Limelight Shines on Magician of Color and Light

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Peter Alexander will be honored by Laguna Art Museum.
Peter Alexander will be honored by Laguna Art Museum.

The Laguna Art Museum presents its third California Art Award to Light and Space artist Peter Alexander on Saturday, Sept. 27, at a reception.

Art scholar Ruth Westphal received the first award two years ago, with painter Wayne Thiebaud following last year. The award had been designed to recognize Southern California individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the study and public awareness of California art but is not limited to visual art; writers, dancers and musicians might well be recognized in the future, said the museum’s Executive Director Malcolm Warner.

“The Light and Space movement is one of the most original movements in California Art. There is no doubt of Peter’s role as a particular exponent of that movement. He is an articulate and personable artist who has done a great deal to make Light and Space understood by museums, collectors and the public at large,” Warner said.

Born in Los Angeles in 1939, Alexander grew up in Newport Beach, where he began surfing at age 13. He went on to study architecture at first, but switched to making art without ever really abandoning an architectural aesthetic, as is demonstrated in his luminously beautiful polyurethane resin cubes, bars and wedges. Those established him as a technical innovator, but even more as a magician manipulating color and light through space.

“I admire Peter’s boldness in adopting different techniques,” said Warner. “The ‘60s resin works were a challenge, but then, having mastered that medium, he began to work with conventional canvas. It takes guts to make those kinds of twists and turns in your career. He is an intrepid figure.”

Now a resident of Santa Monica, Alexander, 75, is still surrounded by interminable sun, cloudless

One of Alexander's works of the Light and Space genre where he is a dominant star.
One of Alexander’s works of the Light and Space genre where he is a dominant star.

sky and water, the elements that appear to have continuously inspired him since boyhood. His ability to channel light into sculptures that then seem to emit energy on their own or pick up the hues of its surroundings landed him in an international array of museum shows, notably inclusion in “Lost Angeles 1955-1985: The Birth of an Artistic Capital” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2006.

Closer to home, his work features prominently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Orange County Museum of Art and Laguna Art Museum. The local museum holds several Alexander works on paper and two cast polyester resin pieces in its permanent collection. Some resin works can be seen at the Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach, which represents him in Orange County.

“I’ve always been appreciative of the Laguna Art Museum collection, especially their plein air one,” Alexander wrote via e-mail. “The museum was also an early supporter of my work, that of my peers and Southern California art in general.”

Alexander recalled trying his own hand at plein air, painting the Laguna Beach coastline from Blake’s hillside carport in 2001 and still cherishes those results as personal favorites, he wrote.

“I am touched by the award and proud to be in such good company.”

Blake is a member of the museum’s host committee; both he and Warner say Blake played no role in the selection of Alexander.

Alexander will put together an installation of his work and acclaimed Los Angeles painter/portraitist Don Bachardy will present the award. Alexander, who has been suffering from pneumonia and a back ailment, will be present at the dinner nonetheless, said Blake.

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