DONALD ALTER: BEYOND BLACK MOUNTAIN
By Tony Moore
Donald Alter is a long term resident of the Hudson Valley who will celebrate his eighty-second year in 2012. Although in faltering health, he vigorously paints, draws, collages and creates in a profoundly experimental way, indicative of his scholarship during formative years at Black Mountain College, Asheville, NC.
Donald Alter attended Black Mountain as a student from 1948 to 1950 and again during the summer sessions of 1950 and 51. Historically, Black Mountain is long renowned as a foremost experimental, liberal arts, and almost utopian college community, dating back to its origins in1933.
Over a twenty-three year period, only some 1,200 students were enrolled, including the celebrated artist Robert Rauschenberg, among others. The profoundly influential faculty that established Black Mountain as an experimental center for the development of the American contemporary movement included Joseph and Anni Albers who brought with them from Germany the avant-garde provocations of the Bauhaus philosophies of rigorous investigation, experimentation and foundations in many varied visual and material disciplines. These were always coupled with the student’s orientation and personal development.
While teachers and students were in flux, some coming for a semester, summer school or for the duration of several years (such as Alter), teaching approaches, administration and philosophically creative approaches also changed. While immersed in the buoyantly creative and social life of the “community”, Don met, knew or interacted with fellow students and teachers such as Rauschenberg, Joseph and Anni Albers (studying painting, color theory and textile design), Joseph Fiore (studying painting and drawing), the painter Kenneth Noland, art critic Clement Greenberg, musician/composer John Cage, dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham and many others.
An example of Alter’s youthful vibrancy at this time might be epitomized by an affectionate memoir by fellow student Martha Rittenhouse: “Bob (Robert Rauschenberg) was one of the students at Black Mountain who had rhythm in their souls --. The other ones were Delores Fullman, Donald Alter, Ulrich Heinnemann-Rufer, and Errissinola Genesi, called Mitzi. I envied them with all my heart.”
In retrospect, Black Mountain College, its community and faculty was to have a life-long influence for the foundation and methodology for Don Alter’s work to come, both as an internationally successful textile designer, artist and member of whatever creative community he is associated with. His knowledge and digestion of 20th Century Modernism, the principles of design, color, line, plane, form, opacity, transparency i.e. the visual language of art and artmaking, are so internalized that he has tremendous facility to almost render anything that should come to mind.
While fluent in both figuration and abstraction, and moving fluidly between them without prejudice, Alter, at almost 82 years, in a jammed-packed small single car garage in Newburgh, NY, brings vitality and new thresholds of discovery, daily to his creative practice.
In particular, the exhibition’s curators (Tony Moore and Harald Plochberger) find Alter’s recent Hudson Valley landscapes to reflect and in some ways epitomize his oeuvre. Inventive, abstract, figurative, luscious, naive, sophisticated, mysterious and at times evoking an edgy anxiety, these paintings and drawings are a summation of a life-time of quiet achievement (after Black Mountain being drafted in to the army, a full career as a NYC based textile designer with his own company, husband bereaved and re-married, and father to three children.)
The works contain something of a utopian vision or apparent innocence, coupled with an anxious foreboding of the “thicket” of both human and natural worlds. Always inventive and “perfectly” orchestrated, these landscapes are peopled with literal and metaphorical references
to space and time, recent and current events, psychological realities and, above all, to a certain delight in the craft and sincere belief in picture making.
Curators Moore and Plochberger propose that Donald Alter’s example of lifelong commitment to creativity and the investigative spirit is an example to behold/uphold.
“May recognition within his lifetime, carry in spirit, both the artist and new generations ‘Beyond Black Mountain’.”
SUMMER BREEZE 30" H x 36" W Acrylic on Panel 2007
THROUGH THE BUSH 20.5" H x 20" W Acrylic on Panel 2004
Tony Moore is a sculptor and painter with works represented in several international museum collections including the Guggenheim Museum and Brooklyn Museum. He has taught, organized, curated and installed numerous exhibitions at museums and colleges within the US. and internationally. Locally organized exhibitions include two “Passionate Fire” exhibitions of international and regional ceramic artists, at Germain Keller Gallery, Garrison, Bronx artists at Bau Gallery, Beacon and most recently “Passionate Fire: Wood-fired Ceramics from the Tony Moore Kiln” at Hudson Beach Glass Gallery, Beacon. After 25 years in NYC, he now resides in Cold Spring, NY.
Harald Plochberger is a painter, multi-media artist and videographer. His work is exhibited internationally and represented in many European collections. He has taught, organized, curated and installed exhibitions and was a principal founding member of Bau Gallery, Beacon, where he was instrumental in organizing and promoting many successful exhibitions, jazz concerts and multi-media events. He has also designed and maintained websites for artists and galleries. He resides in Ellenville, NY.