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Spiral Archive’s Alex Novak in sound and vision

Peter Dennis looks at a new exhibition showcasing the work of an artist and musician… 

Local artist and musician Alex Novak will be exhibiting a selection of work from his 40 year career at The Sanctuary Gallery, Clare Street, Northampton.

A permanent fixture on the local music scene Alex has produced a plethora of art and it was a real challenge deciding what to include and what to exclude from his exhibition . The solution is to present work from his musical endeavours (vinyl and CD artwork) at The Sanctuary Gallery while an online gallery (facebook/alexnovakgallery) will feature his photography, posters, concert flyers and music videos.

Alex’s time at Northampton Art School ran concurrent with the development of punk rock and that musical genre had a huge impact on his work: “I started there pre-punk and then all of a sudden the punk explosion happened and being at art school is the perfect place because you’ve got the perfect mix of art and music. The punk thing wasn’t just the music, there was the art side as well.”


It was while at art school that Alex, along with brother John, formed one of Northampton’s first punk bands, the Isaws. Like most punk groups their tenure burned brightly but briefly. However it did afford the opportunity to design, albeit rather rudimentarily: “I did some artwork for the Isaws in the cut-out style, taken from newspapers and photocopied, things taken out of magazines and put together for collages. I think that goes back to Dada. So I think Dada and Warhol, the whole pop-art movement, were a big influence on me and punk and new wave design in general.”

A musical shift occurred between 1976 and 1979 as punk rock evolved into new wave, not only did music change but the sleeves which housed those records became more refined as evidenced by bands like Joy Division and OMD whose records were released in minimal and stylish covers. Alex’s next musical project, Religious Overdose, aimed to capture that style zeitgeist: “For that band I picked images that were fairly ambiguous and taken out of context. The second single featured Theva Baron on the cover who is considered the first female vamp in silent films. So if you put that image in a different context it has a different meaning. Then you put words next to that picture and it has an entirely different meaning.”


Alex’s next band, The Tempest, featured another stylistic shift this time taking images from old science fiction comic books from the 1930s and 1940s. The effect of taking antiquated images and placing them in a modern setting was quite striking: “Those sci-fi books had a certain Style” explains Alex “A lot of The Tempest artwork was taken from that area, basically sci-fi stroke horror.”

While studying for a degree at Coventry University in the mid 1990s Alex joined premier dark wave industrial band Attrition who were fronted by Martin Bowes. At that period the band had a gothic sound to which Alex tailor the artwork: “I designed a few sleeves for Attrition, mainly drawing on Dada. One of the sleeves I designed was for the 12″ single ‘The Voice of God’ and it’s a picture of a metronome with an eye on it. It’s actually from a film so I took one still from it and used that for the sleeve.”

Again an image taken out of context is at once arresting and attention grabbing: essential ingredients for bands who want to be noticed.


On returning to Northampton Alex reformed local band Venus Fly Trap, a group that continues to this day and are due to release their new album in the coming spring. When the band first became active it was at a period when the music video became an art form in itself and this new medium was keenly embraced by Alex who brought a punk aesthetic to his video making: “I quite like the grainy video look, not making it look too glossy. If you see bands in the 80s, Duran Duran would be a prime example, their videos were trying to profess a lifestyle. Our videos were made more grittier, with our videos we try to blur the band into what else is going on, we’re not at the front, we’re part of a melange of action.”

The exhibition will feature music videos from Venus Fly Trap and his previous musical projects because as a performer films and videos are very important to Alex: “When you project video over a band it changes the image of the band and I like that aspect. When we play live we try to have some images so it’s like the images and music are together. I always say that Venus Fly Trap is film music for your mind, your mind comes up with images suggested by the music and lyrics.”



With so much work on display spanning four decades what does Alex hope people will take from the exhibition?

“A lot of people just know me from my shop, they wouldn’t realise I’m in a band or I’m an artist, I’ve studied art and graphic design and photography. People don’t see that aspect, they just see somebody who sells records but that’s just one thing I do.”

The exhibition is launched at The Sanctuary Gallery on the 2nd December from 6pm to 9pm with a free after show party at The Lab, Charles Street, where Alex will be playing records from his previous bands and personal favourites. The physical exhibition runs from 27th November to 10th December, 11am to 4pm and viewing is by appointment. The online gallery is open to viewing now at: www.facebook/alexnovakgallery


I'm the editor and owner of The NeneQuirer.

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