Clytie Alexander was born in 1940 in Lawrence, Kansas. Her mother, a free spirit with a broad
appreciation for music and for art, left high school during the Depression to support her family by
working as an administrative assistant for the Kansas City Star. Alexander’s father, a psychiatric social
worker and community organizer, was Welfare Officer, Granada Relocation Center 1942-44 and in
1944-46 Deputy Chief Welfare Officer UNRRA Germany. In 1948 the family settled in Montreal, Quebec where Alexander was raised by her American family in a deeply divided French Canadian/English city.
Alexander attended St. Georges School of Montreal, an independent English language school, where she received a classical education and where she studied art with Alfred Pinsky and with Arthur Lismer, a member of “The Canadian Group of Seven”. Lismer encouraged her to observe light and color in the Canadian landscape and to continue to paint. In 1957 she graduated from MacDonald High School, Ste. Anne de Bellevue the year her father, then Director of the School of Social Work McGill University, accepted an assignment with the United Nations in Dhaka, Bangladesh known then as Dacca, East Pakistan.
In Dhaka 1957-58 Alexander studied music and dance with Ajit Sanyal, a disciple of Bulbul Chowdhury, and a founder of the Bulbul Lalitakala Academy. From Ajit Sanyal she learned about the work of Rabindranath Tagore and about South Asian musical frameworks used for composition and
improvisation, abstract forms 3000 years old. With Sanyal she studied gesture learning about the
relationship of a moving body to a common space, a common ground. She traveled frequently with
family friends in rural areas taking photographs. She was particularly interested in Jali, the perforated
marble screens used in Indo/Islamic architecture. In 1958 she enrolled at Antioch College, Yellow
Springs, Ohio to study art and engineering and for the school’s work/study program in which she
apprenticed with Max Mercer, the supervising architect for Eero Saarinan’s Birch Hall. Under Max
Mercer’s guidance Alexander’s first jobs were to review construction documents and to generate design documents for the remodel of a single-family home. The intense tutorial under Mercer following her South Asian experience had a lasting impact on her approach to solving spatial challenges.
Alexander entered UCLA in 1964. A few years before she had visited California noting its distinctive
light and met John Coplans then teaching at UC Berkley and making dark monochrome paintings in his San Francisco studio. At UCLA Alexander studied painting with Robert Chuey and John Saccarro. She also met with Irving Petlin, Ed Moses, Lee Mullican, Hassel Smith, Richard Diebenkorn, and Charles Garabedian among other faculty there at the time. Fellow students included Vija Celmins, Gwynn Murrill, Tony Berlant, Antonieta Sosa and Peter Alexander. Clytie and Peter married in 1965. (They divorced in 1984.) Hope was born in 1965 and Julia was born in 1967. In the years following, among the many visitors to her downtown Los Angeles home were Alexander’s growing circle of friends; cinematographer Conrad Hall, writer Christopher Isherwood, artists Robert Irwin, John Altoon, Larry Bell, Don Bachardy, Ken Price and his future wife Happy Coberly, dealer Irving Blum, psychoanalyst Milton Wexler, critics William Wilson and John Coplans, architect Frank Gehry and art fabricator Jack Brogan.
The building of a home in 1972 at the top of Tuna Canyon 20 minutes from Santa Monica, marked the beginning of Alexander’s intense exploration of the shifting light near the California coast. In 1978 she produced a series of one-day paintings. Dissatisfied with the results she detached surface from support making next a series of painted tin installations cut, bent and twisted in actual space. Through 1983 her work was essentially abstract though from time to time it moved toward realism. Alexander’s circle of friends grew to include visitors from New York; philosopher Edmund Leites frequently stayed in the Tuna Canyon house and artist Lynda Benglis became a close friend.
Alexander’s first one-person exhibition in 1980 was with Ruth S. Schaffner who later lent her a building in California’s High Desert to use as a studio. It was here she could think about West Coast art and about American Abstraction. In the Independence, CA studio, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Alexander continued to make light studies and to investigate surfaces: What are surfaces? Where does a surface begin and end? What are edges, boundaries, margins, borders? Do surfaces have depth? Is it possible to make a surface disappear and still see something? Can convergent and divergent ideas visually share surfaces? Her interest in permeable surfaces and their interaction with the surrounding space separated her from many of her California Minimalist friends.
In 1990 at the invitation of Anand Sarabhai she returned to India revisiting and rethinking her earlier
experience in South Asia. From this point forward she worked in series. She installed a number of same size drawings, paintings or constructions primed with veils of monochrome on her studio walls making ‘space frames’. She activated their surfaces by applying additional color as marks and sometimes perforations. While sharing characteristics with its series, each piece was unique and variations occurring piece to piece created both motion and stillness. In 1994 Alexander rented a studio in New York but also continued to work in Los Angeles.
Between1990 and 2004, Alexander worked on planar surfaces, large and small. In 2004 after
observing the changing shadows behind a small piece of white perforated paper loosely tacked to a wall for a number of weeks she began the Diaphan series. Diaphan from the Latin Diaphanus, means transparent, to show through. Working with Jack Brogan, she completed the first aluminum Diaphan in 2005. The Diaphans are rectangular, perforated sheets of either paper-thin aluminum or handmade kozo painted on both sides and installed hanging 4 inches away from the wall. Light is reflected onto the wall from the back of the work as colored shadow and returns through the perforations so the Diaphans seem to hover in front of a colored aura. The series engages in reductive form, an essential
abstract/concrete planar experience: one senses the wall, the perforations of the Diaphans, light and
color simultaneously as a natural phenomenon and as a carefully constructed visual experience. Each
arrangement of perforations is unique. The system for determining the distribution of holes is controlled chance - the 'control' being 'the rules and parameters for fabrication' and the 'chance' being the fabrication technician's interpretation of ‘the rules and parameters' and/or the limitations of the materials.
Alexander continues to expand the Diaphan series, the related Loop series, oil on linen, begun in 2011 and the Variable Edition series, handmade paper, begun 2012. In general she works with a set of
abstract notations. The work is non-representational, not abstract, anti-meditative and non-linear. She builds and modulates light. She works to establish conditions in which there is no one fixed point of view and to draw the eye to the space behind and around the work. She aims at a gap, a fissure, a break, a discontinuity, a dissonance, at something ‘missing’ that hints at an underlying rhythm, at cosmic noise, at how the microscopic world interacts with the macroscopic one in actual space.
Alexander’s work has been the subject of more than 20 solo and included in 50 group shows
internationally. Among the solo exhibitions are: the Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York (2009), Sarah Moody Gallery of Art, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (2009), Galleria Peccolo, Livorno, Italy (2008), Greenfield-Sacks Gallery, Santa Monica (2007 and 2006), Toomey-Tourell Gallery, San Francisco (2006), Galleria AAM, Rome (2002 and 1999), Galleria AAM, Milan with Galleria Peccolo, Livorno (2001), The Ben Shahn Galleries, William Paterson University, Wayne NJ (2001), Sarita Dubin Fine Art, Tokyo (2000), Galleria AAM, Milan (1998), Spazio Callaghan, Milan (1997), Victoria Anstead Fine Art, New York (1994), Saxon-Lee Gallery, Los Angeles (1989), Ruth S Schaffner Gallery, Santa Barbara (1982 and 1980).
Recent group exhibitions include: Everything Loose Will Land; 1970s Art and Architecture in Los
Angeles, MAK Center/Schindler House, Los Angeles, (Sylvia Lavin curator, 2013); Exhibition of Newly Elected Members and Recipients of Honors and Awards, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (2013); You Don’t Know Jack, from the collection of Jack Brogan: Clytie Alexander, Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Lynda Benglis, Chris Burden, John Eden, Robert Irwin, John McCracken, Helen Pashigian, Katherine Cone Gallery, Los Angeles (2012); THAW; Group exhibition of selected gallery artists, Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York (2011).
Her work was also in: After the Fall: Aspects of Abstraction Since 1970, Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, Staten Island, New York (Lilly Wei curator, 1997); Photographing the L.A. Art Scene 1955-1975, Craig Krull Gallery, Los Angeles (1996); Pasadena Collects the Art Of Our Time, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA (Malinda Wortz, curator, 1986) and 1+1=2, University of California, Irvine (Miriam Shapiro, curator, 1985).
Alexander has received numerous awards and honors including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Hassam, Speicher, Betts and Symonds Art Purchase Award, (2013, 2007 and 2003); Individual Support Grant from the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, (2005); Visiting Artist, American Academy in Rome, (2002, 1999, 1998); Pollock Krasner Foundation Individual Support Grant, (2001 and 1993); Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program (1998-2013); Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Individual Support Grant, (1998); International Studio and Curatorial Program New York, Artistin- Residence, (1996); Sarabhai Family Foundation, Ahmedabad, India, Visiting Artist (February-May,1990).
Alexander’s work can be found in more than 25 public collections including in the US: Los Angeles
County Museum of Art: Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu; Getty
Research Institute Library, Los Angeles; Harwood Museum of Art, Taos; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Sarah Moody Gallery of Art, University of
Alabama, Tuskaloosa; University Art Museum, Ruth S. Schaffner Collection of International Post War Art, University of California Santa Barbara; Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
Her work resides in private collections worldwide.
Clytie Alexander continues her work in New York, Los Angeles and New Mexico.