Thursday, January 27, 2011

Seasonal Affective

New Drawings by Sean Alexander

The Weekly Volcano, January 26, 2011

“Chest Full of Birds” by Sean Alexander / Photo courtesy Fulcrum/Jason Ganwich

Words that come to mind while thinking about Sean Alexander's new drawings at Fulcrum Gallery include funny, sad, inventive and hopeful. Also precise, obsessional, illustrational, folksy and cartoonish. Alexander's drawings are many things. Boring is not one of them.

Alexander is no stranger to Tacoma's art scene. He was co-founder of The Helm, a short-lived gallery that promoted many young artists. He was a Foundation of Art Award nominee and named in my recent "10 to Watch" column on up-and-coming artists.

According to Alexander's wall statement in the gallery, these drawings were made to stave off seasonal affective disorder. The statement says he has been "working against hopelessness, fear, heartache, negativity, and darkness" and "thoughts of suicide."

The drawings are full of hope and light. They look like the manic drawings of a somewhat mad artist with a great sense of humor. The drawings are in ink, and combine brightly colored areas with black and white. There are strong contrasts of positive and negative shapes and classical balance with highlights of very bright colors. The figures are generally seen in silhouette and are placed within framing devices that use intricate patterns, many of which relate to quilting or to the types of patterns seen in Native American baskets and blankets. His typical subjects are boys picking flowers and ducks and a cat; they show up in drawing after drawing.

The style is a combination of surrealism, folk art and children's book illustration. And the drawing is obsessively precise. Looking at them I got the feeling that every mark was carefully thought out before pen touched paper and then drawn very slowly with a steady hand.

Each drawing tells an enigmatic story and has humorous - and in some cases disturbing - titles and subtitles. A couple of examples:

"Chest Full of Birds (Personal Power Company)" shows a seated figure in black silhouette wearing a colorful striped sweater. A valentine-style heart is cut out of his chest and from it flow colorful ribbons that become branches with birds perched on them. The branch-ribbons are free-flowing and rhythmical, and the whole thing is very fanciful.

"We Belong Together (In response to family trouble)" has two brothers facing each other with a pitchfork and a shovel crossed like swords. There is a sun in the background and amazingly precise shading in the sky. If I could count the tiny pen strokes I suspect it might be close to a thousand.

There are 25 drawings in all. The ones in the back room are different in mood and style, seemingly done at a different time. They are simpler and in many instances more inventive.

Fulcrum Gallery
Through March 12, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday–Saturday and by appointment, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

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