In Water Sugar, Alec Doherty draws from his own memory but we can all relate

Using our phones on the toilet, public displays of affection and playing footy outside – the London-based artist illustrates it all, with a more fun and free approach than ever before.

6 November 2023

Alec Doherty’s illustrations have always been engulfed in memory. The memory of relationships, his time outside observing others, and even those evoked by song. In his current exhibition (held at FRMD) Water Sugar, the artist takes the title from Underworld’s Jumbo. “To me the lyrics are about a disconnect in human interaction in a digital world,” he tells us. “The drawings are all stories without context, a comment on our relationships with each other on our phones watching each other through social media,” he adds.

By no means being the first to use art to comment on our relationship with the digital sphere, Alec still has a distinctive way of commenting on our interactions, making drawings from memory and marrying them with recognisable symbolism. One of the most interesting elements is his use of the quadriptych to showcase ongoing scenes: the waltz slowly descends into a painful mess as toes are stepped on and a man is glued to his devices, travelling from the TV room, to the bed and then the toilet, all maintaining his gaze on the screen. “They’re lived experiences and retold lived stories from friends. Funny ones, good ones, bad ones,” Alec shares. Longing to create something imperfect, without worrying about corrections, Alec wants his work to read almost like the excited retelling of a story among friends, stumbling over some words with equal pride and energy.


Alec Doherty: Water Sugar (Copyright © Alec Doherty, 2023)

Much of the energy in Alec’s work is hoisted by his free method, using big sheets of paper, and a big bit of graphite. “Simple inexpensive things – the idea wouldn’t have worked if I’d been worrying about messing up an expensive canvas.” The works act almost as a diary, because he drew them in his spare time or whenever a memory came to mind, before quickly using oil sticks to further bring them to life. Throughout the drawings his use of colour as a sort of small agent in his scenes, adds another layer of humour almost elevating it to a silent comic. “Working fast without any pretence is fun and pretty satisfying. But, the challenge is being in the right headspace to allow that process to happen,” he tells us. “I’m in my head quite a lot and worrying about my output can hinder that kind of free flow, I guess that’s the challenge.”

Having just released a new jewellery collection Stuck, and bouncing around ideas for another collection and an exhibition of new paintings next year, it’s a wonder how the artist jumps from the precision needed in jewellery-making to this free-flowing approach to art and illustration. But, a perusal through Alec’s collection shows us that they aren’t as disparate as we thought, because it takes an attentive eye and care to illustrate scenes that we often take for granted.

Water Sugar is on until 12 November. And you can also buy the original pieces here.

GalleryAlec Doherty: Water Sugar (Copyright © Alec Doherty, 2023)

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Alec Doherty: Water Sugar (Copyright © Alec Doherty, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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