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Alex Alexander exhibits at Open Eye

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In Alexandra Alexander's tiny, one-bedroom home and studio, located in an elder apartment complex in south Minneapolis, there are several bags full of art that she's planning on taking to the trash. Other paintings are scattered about on the paint-splattered carpet and furniture, amidst Crayola containers and other found art supplies. The rest of her work is at Open Eye Figure Theatre, where it will be on display throughout the run of its latest show, Joice Rejoice by Kevin Kling.

This Wednesday evening, Open Eye is hosting a reception for the artist, and all of the work there will be for sale.

"I throw things away a lot," Alexander says. This time, she's clearing some space because she's working on a new play that will be performed at Open Eye sometime in the next season.

[jump] Alexander was born in Duluth in 1943. She created art as a kid, but stopped because she tried to "fit into the status quo." She did not have a happy childhood, and her early adult life was plagued with emotional issues and alcoholism. Abandoned by her family, she had a string of three bad marriages and suffered abuse. 

She sobered up in her mid-30s, but still struggled with emotional and financial challenges. However, during that time she rediscovered the artist inside of her that she had abandoned so many years before. 

It all started with a few comedy gigs that she landed with the help of her friends. Alexander was so successful that she was asked to participate in the Walker Art Center's first Out There series, co-presented at the Southern Theater. Since then, she's performed nationally and internationally, in addition to developing her visual art. 

Alexander's paintings are colorful, depicting pathetic faces and clowns. "They're edgy with a sense of humor," she says. Made with used canvasses, found wood, and either house or Crayola paint, her work is visceral, open, and evokes a spiritual energy.

Alexander says you could call her an outsider artist. The term derives from Art Brut's "raw art," labeled by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe pieces created by insane asylum inmates. Outsider art, coined by Roger Cardinal in 1972, is a looser term, encompassing any artist that is self-taught and has little or no contact with the art world.  

What Alexander likes about outsider artists is that "they just do what they want." Like her, they aren't interested in museum art. No one ever taught Alexander how to make art, she just figured it out. Most of her work is unfinished and unframed. 

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"I don't know how to function like other people," she says, "like doing laundry or the dishes." She also doesn't always know how to deal with the "Minnesota Nice" phenomenon. "I'm so sick of nice," she says. She's not sure if it's working out in her apartment. In some ways, she'd rather live in an unfinished basement. 

At 68 years old, Alexandra makes art--whether it be visual, performance, or writing--as a coping skill. But for those who have the opportunity to see it, it is a chance to catch a glimpse of a powerful magic.

"Art Brut: A reception for the artist Alex Alexander" takes place on Wednesday, August 24 from 6 to 8 p.m.