Victor Ali is a soft-spoken, polite young dude. His art, however, reveals a mischievous side. Influenced by underground movements and cyberpunk motifs, his hyper-realistic grayscale portraits are covered with digital elements and repetitive numbers—a scarlet red is often the only color splashed across the black and white images. At FSCJ, Ali studied under Jacksonville’s favorite art teacher, the prolific local artist Dustin Harewood, who has nothing but praise for his former student.
“Victor is a supremely talented young artist doing some exciting new work,” says Harewood. “I sense that, now more than ever, he’s entering a new and exciting phase of his creative career.”
When he’s not in the studio, Ali can be found around town skateboarding, participating in Alleycat bike races, and doing parkour. He assures me that while he did work as a delivery cyclist for Jimmy John’s during the time, he was not in fact the guy who infamously jumped the San Marco train in order to be on time delivering a sandwich. “I should have been,” he admits.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ali for a chat about his beginnings, his influences, and what direction he sees his work heading toward in the future.
You attended LaVilla School of the Arts here in Jacksonville when you were younger, so you must have recognized that you were artistically inclined at a young age. How did you discover that you had artistic talent?
It was in elementary school. I’d just be around my friends and be whipping out my paper and drawing anime characters and cars and people. It just felt like there was something significant to that. Everyone seemed to be fascinated by my crazy doodles.
I’ve noticed that a good amount of your subject matter now is people, you do a lot of portraits. It seems that portraiture has always been the root of your work. What interests you about doing portraits?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I’ll definitely take drawing a portrait over doing landscapes or architecture. I guess I’m fascinated by the idea of humans and [the question of] why we’re here. I also love to study the way light is cast onto someone’s face. It just rubs me a certain way.
You work mostly with pencil and charcoal, mostly black and white images. Has that always been the case, or did you start out with more color and transition to gray scale?
Initially, I started with painting. I did acrylic and watercolor painting in middle school. I filled up an entire sketchbook of color portraits. At FSCJ I started experimenting with oil paints, which I love. When I entered UNF I started getting more into graphic design, which is an area I never really saw myself in. But I just decided to give it a try. I was going through an artist block, so I challenged myself to do some sketching every day. That’s when I started expanding into using charcoal, adding water to it, then even some acrylic.
Your current work has a strong graphic element added into it, almost a collage of sketch and typography. Portraits are often covered or combined with numbers and type. What do you feel is the message are you conveying with those images?
I’m inspired by cyberpunk and grunge elements. There’s a little bit of emo injected in there. I’m trying to find harmony between digitally created things and handmade things. I’m interested in creating things with code, and how that’s still technically creation, even though it’s not handmade.
Now that you’re implementing computer-generated elements, will your art begin to reflect a more technological approach? Will it become less humanistic?
I’ve been thinking about using type and numbers to create figures or portraits. I also see myself going more three dimensional. It probably won’t be full-on sculpture, but maybe relief. I recently found a broken TV set on the side of the road with wires sticking out of it and immediately thought I could put a canvas in it.
You mentioned a few general musical influences. Are there any specific musicians or artists that directly influence your work?
I’m actually inspired by an artist who died recently named Lil’ Peep. He rapped about a lot of sad things and I would listen to him a lot while I worked. I find a lot of artists on Instagram who influence me a lot, like (British figure artist) Jenny Saville (German abstract artist) and Gerhard Richter. There’s also a graphic designer named Chris Do who uses a lot of typography in his logo-making, which kind of pushed me toward graphic design.
You’re now a Fine Arts major at UNF. What are your plans for after graduation? Are you working on any major projects?
There’s a project that I’m working on that I hope to finish by early next year. I’ll be graduating in the spring, so after that I’d like to travel and try to have small shows in multiple cities. I’ll probably start in Atlanta and try to make some connections and go from there. As for now, some friends and I are having a show in the gallery area at Beer:30 in San Marco at the end of the month.
This interview originally appeared in Void Magazine Vol. 9, Issue 6, November 2018’s Arts & Music Issue under the title “Quiet Rebellion: Artist Victor Ali’s work reveals his Cyberpunk side.”