Reflections on the Art of Alex Steelsmith
by John Wythe White
A side view of a glass door knob. A verdant, secluded valley on Kauai. A group of small children on a beach at twilight.
Still life, landscape and portrait. A wide range of subjects, all rendered by the same artist, reflecting an attractive continuity of style. Alex Steelsmith has a high regard for detail, and an uncanny eye for light. Whatever subject he chooses to paint he approaches with the same close attention to detail and light.
Literally, surrealism means "super realism." Although he is not a surrealist, and indeed resists categorization into any genre, Alex's works are stylized in a way that intensifies reality rather than distorts it. Encompassing far more detail than the casual observer tends to absorb, he recreates it in a painstaking process that takes hundreds, even thousands, of hours. The last thing you would call Alex Steelsmith is a "casual observer." He is an intensely aware examiner of the minute components of human perception.
Alex began drawing pencil sketches at an early age, soon moving into watercolors and oils. His first works were shown in galleries when he was in his teens. He came to admire the great masters whose works comprised a broad range of subjects including landscapes, intimate portraits and populated urban and rural scenes. He developed a personal vision: to move freely and easily among many artistic styles, media, themes and subjects.
His life took on a similarly eclectic pattern. An avid backpacker and mountaineer, he traveled throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, painting all the time. He went to Europe and Greenwich Village. During these years he experimented artistically in oil, watercolor, pastel, tempera, acrylic, gouache, scratchboard, and pen and ink, working on a variety of materials, surfaces and papers. He was determined to continue to grow as an artist by keeping an open mind to all artistic traditions and genres, from academic and intellectual to naive and folk art.
Throughout his career, Alex has received recognition at exhibitions, galleries and shows. He is the recipient of numerous prizes and distinctions. His works are included in prestigious collections in America and Europe.
Alex can take months, or even years, to complete a painting. His originals are valuable additions to any collection. He applies the same exacting standards and meticulous care to the production of prints. Because they are as precisely crafted as the originals, these prints are equally valuable to collectors.
John Wythe White is a freelance writer and former managing editor of the Honolulu Weekly. He has also been an editor and contributing writer to EastWest Magazine, The Hawaii Observer, and Pacifica Magazine, as well as a theater reviewer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and a columnist for Honolulu Magazine.