Colorado artist Alex Alvis was born outside of Chicago and developed an early interest in art. Her liberal arts education included the study of of drawing, painting and sculpture at Colorado Women’s College, Colorado College, and the University of South Florida. Despite this formal instruction, many life changes, and through years of independent study and experimentation, Alvis had a major creative breakthrough in 2009 and established her own personal artistic style using a non-traditional sculpting medium for her original work. Alvis’ dreamlike mood-capturing expressive subjects are infused with realism before they are transformed into brilliantly patinaed limited edition bronze. Delighting and surprising her viewers with her innovative and distinct approach to color and form, Alvis has become a well-known award winning artist and has many faithful collectors Internationally and in the United States.
Looking at Alex Alvis’ sculpture can tell you a great deal about what this artist is most passionate about. Alvis’ distinctive style is a collision of elements both representational and abstract. The overall rhythm and simplification of form is delicate and bold. The horse’s large detailed feet, expressive faces, and waving hair are engaging and their smooth beautiful bodies covered with intricate, colorful patinas lend a sense of sophisticated intensity.
Alex’s sculpture emphasizes some elements and exaggerates others. She says, “My sculpture shows horses and other animals as individuals with a personality all their own. I want the viewer to see animals as having their own consciousness, feelings, agendas even. We share this world with incredible living beings and they enrich our human lives immeasurably.”
Equines which have a youthful appearance with their impossibly long legs; also seem older and wiser upon close inspection. These are compositions of grace; looking peaceful and happy in their freedom to be just as they are.
Personally, Alex is happy that she is free to be just as she is, and wants her sculpture to communicate freedom and happiness to the viewer. “Animals are lucky in that they are allowed to be themselves. Humans do not always give themselves permission to be free in that way, or they find themselves in situations that do not allow them the freedom to be who they genuinely are.”
Alex was born into a family of two worlds. While she lived most of her young life in a suburb outside of Chicago, she spent every summer in the mountains and prairies of Colorado. Her father worked in the financial world, at the stock exchange in Chicago. Her mother was born and raised in Fort Morgan, Colorado, a small farming and ranching community, and she would take Alex and her brothers back to Colorado every summer.
Alex had a great deal of exposure to the arts as a child. At school, she took every art class. At home, she had a giant easel, art books, and clay.
In Colorado, her family spent time in Estes Park where Alex would press wildflowers between the pages of books. She launched art projects with markers, colored pencils, and watercolor paint. “It could be that the need to create art is as genetic as it is environmental. My mother was a talented artist, and her first cousin is Phoenix artist, Dagne Hanson. My uncle, Alex Graham, has been a mentor and inspiration for a career in the arts, as he is a gifted artist and has owned galleries in Las Vegas and Scottsdale.”
In addition to the love of creating, Alex’s other love is horses. A horse was what she always asked for every birthday and every Christmas. Horses were what she pretended to be, read about, drew, painted, and made from whatever she could get her hands on. “My Granddad raised cattle and had cow ponies that I could ride and I went to the mountains in Allenspark to go to Horse Camp. I had my own horse for a whole week to ride and care for.”
When Alex was 14, her parents moved from the Chicago area to Monument, Colorado where she says she felt happier. “Colorado has always been where I have felt most at home. The high school I transferred to was small. The teachers noticed and nurtured each student. I had a fantastic art teacher who mentored me and made sure I entered art competitions.”
Alvis married before graduating from college. She spent the next few years in Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and then in Florida she finally got her degree. “By that time I was exhausted. I had done what I think many artists do. Once I was married, I felt it was my responsibility to fill certain roles. An art degree was considered an indulgence rather than a serious career choice, so I changed my art major to business, then psychology. I had a family to care for and worked sometimes two jobs. I took art electives though, with my core curriculum, because I did not want to stop creating.”
After graduating, it did not take long for Alex to realize that she would not be happy using her degree to work professionally. She started thinking about making art her career.
In 2001, Alex first sculpted the piece she calls “Horse-in-a-Round” from plasticine and then started on another when that was finished, Horse Whisperer, a sculpture of two horses side-by side, one whispering into the ear of the other. “I had to believe that I was doing what I should be sculpting horses with this material, so I kept sculpting. My hope was that the acceptable path to getting them cast in bronze would become clear to me eventually.”
In the next couple of years, almost everything Alex believed her life to be, changed. “I rationalized and ignored things that could not be made right. I told myself my personal life would work out somehow. But for far too long, I had placed myself and my dreams in a tenuous situation.”
Encouraged by her husband to sculpt horses once again, Alex went back to where she left off with non-hardening clay. She designed a sculpture of a filly, and Mark made the armature for it, but the frustration of working with the sticky material continued. “I don’t like the way plasticine sticks to everything; it gets stuck under my fingernails, in my tools; it collects the cat’s fur, I can’t hold it to work on it unless I use the firmer kind. Any type of it is just very difficult for me to sculpt.”
The morning Alex finished the sculpture of the filly, a creative breakthrough happened. “I had been very immersed in thoughts about the medium not feeling right, what the alternatives could be, what the next horse would look like, that I wished we lived somewhere where we could have our own horses, but that it was okay. I would make our horses, they would be our house horses.”
When Alex walked out of the upstairs office onto the landing, she looked over the banister into the family room below. She noticed something on the fireplace mantle. “I saw what is now the sculpture, “Look!” standing on the mantle looking up at me.”
“I turned around and looked over the other banister on the opposite side of the landing. In the living room, on top of the piano was “Relax!”, all calm and sleepy. I shifted my gaze to the window beside the front door. “Watch!” was there at the window, one hoof raised, eager to see who might be driving by.”
Alex wondered if she was all right. “My ears were humming. When I walked downstairs and into the family room, I saw “Leap!” jumping the distance between the two bookcases and “Itchy!” standing on the floor in front of a low window trying hard to balance while attempting to scratch an itch on his face. I turned and looked through the kitchen into the dining room in time to see “Step High!” trotting around the corner.”
When Mark came home that evening, there were freestanding wire armatures of the horses Alex had “seen” scattered throughout the house. “I was so excited! I babbled on about how I had seen them so clearly with their long gangly legs, how weird it was, how cool it was! I think he probably thought I had gone crazy.”
By the end of the week, Alex had found a supplier of the paper clay she sculpts with today. “There are many different kinds of paper clay. What I use is manufactured in Japan and is very lightweight and has no visible fiber. It feels very much like ceramic clay. It dries in the air like clay, so I can hold it and carve it when it is dry. Unlike ceramic clay, I love that it is very light weight and doesn’t need to be fired in a kiln.”
It did not take long for Mark and Alex to realize that even though paper clay dries hard, it is very fragile and not suited to be the end material for a finished sculpture. They made the decision to cast the horses in bronze. A decision that meant sculpting professionally.
“Mark and I as life partners naturally are able to be great business partners. I call him my left brain. I am confident that, together, we can accomplish anything we want to do. There is great strength that exists between two people who are passionate about their life direction and have unconditional love for one another.”