Alexis Peskine on nails

16.07.20. Internet. Lockdown special

The final episode of this special ‘lockdown’ series of Material Matters features Alexis Peskine. I came across the Paris-based artist’s work at last year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at London’s Somerset House and described it in a subsequent Instagram post as ‘breathtaking’.

Rather than using canvas, Peskine takes an earth and coffee-stained timber base. And instead of paint, he hammers nails at different heights, which are often tipped with gold leaf to form the features of a face. The resulting portraits of black subjects – or power figures – are large scale and immensely detailed while being both beautiful and haunting at the same time. They also possess an extraordinary sense of topography.

The work talks about race, migration, deportation, with recent pieces paying tribute to migrants undertaking dangerous boat journeys from North Africa to Europe.
It is utterly extraordinary.

We talk about what the nails represent and his intricate process; his eclectic family background; how his talent for basketball took him to the US; and how black American culture affected his life. Perhaps most importantly, we discuss the black experience and the blight of racism. ‘You make art about what touches you,’ he explains. ‘There are so many injustices to correct. It’s going to be a life struggle.’ 

Find out more about Alexis Peskine

Shrine, 2016, is made from nails, gold leaf, mud, paint and varnish on samba wood. 

Power, 2016, gold leaf on nails, earth, coffee, water and acrylic on wood.

A detail of Peskine’s power figures.

The artist hard at work in his Paris-based studio. All images courtesy of the October Gallery, London.