ALEXANDRA TYNG : A master of light and a superb storyteller
By Sharon Pomales Tousey
I met Alexandra in October 2014 while we, along with a group of mutual friends from The Portrait Society of America, were attending Sherrie McGraw’s retrospective exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, OH. I was a great admirer of Alex's work and must confess was a bit “star-struck” when I first saw her getting in the elevator, she was with another formidable artist, Ellen Cooper, and well, as usual, social anxiety took over and I think maybe I said hi and smiled, and she smiled back. During the show I told her how much I loved her large aerial paintings of the Maine coast and she gave me very valuable advice on “plein air” painting, I later regretted not asking her about her fantastic figurative paintings, which were what I actually admired the most from her body of work. Now, a few years later she’s one of my artist friends, so when I decided to start this blog to celebrate those people who inspire us with the things they do, I had to ask her to share her creations, the story behind them, and some words of advice for those starting out. In her own words, here’s Alexandra Tyng!:
“In my figurative paintings I explore themes of personal/psychological interaction and motivation. Using family members and close friends as models, or characters, I distill ideas down to their essence, creating scenes out of my imagination that appear “real,” although they have never actually happened as they are painted. Time is used fluidly. Situations that developed over many years are painted as though they are happening in a moment of time. People who lived in various time periods appear alongside each other, and a single person can appear more than once, at different ages, within a single painting.
Each theme has an inner kernel of meaning, around which images are arranged. These images can be appreciated on many levels, from the visual arrangement of abstract shapes and figures, to images of personal significance, to universally recognizable symbolism. My intent is to suggest many possible viewpoints and interpretations so that the viewer becomes involved with what is happening in the painting and can generate a narrative that may possibly connect with mine.
The artist creates a work of art with a certain idea in mind; the viewer brings his or her own emotions and life experiences to the work of art. What the viewer sees and what the artist intends may not be exactly the same, but if the art is successful there is an area of overlap that is sensed rather than seen. This unseen aspect is what gives art its mystery and its impact. “
Advice to those starting out:
" If you are planning on making art as a serious full-time profession, expect to work extremely hard for much longer than you expected before becoming recognized. Cherish your friendships with other artists and treat competition with them as a welcome challenge and mutual source of inspiration"
Triumph of Light, oil on linen, 60x64”, 2017
“A bonfire at a winter solstice party was the visual inspiration for this painting. I was fascinated by the flames, the sparks, and the warm light shining up on the people’s faces. I took photos and made sketches of groupings of people, but I felt the composition needed an animating figure—a person jumping over the fire. The young man, with his red shirt and long dark hair streaming behind him, seemed like a creature of fire and smoke, and I thought of a phoenix that is reborn from its own ashes, and how that mythical bird is related to the winter solstice, when Mother Earth gives birth to the Son of Light. Another interaction with the light and heat of fire is represented by the fire salamander. This creature lives in hollow damp logs, and when the logs are burned it emerges unscathed and crawls away into the dark, damp woods. This painting is about light coming out of darkness, and about fire having the power to illuminate, to warm, to destroy, and to bring about change.”
Point of Turning, oil on linen, 38x42”, 2014
“I was visiting my brother’s mother on her island in Maine, and I started taking pictures of her cooking dinner because I was fascinated by the light of the gas flames, and by her shadow on the refrigerator as she moved back and forth. I painted a small study of her and realized it might make a good painting, or part of a painting. Meanwhile, I was developing an idea for a painting of my brother in the same room watching someone coming through the doorway. Both ideas were missing something. One day I fit the two ideas together in a single drawing, and the eye contact between the mother and son created a whole new dynamic. It showed a middle-aged man looking at his aging mother and realizing that he now had to start taking care of her, and a mother looking defiantly and lovingly at her son as she took care of him as usual by preparing dinner. The painting shows the point at which the tables are turned and roles begin to shift and eventually reverse. “
Jaanipäev, oil on linen, 34x46”, 2015
“My daughter spent a year in Estonia, studying in Tartu and researching her grandfather’s (my father’s) early life on Saaremaa. While she was there she went to a Jaanipäev (Midsummer Eve) celebration and came away from it with a strong impression of this ancient tradition involving a bonfire and dancing in the long summer twilight. The painting is about her memory of Estonia and her connection with her own roots. The fire also refers to her grandfather’s childhood on Saaremaa where he severely burned his face and hands in an accident with hot coals when he was three years old. Fire appears in my work quite a lot as a symbol of transformation.”
Brief Window, oil on linen, 32x50”, 2016
“The idea for this painting came to me following a road trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to find the site of my grandparents’ house that burned down many years ago.
My husband said, “I wish I could see the house as it used to look.” And I thought, “What if, for a brief second, we could actually see the past, rather than conjuring it in our mind’s eye?” I imagined what that moment would be like, with the fabric of reality shifting and wavering, the navigation systems disagreeing with each other, and the rear-view mirror and side mirror reflecting different things.”
Birth of an Idea, oil on linen, 36x48”, 2017
“I often use this lighthouse tower as a setting for paintings because the shape and height of the tower, the inside and outside space, the windows, and the relationships between all these characteristics, can imply so many things. In this painting I wanted to emphasize the state of self-enforced isolation and intense introspection that I need while I’m mulling over ideas for paintings. The struggle to find substance keeps leading me deeper into the idea, reaching a level I think is the essence of something and then discovering yet another, deeper level. When I’m in the middle of this process, I feel energized and frustrated at the same time. There’s a feeling of being in the light, inspired, but also going through pain and suffering, unable to “give birth” until the gestation of the idea is complete.”
Over Mount Battie 30 x 60 in. (2017)
Possible Space, oil on linen, 56 x 48”, 2016
“The house, with its various rooms and aspects, is a symbol of the self, and a shared space can represent the relationship between two people. Possible Space revisits a year I spent long ago helping a friend to rehab an old house. In the painting the dilapidated condition of the house and its potential for renewal represent different aspects of our relationship to each other. Several layers of time are represented in this painting. The future is accessible through glimpses that we may not recognize or understand as such. The “painting within a painting” on the easel is a reference to this idea. The picture plane acts as both a window into the past and a barrier. It allows our older selves, silhouetted in the glass, to glimpse ourselves in the room and gain perspective on the past although we cannot actually go back in time.”
Cirque II 54 x 44 in. (2018)
Alexandra Tyng (b. 1954 in Rome, Italy) paints people and landscapes, often combining the two genres. She has lived most of her life in the Philadelphia area, and spends part of her summers painting in Maine and other locations. To date, Alexandra has had twelve solo exhibitions, most recently in 2017 at the Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine. Three of her paintings have traveled with the Women Painting Women: In Earnest museum show curated by Alia El-Bermani and Diane Feissel. She has received numerous national awards, including Best of Show at the Lore Degenstein Gallery’s 8th Annual Figurative Painting and Drawing Exhibition in 2016, the Plein Air Magazine Award in the ARC 2015 Salon, the Curator’s Choice Award in the America’s Parks I traveling museum exhibition, 1st Place in the Portrait Society of America’s annual Art of the Portrait Competition and 1st Place in their 2017 Members’ Only Competition, “Out of the Box” Category.
Alexandra’s work has appeared in two books in the series on Maine art by Carl Little and David Little: Art of Monhegan (2006), and Art of Acadia (also cover art, 2016); her work has also been featured in periodicals such as American Arts Quarterly, Plein Air, ArtNews, Fine Art Connoisseur, PoetsArtists, International Artist, Maine Boats Homes and Harbors, and American Art Collector; and online publications like Painting Perceptions and The Huffington Post. In 2012 she was interviewed by art historian and editor Peter Trippi as part of the Artist Audiocast Series sponsored by the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center. Alexandra’s paintings reside in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., the New Britain Museum, the Springfield Art Museum, and in many corporate, university, and other public and private collections. Alexandra is represented by Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, ME; Watson Gallery in Stonington, ME; and Gross-McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA.
I'll love to hear your story! If you or someone you know is doing something awesome,uplifting and inspiring, big or small, send me a message and tell me about it so I can share it here, on Instagram @sharonpomalestousey and Twitter @sharon_pomales . Be kind, do good, onward and upward! <3