Born Warren, MI, 1990/BFA, Wayne State University/Lives in Hamtramck, MI
Alex Buzzalini stands in the carpeted living room/art studio of his Hamtramck flat. The walls are covered with his paintings, some on paper, some on canvas. Shelves hold an array of his sculptural work: a pointy Red Cowboy Boot (2015) made of duct tape, a brick transformed into a fruitcake. With a can of Stroh’s in his hand, he explains that to get a really good look at anything, he has to back up into the other room. He keeps an old Herman Miller chair in the entry hall, an ashtray as well, and a book he’s been reading about the American West, all for the purpose of looking and contemplating.
Buzzalini started as a printmaker, but without access to a press, he turned to painting. “This is just one quick hit,” he says of his current piece Lonesome Nights (2016). The canvas depicts a saguaro cactus that’s planted in an orange Home Depot bucket, a brushy blue sky, a pink teepee, and a puffy cloud that dangles from a rope. In this, like many of his western scenes, the elements of staging are exposed. The rope that the cloud hangs from suggests that it’s not just a watery mist, but that it’s actually heavy and fake. The rest of the elements feel like they might be stage props too.
“One time,” Buzzalini says, “I was hiking with my uncle in the Colorado mountains and he tells me to look at this huge rock that we were passing. So I walked around to the other side and see there’s all this exposed chicken wire and you can see where the plaster had broken off. Apparently the boulder was constructed for a scene in a John Wayne movie. I find that idea really kind of interesting. They’re in the middle of Colorado and surrounded by boulders, but that’s not good enough. They have to construct their own. They can’t just use the natural landscape. It has to be fabricated.”
Buzzalini is well read. He produces this quote by author Larry McMurtry: “For the lies about the West are more powerful than the truth about the West — so much more powerful that, in a sense, lies about the West are the truths about the West — the West, at least, of the imagination.” Buzzalini continues: “So what is fabricated and what is told becomes more true over time than what actually happened. And what actually happened doesn’t always really matter.” So maybe rocks are not rocks. Cactus might be molded from plaster and shipped in by truck in concrete filled buckets. The heroes of the American West, the cowboys, might not be horse-riding, Marlboro-smoking, masculine go-getters, but might just wear red boots made of duct tape and carry bent guns, with broken bullets. These might just be men with no mettle whatsoever. That’s at least how Buzzalini depicts them, as a sorry lot of failures in fake landscape where even the clouds hang from rope, e.g. Cowboy John (2016).
Make no mistake, Buzzalini is not mocking the idea of the West or the cowboy. He’s earnest about his disillusionment. One of Buzzalini’s most striking pieces is Soft Gun (2015). Cut from canvas in the shape of a long-barrel revolver, it’s loosely packed with poly-fill then hand-sewn with metal wire and painted. Its eight-inch muzzle sports a pathetic droop. It comes with six oversized bullets cast in water putty. The gun is held loosely in a frame with high sides. More than anything, Soft Gun speaks of masculine failure. It can fire no bullets. In the event of a bank robbery, Soft Gun will not save the day, nor will it force anyone to do anything. Stick-em up is not a phrase associated with this sort of limpness. It is only a mechanism of comic disappointment and masculine embarrassment.
Besides paintings and sculptures, Buzzalini invented the Ride’n Movie (2014). The project is a collaboration with his roommate, artist Matt Hunt. Disappointed that there is no movie theater in Hamtramck, they decided to build their own screen in an empty lot on the north side of town and started showing movies. “We tried to create something uniquely Hamtramck but with a cowboy spin. So the idea was, you ride up on your bike. There’s always popcorn and beer. And we watch my favorite cowboy films.” Ride’n Movie had a two night showing at last year’s Porous Borders festival. “One night we showed The Good the Bad and the Ugly, the other night we showed a Czechoslovakian film, Lemonade Joe, which was a spoof on the silent film western. People loved it.”
Steve Hughes, July 2016
Copyright Essay’d, 2016