John Alexander Captures the Swampy Flora and Fauna of Amagansett

Apr 18, 2016 11:16PM

There’s quiet tranquility in John Alexander’s latest paintings. A landscape painter, Alexander trains his eyes on small, tender moments rather than sublime vistas of mountainscapes and crashing seas. In his new show at John Berggruen Gallery, his canvases capture the subtle dramas that play out in the wilderness.

Born in East Texas, Alexander relocated to New York City in 1979. Though he continues to live and work in New York, the fast-paced urban environment rarely catches his eye as subject matter. Instead, Alexander favors the moodier swamps and bayous of his childhood. “That landscape is just ingrained in my psyche,” Alexander has said.

In his show at John Berggruen, Alexander focuses on small scenes from the countryside: fields of flowers, lily pads floating on a pool of water, a group of ibises. Each canvas is bathed in a darkish-blue light, suggesting either dawn or dusk, a choice that lends a sense of mystery to his paintings. One wonders what creatures lurk beneath the placid water or behind the overgrown foxgloves.

Alexander’s paintings often rely on compositional repetition for a stunning visual effect. In White Poppy (2016), a burst of white poppies breaks up a murky green swamp. Foxglove’s Journey (2016) features a group of white and blue foxglove flowers poking out from dark woodland like monumental towers in a cityscape.

Other paintings on display focus on the wildlife that inhabits these lands. North American Woodstork (2016) captures a bird midflight, its wings majestically spread against a group of gray clouds. The strange yet awesome beast has a haunting, ghostlike quality to it. Dreams of the Mighty Ibis (2016), in contrast, features seven ibises solemnly meandering amid brushwood. They stare back with piercing intensity, as if the viewer has intruded upon a secret swampland ritual.

—A. Wagner

John Alexander: Recent Paintings and Drawings” is on view at John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, Mar. 16–Apr. 23, 2016.

Follow John Berggruen Gallery on Artsy.