“I had to fall on my ass in order to become an artist,” says Angela Alexander with a laugh. “It was in 2004, I was running down the stairs and fell and broke my tailbone.” The only two positions that made the ensuing pain even slightly bearable, she recalls, were lying down or standing up. Someone brought her a set of paints from a hobby store, and so, standing up, the self-taught graphic artist began a new career.
Alexander grew up in McAdenville, a small town of about 600 people near Charlotte, where the main industries at the time were yarn mills. “My dad explained that we weren’t hillbillies. We were millbillies,” says Alexander. But McAdenville is also known as Christmas Town USA, for a spectacular yearly light display that draws some 600,000 visitors every season.
Her first animal subject was her four-year-old brown-and-tan Chihuahua, Sadie. “The coloring around Sadie’s eyes made her look like she was wearing goggles,” Alexander says. Viewers’ reaction to this quirk prompted her to paint other dogs. For a long time, she painted goggles on these, as well. And her brilliantly colored, imaginative renderings began selling.
She starts by painting the canvas entirely black. “I love the undertones the black surface provides as I begin painting the subject,” says Alexander. She uses only acrylics, saying she played with oils years ago but got too impatient, waiting for them to dry.
There aren’t any typical fur colors or patterns — no browns or brindles in sight. The artist has also depicted donkeys, pigs, and other creatures — but never people or landscapes. “Animals are the most pure embodiment of unconditional love,” she says. “And I find them soulfully funny.”
Most of Alexander’s work consists of commissions: Clients send her photos, many times of deceased pets, and she develops sketches to plan out the painting. She sells the original canvas to her clients, but retains the reproduction rights so she can use the images in other ways, such as notecards and prints.
An accident opened her artistic career, and it was two other serious health issues that came to define Alexander’s style. Six years ago, she began having blurred vision that doctors finally found to be diabetic macular edema. They were able to control this through injections, but then she started having pain in her hands and wrists. “I thought I had carpal tunnel syndrome, but the doctors diagnosed the cause as rheumatoid arthritis.”
Alexander soon learned to adapt to the physical limitations caused by these conditions. She found the answer, she says, in “bigger brushes and looser strokes.” Her early works were defined, in part, by the meticulous way lines and colors formed the image being painted. But then her process became less strict, and thus the result got even livelier.
The paint strokes are bright and exceptionally playful, seeming almost to flash. “I see their energy as colors,” says Alexander. “Through their energy, the animals speak to me.”
Angela Alexander, 357 Depot St., River Arts District, Asheville. Alexander’s paintings are also sold at Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St., Asheville, woolworthwalk.com) and online at angelaalexanderart.com. For more information, call 828-273-4494 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.