Unlike most painters or artists, the most important tools in Alexis Peskine’s arsenal are not paintbrushes but nails, hammers and a bit of goldleaf. He brings images to life through a technique he specialises in called Accu-painting.
To create art, he carefully hammers nails into a canvas at different heights or lengths to get the right densities. Then he uses goldleaf to achieve the brown finish in the skin tone. What you end up with are intricate paintings of black skin that are literally nailed into wooden planks.
The Afro-French artist was born in Paris to Brazilian mother and a French-Russian father. He says that having this mixed identity means that he feels very close to Africa. This is something he explores in his work through looking at subjects like immigration.
“Honesty. Just be true to who you are. But l wouldn’t push an artist who is not woke to make conscious art," he adds.
He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Howard University in Washington DC as well as an MA in Digital Arts and a Master of Fine Arts. He's won a number of prizes including the Fulbright Scholarship.
He says that his experience of growing up black in France as well as his travels for work as well as to study in places like the US, Jamaica and Brazil have helped to shape his outlook. “I am Afro French. I have always been frustrated with the idea of race; the fact that we don’t address it or do it in a hypocritical way.”
He adds: “Like, l was always encouraged to be an artist. But when l looked around me there was no one who looked like me. l used to ask myself if I was an exception or was this a white vocation?”
His work focusses on the black experience as well as questions around identity, African refugees in France and the dynamics of colonialism. He has exhibited in US, South America, Europe and on the continent in places like Johannesburg, Durban, Dakar and Addis Ababa. His work was also part of this year's Investec Cape Town Art Fair.
He also makes time for playing with other material. An example of this is the outfits he made using the Ghana Must Go bags for a project called Raft of the Medusa. The bags get their name from a 1983 order by Nigerian president at the time Shehu Shagari, who ordered that all immigrants who didn't have proper documentation leave. Most of these immigrants were from Ghana.
In his recent work Power Figures, which was exhibited last month at the October Gallery in London, his work was described as follows: "The use of metal hammered into wood as a primary medium makes conscious reference to the Minkisi 'power figures' of the Congo Basin, those spiritually charged objects whose traditional function was to protect and ward off evil spirits."
"Peskine’s approach is conceptually charged, he adopts the use of the nail as an object, which holds this power and represents transcendence by its ability to perforate and destroy but also build and create. Often viewed as inconsequential and banal, the nail is a highly important device and by adorning it with metallic leaf Peskine gives it life, making it visibly significant, noble and resplendent. Metaphorically connecting the nail to the Black Experience, the figures he depicts portray strength, perseverance, self-possession, with an energy startlingly reminiscent of the power figures of the Congo."