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LU honors renowned artist John Alexander

John Alexander, Dean Derina Holtzhausen, President Kenneth EvansThe Department of Art at Lamar University honored internationally celebrated artist and LU alumnus John Alexander with the naming and dedication of the John Alexander Painting Studio on Oct. 8 in the Art Building. A Beaumont native, Alexander has work featured in the permanent collections of leading museums around the nation and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

"With all of his success, the most wonderful thing about John is that he has stayed so connected to his roots in Beaumont," said Kim Steinhagen, development officer for the College of Fine Arts and Communication. "He truly enjoys coming home to see his friends and to catch up on the art scene at Lamar, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas and the Art Studio. John has a genuine love for Lamar University and speaks with fondness of his days with his painting instructor and mentor Jerry Newman. John believes in giving back to those who have helped him reach the level of success he has attained and has generously given Lamar some examples of his best artwork to enhance our museum collection."

Alexander is donating some significant works of art to Lamar. He has sent two large, recent paintings that will soon be on display at the Dishman Art Museum, and plans to send several large drawings in the future.  

“Having a body of artwork by John Alexander in the permanent collection of the Dishman Art Museum would not only give Lamar art students first hand access to John’s draughtsman and painting techniques but also serve as inspiration to let them know it is possible to graduate with a degree in art and become a successful artist,” said Steinhagen.

Alexander work danceIn addition to the studio naming and reception, Alexander was the special guest at the President's Circle dinner on Oct. 9, hosted by LU president Kenneth Evans in the University Reception Center. Evans established the President’s Circle to honor and recognize individuals who have made a commitment to the success of Lamar students. At the dinner, students from the Department of Theatre and Dance performed choreography by Golden Wright, associate professor of dance, in front of projections of Alexander's paintings. Cherie Acosta, assistant professor of costume design, created costumes designed to mirror the images in the paintings.

"I am so proud of the Department of Theatre and Dance," said Steinhagen. "I have been to numerous museum openings and dinners honoring John, but none of them featured anything like the over-the-top production created by Golden Wright and his team. The costumes were spectacular, and the way the dancers interacted with the projected images of John's art to perfectly selected mood music was mesmerizing. The entire audience, including John, was spellbound."  

Alexander received an art degree from Lamar University in 1968 and a Master of Fine Arts from Southern Methodist University. He taught at the University of Houston in the 1970s and then moved to New York, where he began to make his mark on the art world. Alexander’s art pays tribute to the rich tradition of painters throughout the history of art. His early works were primarily semi-abstract landscapes, and later, dense, expressionistic paintings. His more recent drawings and paintings include beautifully rendered birds, plants and animals (often those native to Texas and the Gulf Coast states), and satirical works of characters and masked figures representing the most dysfunctional members of society.

"John’s work is accessible to people in our area because his nature themes are so familiar to us," said Steinhagen. "He still loves exploring the swamps and waterways in our area, and he recognizes every bird species he comes across. Since birds are such a common theme in his artwork, we asked him to send some images that might work in silhouette for the studio plaque that bears his name."

John AlexanderGrackles, which are common both in Southeast Texas and in Amagansett on Long Island, where Alexander has a second home and studio, were eventually selected to grace the signage of the John Alexander Painting Studio.

“He remembers grackles fondly from his childhood and uses them frequently in his art,” said Steinhagen. “The pair of birds featured on the plaque is also significant because they bring to mind a student and professor having a conversation.”

Alexander had a major retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 2007. His work is included in numerous permanent museum collections, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. His work has also been collected by numerous private individuals.

Russ Schultz, former dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, initially worked with Alexander on his major gift of art to the university. Following his retirement, Derina Holtzhausen, new dean of the college, continued the work to name the painting studio after one of LU’s most accomplished art alumni.

“It was a pleasure to meet John and honor him in this way,” said Holtzhausen. “John’s interest in and passion for investigating the impact of politics and power on social justice through his art reflects my own interests, and he pursues that passion in a sublime and exquisite way that few can accomplish.”

For more information about the Department of Art, call (409) 880-8141 or visit lamar.edu/art.

Alexander dance