Isabel Alexander: artist and illustrator By Janet McKenzie
Isabel Alexander in 1938.
In a long and varied artistic career Isabel Alexander (1910-1996) produced a vivid body of work that spoke both to her changing creative preoccupations and social conditions during the turbulent mid-twentieth century. Like many women artists of her generation she struggled for opportunity and recognition in a field that was overwhelmingly male; and like many more women across society as a whole she had to reconcile ambition with financial pressures and the demands of parenting, and single parenting at that. Yet her skills in drawing and painting, honed by her rigorous 1930s Slade training, melded with an unflagging work ethic, fierce independence and a delight in experimentation to give her works immediacy and energy as well as flair and distinction.
This much overdue and generously illustrated monograph traces Isabel Alexander’s life, influences and work over her 60-year career. Its publication coincides with the opening of a major retrospective exhibition Isabel Alexander: Artist Illustrator at the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate from January to June 2017 and with the transfer of images of many of her works to the Bridgeman Art Library.
In Isabel Alexander’s early work drawing was paramount, and after a period working in documentary film it provided the medium for her own documentary response to people and conditions in the South Wales coalfield during the desperate wartime years before nationalisation. From this she moved into illustration, wrote and autolithographed one of the celebrated Puffin Picture Books, and embarked on a range of other illustration projects.
In 1949 she at last gained financial security as a trainer of art teachers and was able to move from work undertaken in part to make ends meet - though no less striking for that - to a succession of phases of creative experimentation. While never forsaking line, she turned now to paint, colour and form, and during the next forty years produced distinctive and often dramatic landscapes and seascapes interspersed by portraiture and forays into abstraction. The result was an impressive and remarkably varied body of sketches, studies, drawings, paintings and prints, all of which are represented in this book. Author Janet McKenzie is emphatic that Isabel Alexander was an artist of indisputable talent, originality and importance.
Janet McKenzie studied history of art and philosophy at the Australian National University and etching at the Canberra School of Art and did her PhD at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She taught at the Canberra School of Art, the Victorian College of the Arts and the College of Fine Art, Sydney. In 1986 she moved to Scotland. She is author of numerous books on contemporary art, including: Drawing in Australia: contemporary images and ideas (Macmillan Australia, 1986); Arthur Boyd: art and life (Thames and Hudson, 2000); Contemporary Australian Drawing (Metasenta/Macmillan, 2012) and Moving Beyond: painting in China 2013 (Nanjing). She was co-editor of Studio International (2000-13) and is a senior research fellow at the University of Dundee.
PUBLICATION AND PURCHASE
Title: Isabel Alexander: artist and illustrator Author: Janet McKenzie Publication date: January 2017 ISBN: 9781527203624 Format: soft bound / paperback, 270 x 210 Pages: 140 Illustrations: 121 colour, 4 black and white Price: £20.00
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John Rule Art Book Distribution, spring 2017 catalogue, p 17.
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