It was around this time of year, back in 2003, when the Dia Art Foundation opened a 300,000-square foot museum overlooking the Hudson River in Beacon, New York. A year or so prior to '03, when the inevitable move to Beacon by Dia was made public, there was great hope for a bright new art community an hour and change from Manhattan. It was then, that the town reached its first fevered pitch with many art galleries opening mostly on the east end of Main Street in downtown Beacon. Additionally, local realtors' phones where thoroughly dusted off as a good number of art types moved into the area bringing in a fresh, new, overall feeling of change and excitement. But, as we have seen many times before, a downtrend in the economy has a great effect on the arts, especially in smaller cities and suburban areas as many of those first and foremost Beacon galleries such as Collaborative Concepts, LoRiver Arts and more recently, VanBrunt Gallery eventually closed their doors.
Over the past year Beacon has come back with substantial multicultural development at both ends of Main Street. One of the anchor institutions that has held on and flourished through it all is Hudson Beach Glass, a fine cast and blown glass, artist-run retail store that houses a funky second-floor gallery space. The current exhibit, 'Donald Alter: Chromatic Tales' offers a very crowded and over-installed presentation of an artist whose work blends his past career as a textile designer with a very sensitive, picture-book narrative style in the form of paintings, drawings and mixed media works.
I'm not sure if it is my recent semi-addiction to Mad Men, but most everything I see in the exhibition has a sixties feel. You know it -- that sketchy, nervous, cartoony quality that begs the viewer's more intimate gaze followed by a wish to enter, at least in one's mind, the pictured vignette. One particular body of work that includes various types of planes leaving and approaching nearby Stewart International Airport is his most compelling series overall. In one, "The Tour" (2008), Alter presents a narrative that weaves thorough two extreme states of nature. The left side of the composition is an ominous storm, a condition that is punctuated by a small private jet that makes its approach as if ready to somehow back up and pull away. Below, a car with high beams blaring, emerges from the beast and heads for blue skies and a better day. Using solely acrylic paints, Alter paints much like one would draw, emphasizing line and texture over color and composition to make this, his most potent work in the exhibition.
This urge to draw is even more apparent in a few of his non-objective offerings where ruled graphite lines in countless, compressed diagonal rows are used to suggest flat planes. In mixed media on board pieces like "Zephyr" (1993), Alter uses those ruled lines to great effect in contrasting the frothy sweeps of earth tones that imply a storm of thoughts as they break through a once preconceived edge of possibilities. The addition of a few fluid, vertical, lightly colored lines at the end of the painting process adds a most definite weightless and upward flow.
Thankfully, Alter's art can also be quite beautiful without getting too saccharine or sappy. "Forest Edge" (2008), a mixed media drawing on vellum, is a lyrical blend of natural forms that seem to pulsate forward and back like various states of consciousness. Using varied color and technique, "Forest Edge" becomes a symphony of sentiment and admiration for nature's many stages of life, death and rebirth as seen through the filter of one, Donald Alter.
Donald Alter and his wife Alice reside in Newburgh, N.Y. Alter studied art from 1948-1951 at the renowned Black Mountain College in Asheville, N.C.