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Artists in their own words: Alex T. Ross

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Alex T. Ross (Photo by: Kelley Crawford)

Who: Alex T. Ross

What: Painter

Where: Mid-city

Artist’s chosen location for interview: Pals, with a Gingerita for each of us.

Q: What is something you want to want?

A: There’s a couple of things that come to mind. I want to want to be social. I really enjoy being social, and I can be really bombastic when I’m out drinking and having fun, but I tend to mostly want to disappear down a hole and be by myself.

I’ve had relatively bad social anxiety, so I’m pretty terrified of everybody. After I get in a conversation it becomes a lot easier, but approaching people, talking to people, or people coming up to me terrifies me.

Sometimes it creates really funny situations. If I want to eat something, I’ll sometimes sit outside the place and tell myself, ‘Alright, you can do this. Just go inside and buy fried chicken.’

This happened just yesterday. It’s something I became aware of when I learned that other people don’t always feel this way. I always assumed everyone had that anxiety.

Q: How do you know how to act?

A: That has a lot to do with being by myself. When I was growing up I never knew how to walk or how to talk, so I would emulate different people I saw. I was always trying on different skins.

Sometimes that ended in ridicule - if I was walking really funny because I thought I was walking cool. This affected my language, too, when I added certain words to my vocabulary.

The things is, I don’t really know how to act around people in general.

When I’m alone, though, no one can look at me, so I don’t have to act. When I want to be super comfortable at home all I want to do is get wasted and play video games. It’s nothing thoughtful. I’m not at home reading Nietzsche or anything.

With the video games it’s a lot of instant gratification. Unlike life, it’s small, manageable goals that you can set and complete. The drunken part really just lets you immerse yourself in it deeply.

I also like to get drunk and read, but the problem with that is I’ll go back into the book, open to the page I’m at, and I’ll have no idea what the hell is happening in the book. With video games, you can jump in, and it’s almost like you’re a character who is coming out of a severe concussion. You don’t exactly know why you’re in a firefight, but you can figure it out pretty quickly.

It’s a way to reset my brain.

Q: What do you most like to occupy yourself with?

A: Something I finally learned at this point is that I love to make stuff. I kept screwing around before with being social when I should have been working, and I was having all of this anxiety and depression. When I finally thought about why I was anxious and depressed it was because I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t making anything.

It feels good to accomplish something. That’s not for everyone. I’m sure it’s hereditary and has to do with where and how I grew up. It can literally be as simple as drilling holes all day so someone else can make something. That is enough for me. 

Q: Out of all the places you’ve painted, which one would you like to jump into (like in Mary Poppins)?

A: This is a difficult one to answer. I do a lot of objective drawings, and there’s this strange disconnect between my brain and my hands. If I think of something cute or really pretty that I want to paint, it comes out super dark. Kind of scary dark.

This has been getting better, but there was one time that I painted a mural in my early twenties. It was for this girl I liked. She had seen my murals at a buddy’s house, and they were these strange ink pieces of sea creatures. Well, she thought I could do anything, so she asked for a big mural upstairs in her house that she had with other girls.

It was on their second floor, on every wall, and they wanted a mural of them getting ready to go out. I made them a sketch. They loved it. It was so cute, and then I put it up, and it was horrible.

The way I painted it, instead of them facing forward, their backs were to the viewer, and they were looking in a mirror, so you saw these bodies and then these ghostly faces of these women staring back at you. It was terrifying.

I’ve never painted anything so scary, and I’m pretty sure they painted over it right after I left. I haven’t talked to her since then.

That’s what you get when you work for free. [Laughing]. I feel like I’ve grown a lot as an artist since then.

Q: How does escapism help or hinder existence?

A: It’s a double-edged sword. It can help us cope with the cognitive dissonance. There’s this space that’s between what is happening and our expectations of what should be happening that exists. That’s a really scary space to be in. Escapism can be a nice way to release the pressure valve on your brain that comes with that.

Too much of anything can be bad, though. It can hinder people from having an accurate world view. Now that we have all this information from the Internet, we have access to so much. In a way, this is the best we’ve ever been in regard to gaining information.

That allows us to talk to people who agree with us, and that agreement can come in large numbers. You can have 10,000 or more people stating an opinion that you feel like is your opinion, so you’re in a vacuum and you don’t even realize it. Then when things go a different way, people can freak out.

You aren’t actually tuned into all of reality, just your own reality, and that can keep you in an echo chamber.

 

Alex T. Ross will be reading from his chapbook Common Birds of New Orleans, or, A to-the-point document for the curious to aid in the identification of a sampling of the more frequent avian residents and guests of New Orleans at Antenna Gallery on Tuesday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. To see more of Alex T. Ross’s work, you can check out his website.  

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at kelley@nolavie.com.