Don Alter was very much at home in the well lit Hudson Beach gallery in Beacon. The 81 year old artist was surrounded by his latest body of work — a stopping point of sorts to mark more than six decades of painting. Alter is one of the sole remaining students of the famed Black Mountain College of the 1940’s, an experience that shaped him as a maturing, young artist. Today, Alter is more like a philosopher who articulates his theories through painting, and who is informed by a diverse set of life experiences .
Alter was a first generation American who was raised in the Bronx by his Polish immigrant father Sol Alter, a bread baker. As an artist, the young Alter attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, after which he was accepted at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The small college was an artists’ mecca and Alter met and worked with such artists and thinkers as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, John Cage, Alfred Kazin, Merce Cunningham, and famed authors Arthur Penn and Paul Goodman, among others. On the board of directors was Albert Einstein and William Carlos Williams.
Alter was just under 18 and the youngest one at the Black Mountain campus, a small, open community of artists who embraced a liberal life style in and out of the classroom. For the young artist it was like being a kid in a toy store. “It was innovative and exciting,” says Alter. “It was like Shangri-La and everyone was very close.”
Alter studied drawing, painting and color under the rigorous tutelage of Josef Albers and textile design with Anni Albers, both who had just fled Nazi Germany after closing that country’s famous Bauhaus school.
“The Albers taught us about the Bauhaus philosophy,” recalls Alter. “They taught us that there is a social responsibility between artists and the world. It got me thinking about my economic identity and how one makes their way in the world.”
The training paved the way for Alter’s successful career in textile design, but before he could test the commercial waters of the design world, he was drafted to serve in the Korean War. In the military he completed the vigorous combat training for overseas, but ended up state side creating military training aids and signs because of his artistic talent.
After his stint in the military, he set his goals towards the textile world and eventually became a well known and respected designer and founded Design Logic Inc. in New York City. His ideas grew from his art background — a rich mix of abstract and real imagery.
“The work I did was very innovative in a competitive world. It was a time when a lot of visually exciting things were happening in the world. People were working and there was a sense of optimism and an energetic retail market.”
As a successful textile designer, Alter always had his finger on the pulse of the visual world — both commercial and artistic. He created and produced textile designs for home furnishings, fabrics, wall paper and other products. He had commissioned and noncommissioned designs that were sold nationally and internationally. By the time he retired in 1990, he was ready to return to painting full time. Today, he lives with his wife Alice Himmel in Newburgh and his studio is a small space overcrowded with stacks of canvases.
Over the years, Alter has seen the growing number of surfaces with images that fill our everyday lives are a “bombardment of visual media where it has become so super saturated without intellectual comparison and too disparate.” To that end, Alter says he wants to simplify the artist-viewer relationship. Today, his has deftly expressed his ideas combining abstract and realism. His colors are extraordinary and the subject matter is compelling. In “Airplane Landscape” rainbow colored flora and fauna grow off the canvas, a subtle, tiny airplane hints at a sense of perspective.
“Apple Orchard” shows a young man integrated with nature, a mysterious ladder reaches up to a sky of ethereal plumes. Other work includes fantasy landscapes, beguiling faces and abstract explosions that reverberate off the canvas. Alter says as he gets older, experimenting and stepping outside the box becomes easier, as does showing his work.
“I’m opening up more, maybe because it’s easier to get rejected at my age. You wait to be a unique voice. I want to take the time and develop skills to make something exciting. I am, after all, a provocateur.”
Two very dedicated friends and artists have helped Alter regularly show his work here in the Hudson Valley. Tony Moore, a sculptor, and Harald Plochberger, a painter, have curated the current two-part show of Alter’s work at the Hudson Beach gallery in Beacon, a community based gallery. Both men have produced the DVD film, “Donald Alter: A Dialogue on Painting,” Both shows (the second one started June 9) are called Chromatic Tales, Part 1 and Part 2.
DONALD ALTER: Chromatic Tales – Part 1 and 2
Paintings, Drawings, Prints
May 12 — July 5, 2012
HUDSON BEACH GALLERY at HUDSON BEACH GLASS
162 MAIN STREET, BEACON, NY 12508 T 845 440‑0068
Abby Luby, author of the recently published e-book Nuclear Romance, has been in the field of communications for over 20 years and a journalist just over 10. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications/Music from Indiana University and attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City.
She is a freelance journalist for The New York Daily News, a regularly featured art critic for the Stamford Advocate/Greenwich Time and for the past five years has written for The Hudson Valley Table, a quarterly food magazine. Ms. Luby has contributed several articles on art events, gallery openings and artists in the Hudson Valley region to Roll Magazine. www.abbylu.com