May 23, 2014
Fab Friday: Artist Steve Alpert
RB: You backpacked your way from New York to the American West at 19 and found yourself as an artist. How do those travels still influence and inspire your work today? SA: That hitchhiking trip summer of 1972 is still paying dividends. I never knew who I might meet or where I would wind up at the end of the day. I wanted to meet my people in my country, and each day was a surprise in terms of the landscape and the people who would offer rides, food, and often, their homes to me. It was an intoxicating experience. The Vietnam War was winding down, but the generation had already been torn apart by it. I wanted to connect with all of them.
Union by Steve Alpert installed in a client's home
RB: How did that trip change you?
SA: It was a series of coming-of-age epiphanies. The feeling of total wonder standing at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time is a thrill that I can access any time. I returned at least a dozen times, including a week-long painting trip in April of 1981. Grasping the expansive scale of the landscape of the American West for the first time was an eye-opener. That translated to my becoming open to all possibilities about my own life. Region by region, I fell in love with America and her singularly beautiful and ever-shifting landscape.
Night on Earth by Steve Alpert
RB: At what point did you decide to do landscapes?
SA: I learned there was a big country across the Hudson, and that California was not exactly west of New Jersey. After the kaleidoscope of people and endless miles, I was changed. The kindnesses shown to me from strangers that became friends was as surprising as the first moment I laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean that morning in Santa Monica. I wanted to drink this all in and put it in paint... that was just as surprising, and I knew I was an artist. I kept a journal, and many of those adventures are still as clear to me as when they occurred all those years ago.
Robin's Nest by Steve Alpert
RB: Do you know what youre going to paint before you paint it?
SA: When I paint a landscape and abstract work, it's all improvisation, much like that cross-country adventure in 1972. I never know where the paint is going to take me. I've been to every state at least twice, except for Alaska, which I visited once. Of course, now I have trips to many countries in Europe, South America, and the Middle East. It all shows up in the paint. It's up to me to work the paint around, and see what shows. This is the adventure, and the romance of it for me. That is part of what keeps me going.
Bring It by Steve Alpert
RB: Has your work evolved in a way you didnt expect?
SA: In the last 11 years I've added another aspect to my work, honoring men and women who serve in uniform to protect this America that I became so deeply in love with in the summer of 1972. The military paintings have added ballast to my work as an artist, a person, and an American. Our American Dreams have been paid for by their service, and sacrifice. I never served in uniform because I had a high lottery number, and college deferment status while the Vietnam War was raging. Visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1985 brought me to tears. The irrational feelings of survival guilt enveloped me when I looked at 58,000+ names of the dead engraved on granite slabs. Those were guys who never came home to experience their American Dream. I feel that I owe a debt, and that is why I make the military paintings. I've given many of them away to raise funds for non-profit organizations that benefit veterans. I owe them. We all owe them. Someone once asked me when that debt would be paid. Without thinking about it, one word shot out of my mouth, "Never."
Night Scope by Steve AlpertRB: You started out working in TV. Were you able to give any time to expressing yourself as an artist before your major career change? SA: Yes, I painted as a hobby, or as a pursuit at a relatively low level since 1972. I worked in watercolors for 20 years. I took painting trips to Arizona, New Mexico, and Greece. Working in TV and video as a producer/director was a collaborative process with lots of moving parts to each production. At the end of a day there wasn't much gas left in the tank to paint. But after I made the switch, I realized I always wanted to be a professional painter, but never allowed myself to accept that. I owe everything I've accomplished as an artist to my wife, Dorothy, who offered to pay our way during my switch to becoming an artist. There's another debt I can never repay, but it doesn't feel onerous in the slightest. I am forever grateful in the most loving sense of how a partner, spouse, and lover can forever transform the life of a partner. I've come to experience many miracles in my life and the biggest miracle of all is to have met and married the most incredible woman.
Silver Linings by Steve Alpert
Learn more about Steve and his work on his website. Let me know if you have a favorite painting and which one it is in the comments below.