lithograph on heavy black paper,
hand signed with initials of artist/numbered/dated in gold metallic ink recto
30 X 31 inches
Limited edition of 100
Peter Alexander was born in Los Angeles, California in 1939 the fourth generation of a well-to-do Southern California family that ran oil fields. He grew up in Newport Beach, where the sun and the ocean were staples. (He was surfing by the age of 13.) One of the most lasting memories of his youth was watching a meteor shower over the beach. He studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania under famed architect Louis Kahn (1957–60); During summers, he produced architectural drawings in the Los Angeles studio of the Modernist Richard Neutra. He continued his studies at the Architectural Association in London, England (1960–62); the University of California, Berkeley (1962–1963); the University of Southern California (1963–64); and the University of California, Los Angeles (1964–65) and (1965–66). After initially working as an architect, he rose to prominence in the 1960s with translucent resin sculptures. He has also produced paintings, including a series that depicts luminous aerial views of the city lights stretching across the Los Angeles basin. He also was commissioned to paint a large mural for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. His art has appeared in the films Erin Brockovich, Terminator 3 and Shopgirl. Craig Krull Gallery exhibited a survey of Alexander's work, including paintings and sculptures from 1970 - 2009 in conjunction with Pacific Standard Time. Alexander will be exhibited in Pacific Standard Time museum shows as well, including “Civic Virtue: The Impact of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and the Watts Towers Arts Center” organized by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, “Phenomenal: California Light and Space” at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and “Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Paintings and Sculpture 1945-1970” at the The J. Paul Getty Museum His work bears a relationship to the Light & Space Movement and Minimalism artists James Turrell, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, Billy Al Bengston, Joe Novak, Laddie John Dill, Lita Albuquerque. His experiments with industrial materials, begun when he was a student at UCLA, led to the creation of ethereal sculptures that evoked the quietly shifting nature of light, color and environment. And they put Alexander among the vanguard of Southern California’s Light and Space artists, a movement that brought buoyancy and perceptual play to Minimalism, which until then been dominated by the more austere forms emerging from the East Coast.
One of his early pieces, “Cloud Box,” from 1966, consisted of a resin cube that within its modest dimensions (it’s only 10 inches tall) seems to harbor an entire atmosphere of billowing clouds over an open plain. His later “wedge” sculptures, slender prisms of color that can reach heights of 8 feet, seemed to evanesce into transparent nothingness at the top. He turned his attention to painting, producing a wide range of works on canvas, paper and, during one period, even velvet — many of them inspired by landscape, light and other natural phenomena, including his fascination with the idea of L.A. on fire. His paintings depicted luminous sunsets, explosive storms and moody cityscapes of Los Angeles at night from an airplane birds eye view.
“I kept seeing these incredible sunsets,” he said. “I really wanted to make a picture — a real, dumb picture.”
In 2006, the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris included one of the artist’s resin sculptures from 1971 — a black bar that extended to a height of eight feet — in the group exhibition “Los Angeles: 1955-1985.” But the piece fell off the wall shortly before the show opened and was destroyed. (A wall piece by fellow Light and Space artist Craig Kauffman also broke during that unlucky exhibition.)
Luckily for Alexander, however, the museum not only paid the value of the sculpture — it gave him the resources to fabricate a new one. “The Pompidou was really invested in the process of re-creating the work,” says Franklin Parrasch, who in addition to Parrasch Heijnen in L.A., operates a namesake gallery in New York. “He began working with a mannequin manufacturer in Los Angeles, and they were able to come up with the translucence he wanted — but with new safety standards.” Instead of resin, Alexander could now work with urethane — which was less toxic and showcased pigment to better effect. “That’s when I got interested in the effects of color,” Alexander said in the Getty interview, “how we feel about color, how we respond to color.” And thus began a fruitful new wave of sculptural production, one that reflected his deep interest not just in materials, but in the nature of color.
“He was one of the most extraordinary colorists,” says Robin Clark, a curator who included Alexander’s work in the critically acclaimed exhibition “Phenomenal: California, Light, Space, Surface” at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2011, part of the first Pacific Standard Time series. “He talks in different interviews of the influence of Mark Rothko, which is easy to see. And he also talks of Vermeer — these sensitivities to the qualities of light.”
In fact, if there’s a thread that stitches together the disparate works from throughout his career, it is his thoughtful employment of tones: fruity oranges, red, dusty pinks, oceanic greens, incandescent yellows.
He will likely best be remembered for his Light and Space sculptures. (His pieces figure in major museum collections all over the U.S. — including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.) But over his career, he created a range of work — from traditional watercolor painting to more experimental multimedia works that employed found materials (some created with the assistance of his first wife, painter Clytie Alexander). He did film work, creating the drawings for the 1975 film version of Nathanael West’s novel “The Day of the Locust.” He also made public art, such as the 48-foot mural titled “Blue” for Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003.
In 1999, the artist was the subject of a survey at the Orange County Museum of Art titled “Peter Alexander: In This Light,” which was organized by Naomi Vine, then the museum’s director, along with art critic Dave Hickey. Bengston worked on the installation design.