Alexis Peskine, born in September of 1979, grew up in Paris with his mother and father. It is evident in Peskine’s work that he takes his incredibly diverse heritage and cultural background very seriously. As a single person, he is Black, White, Jewish, French, American, Russian, and Brazilian. He produces many works with American culture in mind. He is currently both a resident of Paris and New York City. Many people with diverse backgrounds tend to focus on one or two predominant aspects of their heritage in their art, and Peskine is no exception. He uses his varied heritage to his advantage, and clearly, he’s doing it successfully. His works first began to be exhibited back in 2003 when he was just 24 years old, adn today he is one of the most promising rising artists.
Race and identity issues are one of Peskine’s main themes in his work. He has also played with the irony in France’s motto: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity/brotherhood). In 2007, he had an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts called: “The French Evolution: Race, Politics & the 2005 Riots.”
The 2005 riots in France began after two young boys died from electrocution while hiding from police. This event triggered riots after people had “had enough” of the high unemployment rate and the harassment and brutality imposed on them by police. It was reported that most of the youths participating in the riots were of Muslim, African and North African origin. Peskine has discussed his own opinion on the struggle and conflict between different races:
My art is just an elaborate response to my reflections about what I have witnessed. I think my diverse background helps me understand that the problem is not White on Black hatred, Jewish on Arab hatred or Arab on Jewish hatred, the problem is hatred, or domination or anything that hampers liberty and equality.
Peskine’s most notable trademark is his use of nails, which references the Nkisi Nkondi power figures of Africa and “…the transcendence through struggle of Black people.” The nails are used much more systematically than one may think at first glance. They most closely resemble Roy Lichtenstein’s use of Ben-Day dots but used in a way to create shading within a silhouette, a style Kara Walker is famous for. Lichtenstein and Walker have both been noted as key influences by Peskine. Peskine’s own description of his method is as follows: “I use Photoshop to translate an image (that I generally stage and shoot) into halftone pattern dots and then I recreate this image painting it on wood and using nails with different size of heads to replace the dots.”
The nails are also hammered in at various depths, giving it a sense of a topographical map. The New Britain Museum of American Art recently purchased one of his works that used this method. He Died For US? is a depiction of the lynching of a martyr with a halo around his head. The nails in this piece draw the viewer in so close that they can see the penetration of the metal into the wood and imagine the pain of this martyr while, at the same time, the nails give the two-dimensional silhouette a three-dimensional presence and even face.
Peskine was trained as a graphic designer. He often uses pop-inspired graphics with the intention of “…establish[ing] a connection between the work and the viewer.” In relation to his French heritage, he has included images in some of his works of the famous Astèrix, a French cartoon character from the 1950s. Lichtenstein also used found graphics in the form of cartoons as inspiration for his art.
On his website, Peskine’s biography consists of three simple sentences, ending with “He will never die.” Looking at the works he has produced thus far and considering he is still quite young (30 years old), it is safe to say that his name and unique and inspiring work will continue to rise in the art world.
Do Peskine’s works seem inspirational to you or do some seem too emotionally intense?
Can you think of any other famous American artists who use their cultural background in their work? Are there any “trends” among them?
What do you think of Peskine’s use of nails?