Dos Judas
Monte Alban
La Guerra de los Mariachis
El Toreo
The Entry of Quayle Into Mexico
La Linea
Cholo Park
La Migra
Los Tomateros
Rights and Lefts
The Shiny Path
A Patriot’s Nightmare
Night Game
Beach Culture
Gun Culture
Dead Heads
Fusion Reaction
Star Trek 2000
Drug Wars
Magic v. AIDS
Fourth of July, Del Mar
Design for the Original Garden


Click Image To Enlarge.

Procession (1981), 24" x 42"

by Leah Ollman, 13 November 1995

A parade courses, saunters or strolls through nearly all of Wick Alexander's paintings—not the classic, Main Street variety of parade with marching bands and baton twirlers, but a more spontaneous version of self-declaratory display, a continuous, public exposition of our passions and pastimes. THIS IS WHO WE ARE, an Alexander painting laughs, sometimes poignantly, sometimes painfully. Do we approve? Could we be otherwise?

The spectacle of life in this time and place, the late 20th century in the U.S./Mexico border region, spreads across canvas in panoramic splendor and minute detail. Our eyes move in rhythm to the paintings, bounding from subplot to subplot, gathering evidence of current society's endearing ugliness, its earnest viciousness, merciless pride and blatant absurdity. Alexander celebrates the spectacle, reveling in its color, its extremity and variety. Even when given every reason to, he rarely demonizes a subcluture or the larger public from which it deviates. He exaggerates for effect, but the effect is one of gentle self-mocking, caricature that unfolds into revelation.

It was written of the 16th century painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder: "He looks for and finds things that are extravagant and grotesque. He is barely interested in showing man as he ought to be; on the contrary, he represents him as he really is, with a kind of humorous violence, with his defects, his passions and his prejudices, leaving to the spectator the task of drawing a moral from what he paints."

Like Bruegel, Alexander paints people as bit players against the eternal landscape. And like Bruegel, Alexander surveys his culture from a perch high above it, the optimal seat for watching a parade. The elevated viewpoint can simplify things and also clarify them—rhythms and patterns emerge that would go unperceived from within. Anecdotal details accumulate into a panoramic picture, a view doubly privileged by both macro and micro lenses.

Alexander is not a tourist to the world he pains but a part of it, a member, a citizen who has stepped back to view the scene from a distance, with sympathy and humor. He may be high above it, but he claims no moral superiority. He talks the talk and walks the walk, giving his paintings the easy accessibility of folk, outsider or so-called naive art. We can grasp the situations described with facility, even though the spaces they occupy feel beyond reach. It is a position cushioned by irony. Roger Brown, another of Bruegel's progeny, infuses his paintings with a similar contradiction, and the ambiguous space elicits an ambiguous response. As with the space in Brown's work, so with Alexander's: "We are forced to look at it from a state of powerlessness and omniscience" (John Yau).

Alexander is not emotionally neutral, nor politically disengaged, but rarely is he this moralistic, this didactic. Occasionally anger seeps in and makes an explicit visual claim for what is already implicit—that genre painting is necessarily history painting. Days accrete, becoming eras. Visual cataloguing of the everyday turns into ideological ordering of the historic. The mundane is history evolving at the pace of the second hand. Alexander is one of its observers, its witnesses, whose testimony interprets as it records.

Those in Bruegel's paintings feast publicly on food and drink and dance. In Alexander's, we sate ourselves with power and death. Death plays many roles in Alexander's work--as ultimate moral check, unsettling reminder of global politics and physical fact. A skeletal caddy attends George Bush on his golf game; another acts as umpire in a nighttime baseball game between Japan and Cuba. The living and dead play basketball together, both equally buoyant in their Nikes and Reeboks. The bicycle-riding, mail-carrying, sword-wielding, dancing, drunken calaveras of Jose Guadalupe Posada have returned for an encore performance, a reprise. Their act, after a century, never gets stale, for which culture ever tires of death?

Whatever they might say about the dark underpinnings of our culture, Alexander's paintings are as seductive as candy—bright, sweet, fast and direct, nuggets of lurid color and saccharine flavor. They are fun, entertaining, busy, dense with sensation and burlesque humor, a refreshing antidote to the dour dryness of much contemporary art. But Alexander plays the fool, the wise fool, tickling as he taunts, gift-wrapping a bomb. His paintings are fun, even if what we ultimately discover about ourselves with them is disheartening, embarrassing or worse. Narcissism, xenophobia, fear, violence and greed keep up a steady, relentless beat, faint but recognizable through the sprightly, tinkling melody. Alexander's paintings are vibrant, but still they cast a shadow, a shadow of doubt over our lives, our motives, the parades we lead and those we follow.



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