Amagansett resident John Alexander is the poster artist for the 24th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), running October 6–10. Alexander’s work has been exhibited in permanent collections at leading art museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
(Scroll down to see a bigger image of the poster.)
Alexander based the HIFF poster on his work, “Ship of Fools.” Setting down his brush, the talented Texas-born artist filled us in about what inspires him, his painting style and what he enjoys about contributing his art to HIFF.
Is there a message you hope your work conveys?
I want to be honest about my thought process. I think it’s good to chronicle the hypocrisy. It’s a form of release, and these paintings make me laugh. These figurative paintings trigger something. I don’t want them to be blazingly cartoon-like. I want a sense of mystery—who are these people? Where are they going? What are they thinking? I want them to be mysterious and beautiful. If I can do that, then I’ve done something successful.
Can you talk to us about the contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of man that your paintings often show?
I paint from my own observations of the world. I like my work to make people think, but I never make direct political statements because I want the viewer to bring his or her own interpretation to the work. As far as my nature paintings running side by side with my figurative—you have to create a different mindset for each one. I’ll work on one series for a while, and then I’ll go to another. Right now I’m outside in nature a lot, but in the fall and winter, when I’m back in the city and painting in a studio in Manhattan, I don’t have access to the natural world around me, and so I’ll get more into a figurative mode.
You’re originally from Texas. You moved to New York City in 1979 and now you also have a studio in Amagansett. How have all these varying landscapes influenced your work?
I was primarily a landscape painter in Texas. When I came to New York my work changed dramatically and I began to put more figures in my work. There’s so much more access to information in New York, and also Philadelphia and Boston—these places are very rich in cultural activities.
The poster for HIFF was based on your “Ship of Fools” painting. What inspired you to use this idea for the festival?
It’s an honor to be cinematic with my work for such a distinguished and well-respected film festival. I like the idea of a ship being in a big stormy sea, and it makes sense because it’s the Hamptons and the sea is so profoundly etched into the history here. Also, I believe great cinema is thought provoking and complex in human interactions. There are good guys and bad guys that could be there in that boat—it’s multi-layered, and the same goes for movies. I also thought the painting itself has a large cinematic graphic scale to it. I just did the painting, the person who did the layout for the poster graphically did a great job.
What subjects might you paint next?
I don’t know what’s next. I’m always going into a new phase of basically being paralyzed with insecurity, and not knowing what’s next. I’ll start working again all of a sudden, and you just work yourself naturally out of your insecurities.
I’m doing a lot of work outdoors right now, and getting the rhythm and hand going again, so…we’ll see.