When husband and wife, Julian and Karen Alexander, retired from their medical professions they were looking for a new direction and focus in their lives. That challenge led the couple on a life-changing journey through the world of watercolor art – each with their own wonderful style of impressionist, abstract and stylized art pieces.
The Alexanders are debuting their paintings as the featured artists in the Main Event Gallery’s May 12- June 11, exhibit, “Just Breathe: Seeing Art as a way to Heal.”
The event, sponsored by the Tehama County Arts Council is taking place in partnership with Tehama County’s Mental Health Awareness month. The public was also invited to submit their art interpretations for the exhibit, along with gallery members.
A reception to meet the artists is Friday, May 13, 5:30-7:30 p.m., 710 Main St., Red Bluff. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
Formerly from Red Bluff, the Alexanders are well-known in the area where Dr. Julian Alexander practiced as an ophthalmologist and surgeon and Karen as a nurse and manager of their office.
Karen said she has always loved and dabbled in many forms of art and when they lived here she took Shasta College art classes. Their daughter, Megan, is an accomplished artist and an art major.
“When the pandemic hit and we were shut in, we found an art teacher in Chico who did some zoom group online watercolor classes that we took a couple times a week,” said Karen. “We could see we were making progress.”
Julian said he hadn’t ever had an interest in becoming an artist, and just didn’t think he had it in him.
However, he has always been appreciative of good art and especially of Karen and Megan’s talents and artistic accomplishments.
“But I needed something structured to do for my mental health and sanity during the pandemic, and the art thing looked like it would be fun to try,” he said. “At times it also seemed very frustrating, because in class we were painting in a time frame and I could never quite finish what I was starting.”
Over time he got better and began enjoying the classes and seeing a difference and progression in his endeavor, actually finishing the paintings.
“So I continued after the class was over,” Julian added.
The couple took another online class with art teachers from all over the world.
“One of the assignments was painting 30 faces in 30 days. It was exhausting but also exciting and we learned a lot from that community of artists and enjoyed the group fellowship because everyone was stuck inside,” Julian said.
Karen added, “Our dining room table looks like an art studio. Now I paint every day and Julian just about every day. In between doing things, it’s a place to sit and clear your mind while you’re concentrating on your painting rather than other things around you.”
This past year the Alexanders have been painting on their own, each developing their individual styles as they explore websites for ideas from other artists, trying new styles and seeing what connects with them. As they’ve continued, their ideas are becoming more original, painting their version of what they are seeing. They have been surprised by the positive responses they’ve received on their art.
“I do many subjects, but I’m really drawn to portrait painting,” said Karen. “Especially paintings of women that I admire or who have been important to my life.”
She now uses a photograph translating it into a stylized version of what she sees, and that has given her great satisfaction. Her paintings reflect her success in capturing expressions, feelings and a sense of personality from her subjects.
Julian said, “Because I don’t sketch and like overly bright colors, I prefer doing impressionistic abstract style paintings.”
His suggestive brush strokes and use of colors fill his paintings with light and bring aliveness and movement to them.
“While I don’t paint as much as Karen, I need the time to sit and have some meditation and we chit-chat while we’re doing that,” he said. “I find it’s something I really enjoy, although I feel like it’s not something I have a natural ability for.”
He believes the process in art has been a great shift from having unrealistic expectations to simply accepting the process and being willing to learn.
“When I was 40, I took piano lessons with the expectation that I would just learn how and be great at it and that was not the case. Instead, my piano teacher fired me because I was not willing to practice.”
He has found letting go of his identity as a doctor and his professional life difficult.
“I miss the wonderful people,” Julian added. “But now with a different perspective, I just keep pressing ahead and see progress in my abilities. It’s very centering, but it’s humbling. It takes a long time to acquire a skill set, but I have to remember that I’m doing it for my own peace of mind and enjoyment.”
Karen adds, “If you are interested in doing any form of artistic expression but don’t feel confident, just do it anyway. It isn’t so much about having talent as it is perseverance and willingness to start at the beginning in a class setting. It’s a wonderful chapter in our lives in retirement to have found this.”