Peter Alexander

Peter Alexander and Craig Krull, 2016, photo by Eric Minh Swenson

Peter Alexander, Wavecrest, 1994, iris print on gampi, 18 x 22"

Superlatives are often tossed about when we lose an important figure. However, I would not hesitate to suggest that Peter Alexander was the most “California” artist I have ever known. In my gallery practice, perhaps I too frequently vocalize my belief in the poet Gary Snyder’s phrase, “Our place is part of what we are.” Peter Alexander was inspired by, and visually interpreted, our light, water, sparkle, luminosity and contemporary mix of plastic and paradise like no other. He often recalled an aesthetic epiphany he had as a young boy on the beach, watching a meteor shower twinkle and shimmer over the ocean. As a surfer, he was inspired to employ the materials he used to repair his surfboard in the creation of ethereal cubes of glowing space. Surfing also afforded the experience of being underwater and seeing the world through an aqueous lens. Similarly, during an overnight fishing trip off the coast, he observed a spotlight directed into the water to lure iridescent, wiggly squid near the boat to catch for bait. Always captivated by brilliant sunlight dancing on the ocean, he experimented with highly pixelated digital captures to emphasize the “tinsel” effect of light glistening and vibrating on the water. And of course, Angelenos will always be reminded of Peter Alexander when they fly home to LAX and gaze upon the endless grid of lights. Speaking about his artwork, he once said, "They're all responses to where you are and what you are."

I met Peter while I was still in college and dating his studio assistant. I visited him at his Wavecrest studio, we talked about our mutual love for Baja, and became lifelong friends. My first experience exhibiting his work came about as I was digging around his studio and discovered a trove of Polaroids. Peter was equally fascinated by the glow of artificial light, and he appreciated the slightly odd, greenish glow produced by Polaroid film when directed at a palm tree lit up at night on the Venice boardwalk. He enlarged these images on sheer, delicate gampi paper to emphasize their ethereal nature, and we exhibited them.

One of the wonderful aspects of working with Peter was witnessing his inventive thinking about the process of making art, how the work related to where it was made, and where it was exhibited. At a Lakers game with Peter and my friend, Matt DiNapoli, we hatched the idea of inviting Peter to be “artist in residence” at one of the legendary bungalows at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. Peter worked there daily for two months, making pool paintings and nighttime sketches of the illuminated Santa Monica Pier in the distance. We exhibited them in an elegant meeting room overlooking the pool and gardens. For another exhibition, Peter created a series of 6x9” watercolors of the cactus, ocotillo and sagebrush surrounding his retreat home in the desert. The diary/sketchbook quality of the project echoed the antecedents of this classic art historical tradition, but with the light and space of California at its core. During Pacific Standard Time, we highlighted one of his most adventurous and aesthetically daring bodies of work, the Velvets. Swaths of glitter, and sparkly skeins were sewn on lush black velvet, a material more commonly known as the substrate of gaudy matador paintings. These unstretched textiles recalled that dreamy night in the fishing boat, and the surreal swirl of sea creatures set aglow with artificial light.

One of Peter’s most ambitious projects was the 48-foot mural entitled, Blue, commissioned by Frank Gehry for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. We exhibited the studies for this work, and invited the collectors to Gehry’s studio to view the painting where it had been installed for quite a while before the Disney Hall was finally finished. The brilliant reds and blues have a tremendous visual punch, and these contrasting colors vibrate and pulse off of each other, like the afterimage on the retina when a flash bulb pops in the eyes. Of course, this is precisely what Peter sought, not just a visual, but a visceral reaction. In fact, one of Peter’s most endearing qualities to me, was the way he talked about his own work. He didn’t really use words, but sounds, like an onomatopoeia that expressed a gut level, reflexive, physical response. He might describe this painting, for example, as “uuuooooaahhh” accompanied by shoulder, neck and hip undulations.

The day after his passing, I went to Peter’s house to say goodbye. As he laid at rest, we gathered round him, holding hands and offering words of remembrance. In place of words, the sounds that I uttered were, “uuuoooaahhh.” I think he appreciated that visceral response...that, and a lot of wet, drippy tears. Afterwards, we drank some scotch (which we both loved) and sprinkled a little glitter over him.

My heartfelt condolences to Claudia, Pietro, Julia, Abbie, Hope, Pearl, Clytie, Brooke, Curt, and everyone else whose lives Peter sprinkled with glitter. I will love him and keep him in my heart forever.

-Craig Krull

A memorial service is being considered for when health conditions allow. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that Peter would have wanted donations to be made to Art Division, a non-profit school for visual arts in L.A.'s Rampart District.

Peter Alexander with his 48 foot mural Blue on view at Frank Gehry’s studio, 2003

Peter Alexander giving a talk on his Velvets, part of Pacific Standard Time, 2011

Peter Alexander in his studio, 2017