John Alexander in Conversation

John Alexander, Family Affairs, 1995, oil on canvas, Collection of Catherine and Ernest Abbott, © John Alexander

Texas-born John Alexander, whose thirty-year retrospective fills the main galleries at SAAM, lived up to his introduction by chief curator Eleanor Harvey as an "incisive, witty, and irreverent" artist. The SRO crowd at Alexander's recent talk appreciated the artist's personal reflections on art as well as his professional advice and inside look at a thirty-year career in the American art world. His mother once commented on his painting of a robin in distress by saying, "You just got to screw it up, don't you. Paint a bird, then have it throw up."

Nature--the good and the bad--has always been important to Alexander's work. As he commented, "Nature and the destruction of nature is the driving subject matter" of his work. Coming in at a close second is the theme of "mankind," particularly the artist's stinging interpretations of hypocrisy, as in recent canvasses that take on big business, big politics, and outsized personalities.

During his talk, Alexander referred to himself as "a working-class painter" and called painting "my job." What he'd like to do next is write a book titled How I See the World Through Drawing, to show the importance of seeing, "to have everyone look at the world through painting." He paraphrased famed Victorian critic John Ruskin, and said, "If you have someone draw an oak tree for forty-five minutes they will never look at a tree in the same way again."

Alexander's lush evocations of both the inner and outer worlds offer a unique take on the world of seeing. All you have to do is open your eyes.

John Alexander: A Retrospective is on display until March 16, 2008.