How a SoCal Pioneer Helped Add the “Post-” to Postmodern

As the hippie, Hollywood, and rock cultures converged in 1960s Los Angeles, Peter Alexander abandoned his early studies in architecture and began to pour the resin he used to glaze surf boards into abstract sculptures. His innovative sculptures reacted to the object-based minimalism that was finding its way over from the art-world hub in New York, injecting a uniquely Californian vibe of sun-soaked relaxation crashing against slick commercial plasticity.

As one of a group of artists whose work both reflected and defined the culture of southern California in the ’60s, Alexander’s slick resin works became a jumping-off point for both his own prolific career and heterogeneous bodies of work whose only shared qualities were their strong connection to the West Coast and an interest in tactile hedonism.  A selection of these works are now on view on the west coast, in an exhibition at Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach.

Alexander rode into the art world on the heels of the stars of the Ferus Gallery, which attracted international attention to the art being made in California as the ’60s drew to a close. He began to produce objects in various shapes out of colored resin, a material that absorbed and refracted light and color. Joining individuals including Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, and Craig Kauffman, Alexander came to be associated with the Light and Space artists, a group united by their shared use of unconventional materials and a streamlined version of minimalism that attempted to give pure color material presence.

Responding to the formalism of art criticism and theory as it became more and more attached to his work, in the early ’70s Alexander turned away from minimalist forms: “My response […]was to do something that was really dumb, and that was to do a picture of a sunset.” In an attempt to reconnect with the picture as a populist mode of artistic appreciation, Alexander launched into embracing ‘clichéd’ subjects and materials.

As his career progressed, Alexander moved through a series of serialized styles and techniques that attempted to capture fundamental responses to primal sensations, from pastels of sunsets, to paintings on black velvet of the deep ocean, tiny drawings of women masturbating, and images of the L.A. riots. Alexander’s rebuff of minimalism and foray into representation earned him many critics at the time, but it has since become clear that these moves were an early venture towards concepts that developed as part of postmodernism.

—K. Sundberg

Peter Alexander” is on view at Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Beach, Jan. 31–Mar. 15, 2015.

Follow Peter Blake Gallery on Artsy.

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