Pet Portraitist Isn’t Fur Real When It Comes to Color

Angela Alexander captures the lively essence of the animals she depicts.

She was supposed to be buying fish food. That’s what Angela Alexander says about the moment she met her first dog, a Chihuahua named Casey. “I had a saltwater aquarium, and I sure didn’t know that I was getting a dog that day,” she recalls. “But when I saw her, there was this soul connection: Casey was supposed to be my dog.”

Alexander shares that magical moment of bonding with many of the patrons who visit her gallery at NorthLight Studios in the River Arts District. She specializes in vibrant, expressionistic portraits of dogs and cats, and she’s often commissioned to depict the image of a beloved family pet. Although she usually works from photographs, the painter aims to portray the living personality of each individual animal.

“I ask the owners to tell me about their pet’s personality. Are they shy, sweet, rambunctious?” Alexander explains. “I sit with the picture, my brush, and the canvas, and I let it talk to me — in this style of painting, I’m capturing their spirit and energy.”

While many of her pieces are made to order, Alexander sometimes finds herself asking people for permission to paint their pets, as was the case for a pit bull named Dude whose charisma was already well established. His owner, whom Alexander met in Florida, discovered Dude on a trip to the Caribbean, where she was so taken with the pit’s lively personality she convinced his then-caretaker to give over parental rights.

“She really wanted that dog,” Alexander says. “She had to come back on the boat, so she had Dude treated at the vet in St. Martin and then flew back down to get him.”

As with all of her subjects, Alexander painted Dude in broad strokes of bold color, reds and blues and yellows that have no counterpart in the world of fur. Complementary hues and jagged lines almost spark off of the canvas, giving the animal an electric brilliance beyond the possibilities of a more conventional portrait.

The artist hasn’t always taken this idiosyncratic approach to her work. Before 2011, Alexander painted in a playful, cartoony pop-art style with bright but realistic colors. After developing rheumatoid arthritis, however, she found herself unable to handle the smaller brushes she needed for that style’s tight outlines.

Undaunted, Alexander began experimenting with bigger brushes and looser strokes. “People ask me what I call my style — I just call it the gift of the challenge,” she says. “I’m just grateful to have the vision to see these animals the way I see them and put that on canvas.”

She expresses that gratitude through charity artwork for local organizations such as the Asheville Humane Society and Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, for which she has designed T-shirts and vehicle art. “Everybody’s got to give back, and pets are my passion,” Alexander declares. “I paint for them because if I went to the shelter, I’d want to bring them all home.”

Angela Alexander, 357 Depot St., Asheville. For details, call 828-273-4494 or visit angelaalexanderart.com.

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