Today we’d like to introduce you to Alexandra Wiesenfeld.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I didn’t grow up thinking I would make art, let alone paintings. I certainly hated posing for them, which I did for years for my father. My father was a painter and so is my brother, who was always regarded as the more talented sibling. Though my art making was not encouraged, my hands were restless and I was always searching for things to create. Convinced my days were numbered after Chernobyl rained its radioactive load over my hometown in Germany, I abruptly left at age 17 and came to LA. I had no plan or place, but one thing led to another and I never moved back. I first worked at a Red Cross shoe store, and discovered an old lady’s alabaster carving collective and thought carving alabaster was going to be my purpose in life. A year later I got a scholarship to Pomona College, and by then had started to paint quite obsessively. At Pomona, my teacher and friend Karl Benjamin let me work independently. I didn’t belong to any group, and craved isolation. To escape the city and be in the arid West, I went to Montana for my Masters and stayed for five more years in a town of 7,000 people. I then had a 2-year teaching gig at University of Iowa in Iowa City and did a residency in Roswell, New Mexico. After being struck by lightning and finding out I was pregnant, I finally had enough of my self-imposed isolation. I moved back to LA at age 32 and my years of juggling began. I was caring full time for two little children, eking out a living; I was always worried about money and I never slept. Finding time to paint felt existential. Now I teach full time at Los Angeles City College and though the work is quite consuming, I am deeply committed to my students and the community college model of education. Though things have become more stable and I proudly show at Klowden Mann gallery, I still struggle to balance it all.
Please tell us about your art.
I have often asked myself why I so doggedly hold on to painting. My process is one of cancelling out options by moving through one destroyed layer after the other, and It takes me a long time to arrive at the final image. Rarely do I feel content with the outcome, but for me no other medium compares. Restricted by the edges of a rectangle, one moves inert paste around until it takes on muscle and structure, appears luminous and spacious, and suddenly the rectangle can contain the world. Just as in real life, change is the governing force as every mark affects the larger whole.
I have always been interested in the psychology of space. Much of the challenge and excitement for me in painting stems from my desire to show interior and exterior realities at once. Lately I have been focused on stage like landscapes where battles are carried out between manmade and nature’s forces. I see these landscapes as metaphors for us and for a battle that is carried out within us.
Choosing a creative or artistic path comes with many financial challenges. Any advice for those struggling to focus on their artwork due to financial concerns?
My advice is to have a job that somehow feeds your artwork as inspiration or you on an emotional, social or political level. And to not be so rigid that one can only make art work, if the circumstances fit, like having a studio, or having time or money. One has to find a way to make work or else it may never happen. I think it’s unrealistic to think one could survive on art making alone, and even if one could, it’s a lot of pressure on one’s creative process to have to please the market over time. I think a lot of shitty jobs become more bearable, if you continue making artwork. I also believe that artists are uniquely equipped to find unconventional pathways to survive in this new economy.
Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
I have always believed that the personal is political and the political personal. Never has it seemed truer than right now. I used to think that art was a luxury, but now I believe the stories we share through the many mediums of art are our only hope of shifting consciousness and finding a way out of the morass we are in.
For myself, I saw a definitive shift that paralleled our political climate. Just like our reality has been upended in this post-truth, post-postmodern world, I could no longer trust my own conceptual framework. I became mistrustful of my authority over painted grandiose gestures, of bodies of works being connected by intellectual ideas, by language. For a while I gave up large scale painting and had to break down how I approach making work. As a result, my work has become more raw and clunky. Someone once called me a “primitivist”, and though not meant as a compliment, I was flattered. If I could get to a place with my work that could transcend labels, categories, identities, I would feel successful.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I show with Klowden Mann Gallery (klowdenmann.com), who will be taking my work to the Untitled Fair in Miami in December. I will be having a solo show there next year. You can also see my work on my website or Instagram.
- Website: alexandrawiesenfeld.com
- Phone: 2139498386
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: #alexandrawiesenfeld