by David M. Roth
For 50 plus years, the SoCal artist Peter Alexander has made sculpture that confounds the eye and mind. Like his peers in the Light and Space movement (Robert Irwin, Mary Corse, Larry Bell, James Turrell, John McCracken, Helen Pashgian), Alexander, 79, creates objects that capture and shape ligh in ways that make those objects appear to blur or dematerialize before your eyes. He embarked on this path in the mid-1960s with light emitting cubes (see below) and other shapes made of cast polyester resin laced with dyes. Between 1972 and 1992 he worked mainly as a painter, but in 2009 he returned to sculpture, switching to urethane after he discovered that it transmits color-tinted light with piercing clarity. Such clarity, however, is of little help when it comes to figuring how Alexander achieves some of his signature effects.
In Color, his current show, one piece in particular sows doubt like a seed spreader. It’s called What Would Jesus Do?, and it consists of five vertically arrayed urethane “tubes” that resemble giant thermometers. The piece, which is composed entirely of neutral colors (gray, white and greenish-gray), is wall-mounted, but it appears to float. The only way to tell for sure what’s really going on is to look closely, and even then the mind struggles to reconcile reality with perception. Another mystery is the “light” that seems to emanate from each tube. At a distance (and in the photo at the left) you’d swear fluorescent bulbs were enclosed, but there are none. No doubt, the reflective/refractive properties of the material play a role in fostering this illusion, but I’m at a loss to say how. Other key works in the exhibition are just as recondite.
2/5/18 (Needle), a slender, chartreuse-colored spire, appears at first to be playing no tricks; but when you circumnavigate it, the tip seems to dissolve into a razor-thin slice, hanging in space.
Full-on chromaticism takes hold in a wall installation called 26 Bars, the component pieces of which resemble elongated balloons, shaped like those in What Would Jesus Do? Stretching 15 horizontal feet across the gallery’s back wall, it physically and thematically anchors the exhibition. Here, Alexander takes the liminal quality of peripheral vision and brings it front and center, blurring the edges a la Rothko. In doing so he places the true focus of the piece on color: on the “harmonies” struck by the almost keyboard-like structure. At first, the eye tries out various “chords” — dissonant “triads” and then “octaves,” plucked from the more resonant intervals found in repeating reds, yellows, deep greens, blues, grays and blacks. Ironically, it’s a trio of neutral-colors, the same as those seen in What Would Jesus Do?, that pulls the piece together.
To the question begged by that insistent title there is no answer. The best response I can muster comes from the restaurant scene in When Harry met Sally, in which a nearby diner, witnessing the Meg Ryan’s faked orgasm, says, “Waiter, I’ll have what she’s having.” No one, I hope, will object to me retaining the feminine pronoun in relation to Alexander, as the feelings evoked by his work reside wholly the realm of the senses, gender-free.
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Peter Alexander: “Color” @ Brian Gross Fine Art through June 30, 2018.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.