Charlie Alston | Deli Gallery
May 12 (Thursday) - June 11 (Saturday)
Block Party, Your Body: a North Star in the West, a solo exhibition of newpaintings by Charlie Alston.Charlie Alston is
Block Party, Your Body: a North Star in the West, a solo exhibition of new
paintings by Charlie Alston.
Charlie Alston is noticing a resurgence of earnestness and he’s leaning into it. He wants to get out of this
“post-modern ironic thing” because, frankly, it’s getting old. “I think that sincerity isn’t given its due,” he says,
“the truth is that we do care about a lot, and that should be celebrated.” So in the pursuit of tenderness, Alston
gives into the fear of vulnerability and lets the butterflies in his stomach fuel him.
On a late-afternoon visit to his studio in the warehouse district of Downtown LA, the sun pours in and the
feelings pour out. Surrounded by his large-scale paintings, his treasured belongings, and his latest unreleased
track wafting from the speakers, Alston doesn’t shy away from facing himself and he’s anything but elusive.
During an unbounded conversation mediated by Zoom, Facetime, and real time in his studio, he shares what’s
been on his mind. Topics ranged from the anti-regulation aesthetic, technology as a liberator, intuitive movement,
people from the West seeking reverse Manifest Destiny, the casual Marvel-ization of The Black Panther Party’s
legacy, the act of driving fast on the freeway when possessed by the pulsing thrum of an 808 beat,
deconstruction in design, and so much more. But in all that meandering, each of those themes converged at the
same ultimate point: collaboration.
Human connection and the spirit of collaboration are what guide Alston’s latest work. He’s interested in ways of
relating and this exploration manifests itself in his portraiture. “I like to paint people,” says Alston, “in joy and
wonder.” In “Madonna and Child” (2022), a Black woman’s disembodied head rests just top of center. She has
kind eyes, high cheekbones, and a yellow headband keeps her soft ‘fro out of her face. Below this woman is a
sizable blue silhouette of a horse, but she persists as the soulful conjurer of unplaced nostalgia. As do the black
outlines of other faces resting on either side of her in this oil on canvas. The individuals in Alston’s paintings feel
familial as much as they do familiar. “I’m always trying to expand people’s ideas of what their family is,” he says,
“because we’re in this together.”
Ads procured from archival issues of Jet magazine are a major component of this exhibition. Alston was drawn
to how directly Jet made the average Black person in America its intentional audience—how they were seen as
consumers who “wake up and get their coffee from a place, their clothes from another…there’s an
acknowledged embeddedness or cooperation in the world…like I’m in the market as well, we’re connected to it
too.” But Alston was also struck by the analog quality of the ads, the way the text and images were cut and
pasted in a tactile pre-Photoshop manner. There’s a charm to the flatness and he achieves a version of it in his
own work. “There’s a warmth to it, too,” says Alston of taking inspiration from the Jet ads, “it feels like sampling
a soul record, when you flip the record and make a contribution…you’re actually preserving all of the cognitive
work and soul of the original, but you’re also honoring the people.” Whether it’s the pair of smiling faces with a
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couple of frothy beers in “Cold Drinks on Hot Days” (2022) or the grimacing child wearing a cowboy hat in “CAT”
(2021), Alston’s desire to exalt everyday people permeates his paintings.
Pieces like “Nassau” (2022) and “Portrait of a Star” (2022) include the addition of slender, rectangular wood
blocks attached to the ends of the canvas. They’re so subtle you could almost miss them, but once they catch
your eye, there’s intrigue. “I love the fact that it looks like what it is,” says Alston, “it looks like I’m dipping my
toes into sculpture.” When sending along a Zoom invite one day, he titled the meeting as “Social Sculpture.” If
his work thus far has been any indication, this venture into the three-dimensional form will mark yet another
mode of relating that Alston has learned to wield in his quest for earnest human connection.
Charlie Alston (b. 1997, San Francisco, CA) received his BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in
2019, and Deli Gallery is hosting his first solo exhibition in New York. Alston lives and works in Los Angeles.