The longed-for revival of the Beatnik spirit and the art of Alexander Hamilton
Melbourne artist, filmmaker and former member of the iconic Australian band ‘The Saints’, Alexander Hamilton speaks in a rush of ideas, as if time is against him and there is much to say.
This avalanche of ideas is laid bare in his layered, multimedia works that transport the viewer along twisting roadways of the artist’s lived experiences and passing observations on the deprivations that lie behind or beneath our modern technology-obsessed world.
Squeezing so much within a painting's frame is not here an unintended consequence of having too much to say. It is a deliberate, anarchistic reaction to the overpowering nature of technology and our built-environment, an attempt to gather and reorder not as a ‘means to an end, but rather as a mode of human existence’ - a concept of "enframement" first presented by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger in his essay, 'The Framework' ('Das Gestell') in 1949.
At first glance these complex works appear inaccessible, but the password is found in the exhibition’s title, “Faint Recollections We Lived There”.
The works are in no small part autobiographical, with the artist centre stage journaling and sketching his experiences in the search of a voice.
Alexander Hamilton, 'The Lighthouse invites the Wandering Sea of Fog' (2023), Acrylic paint, ink, watercolour, and paper photocopy
In this way the works are largely not pre-planned, with the artist embracing the free-flowing, therapeutic nature of drawing to unleash his subconscious and produce its own narrative.
This places Hamilton and his climactic works at the centre in my mind of a revival of the Beatnik spirit – of casting off the shackles of convention and a repressive world to chase down anarchist ideals in the freestyle, careering manner of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burrough and the other luminaries of the Beatnik Generation.
Hamilton like the American Beat poets, writers and artists of the 1950s has an explosively lyrical and charismatic style, capturing the ideals and modes that our technologically dominated world distorts – a form of repression similarly described by Kerouac when referencing the Cold War as ''the speed and tension and ecstatic tomfoolery of the age.''
Alexander Hamilton, 'The Sea Fails to Drown Itself' (2023), Acrylic paint, ink, watercolour, and paper photocopy
I am left with a strong sense that Hamilton feels somewhat helpless, with an abiding nostalgic identification with a past society – expressed in his determined effort to explore and record the world he inhabits, ultimately rage against it if only to eventually succumb.
Kerouac once said he wrote for ‘companionship’ for those who search for ''the key / out this dark corridor, / the effulgent door, / the mysterious knob, / the bright room gained.''
Jack Kerouac in 1966. Photo: Vanity Fair
The works in this exhibition are no doubt an accompaniment for the artist himself. But like Kerouac, Hamilton’s enduring scepticism and mockery of malignant forces speaks powerfully to an increasingly aware audience.
Hamilton is a thoughtful and highly skilled artist, astutely aware of the power of art, and who has found a voice as lyrical as it is profound. He deserves to be at the forefront of our consciousness, no less than in these challenging times.
Alexander Hamilton: 'Faint Recollections We Lived There', 5 to 28 October 2023 at Jacob Hoerner Galleries, 1 Sutton Place, Carlton
Alexander Hamilton 'Sorry I died, I hope this doesn't put you in a difficult position' (2023), Ink, varnish, etching ink engraved on salvaged acrylic perspex
Alexander Hamilton, 'Face down footsteps climb to the Maps surface' (2023), Acrylic paint, ink, watercolour and paper photocopy
Alexander Hamilton, 'After Monet’s Photograph of his Shadow on a Lilypond Surface' (2023), Acrylic paint, ink, watercolour and paper photocopy
Alexander Hamilton, 'Days of my Circle South' (2023), Acrylic paint, ink, watercolour, paper photocopy
Installation Shot, 'Faint Recollections We Lived There' at Jacob Hoerner Galleries, Melbourne
Photo: Art Guide Australia
About the author
Andrew McIlroy is an artist and writer, living and working in Melbourne Australia