John Alexander in Conversation

John Alexander

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

February 12, 2008

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.



Recent Posts

A photograph of a woman in front of artwork
More visitors and new exhibitions highlight a season of change.
 Stephanie Stebich, SAAM's Margaret and Terry Stent Direction in the museum's Lincoln Gallery. Photo by Gene Young. 
Stephanie Stebich
The Margaret and Terry Stent Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery
Marian Anderson and symbols that surround her life
William H. Johnson portrayed the singer in multiple paintings, including in his Fighters for Freedom series.
A detail of a vibrant painting with a dark navy blue circle on the right surrounded by concentric circles of reds, oranges, and yellow.
As we gather to celebrate this year’s eclipse, Alma Thomas, whose painting The Eclipse is featured in SAAM's collection, noted the influence of natural phenomena on her work.
A photograph of a woman.
Katie Hondorf
Public Affairs Specialist