On Display in the Gallery at INTENCIONS
Jim Alford, Acrylics on Canvas
An encounter with a Jim Alford painting invites appreciation on a number of enjoyable levels. The viewer in search of refinement, of beauty paramount, of something intellectual or transcendent – all will be richly rewarded by seeing his paintings. The great drama of infinite interaction between land and sky unfolds on his canvases along with this thoughtful artist’s own symbolic references to the underlying connectedness of the universe.
Architectural forms appear in Alford’s exceptionally original takes on the endless skies of the American west, always in their purest states. These enormous monoliths are devoid of ornamentation. Rendered in splendid aerial perspective, his exquisitely designed shapes have much to offer the viewer who goes looking for objects ` in art. Their flat, perfect surfaces attain complexity and beauty by reflections that would ordinarily be out of the picture plane, like the sky behind the viewer, to the lateral extremes, and directly overhead. Alford creates great, clean edifices that contain and reflect mysteries. He calls them “monuments to ambiguity.” He is comfortable not knowing all the answers.
New Mexico’s monsoon skies are legendarily, intensely beautiful. Alford has just experienced the best summer ever for cloud formations. For him a session of sky gazing is always a spiritual event. The self-renewing aerial dance of water vapor and light is never the same, changing sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically from one moment to the next.
This infinitude of incredibly beautiful forms so pervades his work that his peers refer to his studio as the Cloud Research Laboratory. Alford admits to feeling possessive about artistic rights to the airspace above his lab. If a little humorous and fun, this actually is an accurate characterization of this painter’s reverentially deep and productive appreciation of cloudscapes that are not just above but all around him at his home.
Alford lives and paints on the Galisteo plain just southwest of Santa Fe. His home and studio are situated on a land swell from which the view can only be described as wholly open, ever changing, and charged with an aura of infinitude. Expansive openness of this magnitude is at the core of his work. Through a lifetime of observational experiences Alford has come to gaze at things, “to look without focusing.”
The land and sky of Laramie, Wyoming, where he grew up, caught Alford’s attention early, but he didn’t really awaken to art until his graduate studies in geology at the University of Hawaii. His geology degree helped him land a plum job as a ranger at Mount Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco, situating him in the midst of one of this planet’s most extraordinary concentrations of lush, natural beauty. Patterns and forms in the atmosphere and the land interact uniquely in this amazing region where it is possible to hike through ten of the earth’s twelve climate zones in an afternoon. Living and working in nature, often being the only apparent being above the clouds, provided ample inspiration to begin painting the astonishing views around him. Alford bought his initial pair of polarized sunglasses while in this setting and for the first time in his life became intoxicated just by what he saw. He entered an art competition in the tony Marin County hamlet of Fairfax, won the Best-in-Show Award, and launched a consistently successful career in art.
During his year and a half as a ranger, Alford developed an approach to visual investigation that is not about blood and sweat, by rather about patience and play. The paradigm shift to focusing more on the process than on the goal inspired him to earn an MFA at the University of California in Santa Barbara.
Concomitant and equally intense interests and pursuits in Zen and Transcendental Meditation brought about a strong awareness of the void – the space between – as a rich and timeless source of knowledge beyond words. There could be no better vehicle for exploring this artistically than clouds, which can only exist in the emptiness of the sky.
Reading the works of Carlos Casteneda inspired Alford to find different ways to see. Stopping the “eternal yammer of the internal dialogue, quieting the mind,” is an effect of meditation, which he began to express visually in his work.
During this period, Alford became interested in an natural phenomenon that has become a recurring thematic motif in his work. At certain times early or late in the day, the ocean would appear lighter against a darker sky when viewed at the center of the horizon. Moving his eyes left or right along this line, he noticed a reversal of the contrast to darker ocean against lighter sky. The change is gradual along seamless gradations and it occurs in a perfectly counterbalanced opposition. Eye movement along these figure-ground reversals has a calming effect. The artist used these oscillations of value in abstract paintings, which are big, soothing, meditative, and profound.
“Art for me is about the undefined,” says Alford. “It is an inventive process, always evolving, always amazing. One can only look at things with one’s own vision. There are all kinds of reasons for making art. I have the best view where I live and I have the freedom to be out there, gazing. I don’t want to miss anything.
Totally at home in the twenty-first century, Alford makes use of a computer in designing the works he will execute flawlessly with airbrush. He combines digital photography, scanned-in drawings, and Photoshop tools to create the references from which he paints. There computer speeds the process and allows manipulations of images that permit him to depict clouds forming, moving, dissipating, caressing the land, and quieting the mind.
Alford sees and records astonishing celestial events with a formidable arsenal of technical prowess, depth of soul, and breadth of vision at his command. When viewing his paintings, the phenomenal, quiet, meditative power of his work washes over you in waves of bliss.