David Alexander | INTERVIEW
David Alexander | In Conversation
Foster/White Gallery: What is most attractive about the natural world? You have spoken about being moved by the emotion of the places you paint.
David Alexander: The natural world is diminishing, but less trodden land does remain in the well-tracked contemporary globe we inhabit. The less trampled lands that I seek are harder to get to, but only require a few hours before you are there – in places that haven’t been industrialized, and aren’t full of tourists. The world's arctic, deserts and mountains, places that some see as wasteland, have held my attention for fifty years. A great advantage of being an artist is that it is like belonging to a fraternity of people who explore and enjoy the attributes of places; local things people do in crazy landscapes.
F/WG: Do you draw from traditions of landscape painting? Subtle Periscopes has some of your viewers making connections to Monet’s Water Lilies, is that an intentional reference? What is your personal connection to impressionism?
DA: The history of contemporary landscape art comes from some of the best of great artists, with world-wide influence. The use of land, its abuses, and cultural advances are often depicted. in my painting, the land is important to me, and water has always been an influence that is constant. It is integral in the way I use it visually. Using water as a subject within parameters of landscape painting is not a new concept.
Monet is the great-grandfather of painting the surface of water. When I entered graduate school, I went to Europe and France many times to find out what impressionism was. It started as part of my scholastic program. I studied in Monet's gardens when it was different and made the water change by the hour.
Monet was stationary in his later life and renovated a large plot of land and created a very large manufactured reflection pool. He painted his own world with attention to what the seasons brought visually. He micro-managed everything in the gardens, including swaying underwater grasses that moved with the amount of water that passed a gate dam which he controlled.
During the same time, I saw and studied the Northern European painters who lived in the mountains, not unlike where I live. Although I have seen many artists who were influenced by impressionism, my own study of it happened decades ago.
A few landscape painters in Canada and other countries are advancing the practice of new and interesting painting. Other past painters that made exceptional art are Joan Mitchell, Per Kirkeby, along with historical artists like Kirchner, Marin, and Marsden Hartley.
These people understood where they lived. What is important to me is painting with an understanding of the geography and geology where I live and places I frequent.
F/WG: Will you share about your technical practice?
DA: My process is to draw and use materials that are not cumbersome while traveling. I use such tools as the computer, books, photos and documented information about interesting lands to further my understanding of landscapes. The methods I use, whether drawing, painting, staining, dripping, reference land and weather and natural phenomena, and their affect on my art making. I always think about what I was doing in a particular place land and try to recreate that feeling within the dynamic of art making.
I paint large paintings stapled on plywood plinths, which I can attach to a large heavy wooden cart. These large plinths are attached temporarily with door hinges which allows the painting to be flat or vertical. When I take the painting off the plinth, I can staple it to a wall easily to think about it and can continue to paint. I usually have 3 or 4 paintings on the go, and they can take weeks or months to finish. Sometimes I roll them up and put them out of sight, and put them in storage and give them time to what I call “age.” This part of my process allows me to see if it is really done.
F/WG: Your color palette is very expressive. Could you speak to how certain places influence or direct your palette and how different landscapes alter the colors you are drawn to working with?
DA: I pay attention to the impermanence, transience and vulnerability of land, how it is used and or abused. Many viewers have commented on how abstract my paintings are. I don’t disagree, but I feel they have the amount of representation in them that allows me to work more experimentally and freely within the genre of landscape.
My work has also been called expressive and different. Color is one important aspect of picture making, but remains only one thing I think about when creating art.
F/WG: How much of a composition is influenced by your time outdoors, hiking, skiing, and gardening?
My time outdoors in nature is an important part of my process and foreign and domestic landscapes appeal to my sensibilities of understanding the make up of land. Working on a tugboat and charters, I was privileged to go through the landscape slowly with little to do but draw. That was a great experience. After 27 years living on the coast and 4 years in Nelson and the mountains, we made a radical move to Saskatoon, on the prairie. We were going to stay 2 years and ended up staying for 23 years. In 2003, we moved to the semi desert of the Okanagan. I still hike and ski in many places here and in other countries.
The land has been a source of inspiration and understanding of the places I want to be. My understanding of the land offers a never-ending dialogue with the art world, worldwide. After 5 decades of making art, my life is richer and, best of all, simple.
To learn more about David Alexander and see available works please visit www.fosterwhite.com