DAVID T. ALEXANDER: THOUGHTS ON SMALL PANORAMAS
David T. Alexander answers our questions about his approach to creating his stunning and remarkably immersive small works.
1. How do your drawings and paintings relate with each other?
The drawings are reciprocal with the paintings, but perhaps the drawings inform themselves from one to another in the context of a series. I trust that there is a sequence and that the sequence manifests when you look at the body of work. When you see them together, it becomes visible how they are tied together and inform each other. Over a long period of time the drawings inform paintings, and paintings inform the drawings in return.
It takes practice, I like the word "practice". Day after day, year after year. The practice requires you to keep trying and move forward. I think that is a very important part of an artist’s routine. Failure and success are all one and the same. When an artist creates hundreds of drawings and paintings, what else is there to do than to follow up to make it better for yourself and your audience?
2. The drawings just received are all 6 x 14.5 inches. Is there a reason for this particular horizontal format?
Sitting once at the base of a glacier that almost surrounded me in the Rockies, the view was panoramic. I found that experience inspiring and very immersive. I wanted to recreate that feeling on a flat surface, and the panoramic effect is enhanced by horizontal format. That was a problem and a challenge. I like problems, and I like working on solving problems. As an artist, I create my own problems. I love unusual formats, whether it is in paintings or drawings. There are no set rules for scale.
The largest horizontal format I have worked on is 2 feet by 32 feet. That one didn’t end up looking like a billboard for suntan lotion, so I continued with that format over the decades.
3. You quite often employ multicoloured lead pencil crayons in your small drawings. How did you discover them and what elements about these pencil crayons attract you?
I once found a multicoloured pencil on a desk left by a young student. I picked it up and worked with it for a while, which led me to using those pencils for a long time. I still use them continuously but they seem harder to procure. The interesting marks that I created with them remind me of a story about Frank Stella, the guest artist at the Emma Lake workshop in 1967. He found a student’s protractor, a geometric instrument in mathematics, on the dining room table. He apparently made shapes with it, and this exercise led to a large series of paintings in New York afterwards: the Protractor Series.
When you listen to a song, or you watch an actor act, and it sticks with you, I feel I have to analyze why it sticks. These pencils did that to me. It took me ten years to get to the point where I think good drawings have grown from this study – and not just a one-shot, happy accident occurrence.
4. Is there a particular subject matter or technique that can best be captured only in the drawings?
I know I could recreate a huge drawing working laboriously, but it would be very different. My creativity comes rapidly and intuitively. I have to let the paintings and drawings inform me about what to do – they should be landscapes, but they should also show the materials I’m using. In case of the drawings, I want to show the charcoal, the crayon, the pencil. I want the language of drawing to be legible.
5. Has the nature of painting or drawing on this more intimate, smaller scale changed for you over time?
No, because I don’t see scale as an issue. I like tiny, powerful works, like the landscapes of East Indian miniatures, and small artworks from the New York artist Joan Nelson, to name a few. The quality is what makes an artwork monumental - when a work is intricate, captivating, and full of information. A monumental artwork is about making marks and making the work better. I like that word “better” because it implies that there is no beginning or end, it’s just better, and in between there’s a lot of failure.
6. The small paintings on panel strike me as complete paintings and worlds, rather than preparatory or exploratory sketches for larger paintings. How do you approach them?
Yes, I do think of them in that way as well. I see them as completed entities, but I reserve room to change them too. There is a small work on panel I started in 2007 for example, and I worked on it for years. It always looked finished, but I kept changing it. That pushed me forward.
An artist’s doubtful mind looks at a finished work again and again and again, and the things I see become a reason to start another drawing or painting. This morning I woke up and looked at a drawing I made yesterday. A couple of marks I made captivated me, and that made me want to make a new drawing. Time gives me a reason for a beginning, and only time can show me what I think is the end.
David T. Alexander's new small works on paper and on panel will be on exhibit in Bau-Xi Vancouver's Holiday show, December 3-24, 2022.
VIEW THE COLLECTION