Legendary Los Angeles artist Peter Alexander dies at age 81

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Legendary Los Angeles artist Peter Alexander dies at age 81
Installation image of Peter Alexander’s 2016 solo exhibition titled, Peter Alexander Sculpture 1966 - 2016: A Career Survey. July 9 - September 12, 2016 at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. Image taken by Christopher Heijnen, courtesy Parrasch Heijnen Gallery.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Parrasch Heijnen Gallery (Los Angeles) and Franklin Parrasch Gallery (New York) announced the passing of legendary Los Angeles artist Peter Alexander on the morning of May 26, 2020. He was 81 years old. Born in Los Angeles, CA in 1939, Alexander’s six-decade career was an active exploration of environments through color, transparency, and translucency using innovative media. He was an integral part of the intrinsically Californian Cool School and Finish Fetish movements. Whether through resin sculpture or velvet painting, Alexander actively sought to capture light through environmental sensation.

Initially intent on becoming an architect, Alexander attended the University of Pennsylvania from 1957-1960, studying there under Louis Kahn. In 1957, Alexander began working with California modernist architect Richard Neutra during summers where he executed drawings for numerous projects. Alexander moved to London to study at the Architectural Association in 1960. In 1962, with extensive travel and exploration of Europe behind him, he returned to California and matriculated at University of California, Berkeley, subsequently transferring to University of Southern California in 1963. During summers, he worked for architect William Pereira and produced architectural illustrations for Westways magazine. In 1964, following some reflection on his long-set sights as an architect, Alexander transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles as an art major, where he studied under Richard Diebenkorn. He earned a BA from UCLA in 1965, and completed an MFA there in 1968. It was as a student at UCLA that Alexander made his groundbreaking resin sculptures.

Alexander’s sculpture began as plaster landscapes contained in plexiglass boxes, seen as a continuation of his line drawings. He sought a way of encompassing a world within or projecting oneself into the box. His work shifted drastically when he happened upon an essential new medium: while working on his surfboard, he noticed that a paper cup of polyester resin had solidified. Transfixed by the substance’s ability to mimic water and volume, he began exploring the materiality of resin by adding wax, water vapor, and pigments. The head of the UCLA Sculpture department, Oliver Andrews, encouraged him to further focus his energy on resin’s capacity. Alexander’s sculpture Cloud Box (1966) is now recognized as a highly significant work within the canon of West Coast minimalism.

The resin works first received recognition after Alexander was included in an exhibition at California State University (Los Angeles) by jurors Billy Al Bengston, a fellow Los Angeles artist, and Los Angeles Times art critic William Wilson. Bengston introduced Alexander to the Ferus Gallery artists and encouraged Los Angeles gallerist Nicholas Wilder to visit Alexander’s studio, which resulted in a long affiliation with Robert Elkon in New York; Alexander’s first solo exhibition of resin sculpture took place at Robert Elkon Gallery in 1968, followed by a second exhibition there in 1969. Then, in 1970, Nicholas Wilder’s Los Angeles gallery hosted a solo exhibition of Alexander’s ‘leaners’.

Alexander’s work continued to evolve as he explored the use of color, and progressed in scale, working from tabletop-scaled cubes, to human-size wedges, to ‘leaners’ and wall panels, all along expanding the possibilities of what resin could accomplish. In 1972, Alexander moved away from resin due to sudden illness. He built a home for his young family - wife Clytie Alexander and his daughters Julia and Hope – in Tuna Canyon from repurposed materials, and began painting landscapes. He focused almost exclusively on pictorial translations of the same optical ideas in painting and drawing until 2007. In 1983, Alexander was artist-in-residence at the Sarabhai Foundation (Ahmedabad, India), where he focused entirely on painting, often using found materials, and, eventually, velvet.

Alexander’s two- and three-dimensional works have been widely exhibited over the course of his career. His work was included in the quinquennial contemporary art exhibition Documenta 5 in 1972, curated by Harald Szeeman. Alexander’s work was highlighted in Los Angeles 1955 1985: Birth of an Art Capital at Centre Pompidou (Paris) in 2005 and across the Getty Institute’s “Pacific Standard Time” initiative in 2011, including Pacific Standard Time: Kunst in Los Angeles, 1950- 1980 at Martin Gropius-Bau. Works by Peter Alexander are held in the permanent collections of: the Broad Foundation (Los Angeles, CA); Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA); Frederick R. Weisman Foundation of Art (Los Angeles, CA); The Getty Museum (Malibu, CA); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); Orange County Museum of Art (Newport Beach, CA); Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, CA); San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (La Jolla, CA); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); and Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN), among many others.

Franklin Parrasch Gallery has held eight exhibitions of Alexander’s work since 2004. Parrasch Heijnen Gallery presented Alexander’s work in two career surveys, one in 2016 and the other at the start of this year (2020).

As his close friend Frank Gehry once said, “Peter captures the light.” Peter Alexander has been the keeper and sharer of the light, and his uncompromising vision is an inspiration to us all. He is survived by his wife Claudia Parducci, their son Pietro, his daughters Julia and Hope, and his brother Brooke. Peter Alexander will be deeply missed by all of us.

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