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John Alexander in Conversation
February 12, 2008

John Alexander's Casa de los Locos

John Alexander, La Casa de los Locos, 1991, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Larson. © 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.

Posted by Howard on February 12, 2008 in American Art Here, Lectures on American Art


I saw the Alexander retrospective and was deeply impressed by the power and integrity of the paintings. Unfortunately, I could not be at the artist's talk on Feb. 12th and am now back at school in New Haven, CT.

I am currently writing a paper on Alexander's paintings, from a theological perspective, and would love to sit down with him for an hour of conversation. Could anyone there at the Smithsonian tell me how I could contact him to request an interview? (Or perhaps pass on my request?).

Roman, I will pass on your request and contact you offline.

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