Jane Alexander was born in Johannesburg in 1959. From a very young age she started showing great artistic talent, and is now one of South Africa's most acknowledged sculptors. She studied at the University of Witwatersrand and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art degree in 1982. That same year, she was the winner of the National Fine Arts Student Competition as well as the Martienssen Student Prize. In 1988 she completed her Masters in Fine Art. She had initially started her degree majoring in painting, but eventually changed to sculpture as she found it much more appealing and realized that she was more suited to it. At university, Alexander was exposed to information about the political situation in South Africa through students' underground organizations and activities, and this contributed greatly to her work.
When growing up in the suburbs, Alexander had been shielded from everyday police - and street violence. However, when she moved to city of Braamfontein in order to be closer to her university, she was faced with reality and was directly confronted with these aspects of society. At the same time, the political situation in the 1970's was changing, and black consciousness had become very noticeable - the 1976 Soweto uprising had been an eye-opener for many people. Despite the fact that Alexander, herself, was not politically active and did not contribute to the struggle in any way, her work was extremely influenced by the socio-political situation in South Africa at the time. Her work clearly responds to the violence in South Africa during these years, and because of this she is seen as one of West Coast African Angel, '85 the most important artists of the Resistance.
After completing her degree, Alexander went to a school in Rehoboth, Namibia to teach English. She now lives in a flat in Long Street in the centre of Cape Town from where, on her balcony, she has a view of the old Cape architecture, as well as bookshops, antique stores and sex shops. In 2010 Jane Alexander was the winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Fine Art. This award is given to people who are acknowledged as being important artists within the South African art scene. In 2009 she was the joint winner of the First National Bank Artist of the Year award with Kevin Brand. Probably her most famous piece, «The Butcher Boys, 1985», is in permanent exhibition at the South African National Gallery, and is the most popular contemporary piece in the collection. It was made while Alexander was still in the process of completing her Masters degree at Wits. In 2010, it was chosen by Jean Clair for his show «Identita e Alterita» («Identity and Alterity») in the Palazzo Grassi at the Venice Biennale.
Jane Alexander is currently the senior lecturer in sculpture, photography and drawing at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, the University of Cape Town. She also is the proud mother of a baby boy.
Jane Alexander never gives any comment about her works, and therefore we have to depend on critics to guide us to a closer understanding of her work. It also forces viewers to examine her work more carefully, and to make their own interpretation. Earlier in her career, Alexander said that part of the reason why she makes things realistic is because she doesn't really want to explain her work. She likes people to make their own interpretation, and doesn't mind if it's completely different from her own. To quote Ivor Powell, (Grahamstown Festival catalogue writer) Alexander's work «reflects and explores a sense of being. It presents, through the sustaining metaphor of the human figure and its transmutations, a relation of the individual to the society».
Of her exhibition at Grahamstown, 2010, he wrote, «Alexander is a sufficiently mediumistic artist to have captured in those forms the brutalized spirit of a disturbed time - the rampant violence of the mid to late 1980's. But by the same token, she is a sufficiently authentic artist to be concerned with subtler and more philosophical issues of identity in our own time. Those expecting to find raw meat and dangling entrails - the paraphernalia of art as a horror movie - at the Settlers' Monument in Grahamstown are in for a disappointment...»
In Alexander's earlier years, she had already begun to focus on her reoccurring themes of violence, aggression, cruelty and suffering. Her work is always related to the human figure as she is interested in anatomy as a form of expression. Because of the fact that her figures are life-sized, they have an amazing presence and create a dramatic impression. Her earliest figures were concerned with victimization, and were much smaller than her later pieces. «Untitled, 1982», the piece that won her the National Fine Arts Student Prize, is a good example of it. Using anthropoid and human forms, Alexander created two skeletal carcass images through the incorporation of bones, and using wax as a covering with plaster. Before being coated with wax, the bones and modelled plaster were painted in watercolours, creating the effect of anatomical materials. The figures are elongated as if they had been stretched by a torture rack, or deformed and shrunken due to starvation. Untitled, 1982
The exposure of internal human anatomy signifies injury or deformity. As her works developed, she began to give them a more decorative quality and they became increasingly more representational. She realised that by making her works bigger, they would have a more dramatic sense and certain meanings could be more appropriately conveyed. Many themes have been explored over the years, such as seductiveness, sensuousness, vulnerability, victims, suffering and aggression. Her earlier works were often of mutants, animal-like figures, and distorted beings. She eventually progressed towards realism, and when it comes to her portrayal of the human figure, her work definitely matured. When one compares her earlier work with her more recent sculptures, one can see that although her message has not changed much, the way that she portrays it has changed considerably.
Alexander does not only create sculptures, she also incorporates them into photomontages. Through the making of these photomontages, she explores environmental and contextual possibilities which help her with her sculptures. One of her best-known photomontages is «By The End of Today You're Going To Need Us, 1985-6» containing «The Butcher Boys, 1985». Alexander enjoys the fact that photographs can be distorted, changing the viewer's perspective of the actual incident. The subject matter of the photomontages varies - some is very personal, others are less tied to specific events and are often images taken from newspapers or her own photographs.
Her personal photomontages deal with her own experience and family history. Her father, who was a German-Jew, lived near Berlin during the rise to power of the Nazi Party during the 1930's. Because of this, Alexander created a series of photomontages - «Triumph over Capitalism», dealing with the Nazi's and has titles such as «Fur Deutsche Geschichte», «Sozialistisches Vaterland DDR», «Erbschein», etc
Did he put more into his paintings than most artists?
Jackson Pollock was a revolutionary painter and took his methods to new heights so that he could work more directly with the canvas to show pure emotion within his art work.
In 1938, Jackson Pollock went to see a psychoanalysis to help him get over a drinking problem, but he couldn't express himself well enough through words so he decided to draw a series of paintings in which he tried to convey his emotion Jackson Pollock used autobiographical drawings to create a series of paintings of distorted heads in which noses teeth, mouths and eyes became expressive rhythmic patterns.
At this time Jackson Pollock used certain images to express his feelings and this wasn't what he wanted. He no longer wanted to express feelings as illustrations but rather to express feelings that couldn't be seen. In stead of drawing a representation of an angry man he wanted to somehow convey the feeling of anger onto the canvas with out subject matter.
The Moon-Woman Cuts the Circle (1943; 109.5 x 104 cm (43 x 41 in) is an early Pollock, but it shows the passionate intensity with which he pursued his personal vision. This painting is based on a North American Indian myth. It connects the moon with the feminine and shows the creative, slashing power of the female psyche. It is not easy to say what we are actually looking at: a face rises before us, vibrant with power, though perhaps the image does not benefit from laboured explanations. If we can respond to this art at a fairly primitive level, then we can also respond to a great abstract work such as Lavender Mist. If we cannot, at least we can appreciate the fusion of colours and the Expressionist feeling of urgency that is communicated. Moon-Woman may be a feathered harridan or a great abstract pattern; the point is that it works on both levels.
By the end of 1946 Jackson Pollock had gotten rid of subject matter entirely and was painting his feelings on the canvas. But this was still not enough of Pollock, he wanted to work directly with the canvas. He wanted direct contact with his unconscious mind. Jackson Pollock believed that using a brush inhibited his work, that it censored his unconscious mind with his conscious mind in the time that it took to mix the paint load the brush and draw the line. The work was also suffering as a result of his using the brush because by the time he would get the desired effect on the canvas there would be so many layers of paint that it would begin to crack and fall off. Jackson Pollock also believed that the bush was to painterly to be truly free.
Now Jackson Pollock could get the desired effects from his art without the complications of his conscious mind interfering with the unconscious mind. He would roll his canvas out on the floor get some buckets of paint and begin to pour, now his work was quickly and directly all he had to consciously have to think of was what colour he would want to use. Pollock could now put layer on top of layer, work on the entire painting at once, and best of all draw unbroken lines of paint that never had to end. Unconscious images could emerge in Pollock's work while the painting was being created.
Blue Poles is one of Jackson Pollock's most famous works, in this picture the subject matter is totally gone and you are left looking at pure emotion which is what Jackson Pollock was trying so hard to accomplish by putting so much of himself into his work.
As one can see Jackson Pollock tried his whole artistic career to find better ways to show feelings and emotions through his work. He is truly a revolutionary painter who tried very hard to add more to his paintings than most people he tried to add a bit of himself to each picture by letting his unconscious mind flow freely over the canvas and putting more into his paintings than most artists.