immediately grabbed my phone and could read everything about it in a second, and feel so alive because of it. I was thinking about the immortality of it. It’s going to live forever.
RAMPLING: Yes, it’s remarkable. When you did a film before—whatever success or not it had— it would be over. Nobody would talk about it or see it again, it would just disappear.
HANK: You said you’re having a lot of fun with the things you’re doing, and maybe earlier in your life and your career it wasn’t the case.
RAMPLING: The fun part is very important, and I was completely surprised by it. I was going into my sixties and just felt as if I was being lifted up out of all sense of major responsibility, all the stuff that makes us anxious. It’s very wild again, I’m a wild older woman! [laughs]
HANK: I was asking because I have a very similar attitude, not only towards my life, but specifically to this exhibit as well. Do you think you’ve taken painting and photography as some sort of challenge?
RAMPLING: I really want to do something with my hands, something that will connect with my eyes, what I actually see, so I can feel the world around me and produce something of my own self, for myself. It keeps you alive in a way. For an actor, if you’re not doing a job, you can’t just practice acting. Your instrument is your whole person. Painting and photography keep the creative channel open, and for an actor it’s to keep alive, it’s to keep awake, it’s to keep watching, it’s to keep feeling, it’s to keep enjoying, to keep that sensuality of feeling alive.
HANK: Last night I was watching one of your movies; I was completely moved and mesmerized. I think that’s great; it stays in your hard drive and when you come back to work, whether it’s acting or painting, it comes out.
RAMPLING: I so agree with that. If you want to paint the inner life, you paint it from the exterior. From the exterior you breathe the inner life into your painting.
HANK: And now we’re going to show your portrait to the world. I’m extremely excited. Thank you so much for your time, it means the world to me, and I can’t wait to see you next week. It’s going to be very exciting—and fun!
ROOMMATES IS ON VIEW AT 548 WEST 22ND STREET IN NEW YORK FROM MARCH 18TH TO 25TH.