'Naomi Alexander puts down what she sees into her sketchbook with
watercolour or pencil, directly and unaffectedly. With the utmost
economy of means, we get the story.
On her travels she accumulates images of deserts, parks, gardens,
homes and people. She brings them all back to the studio where they
can live. They lie about in her sketchbooks, sometimes being useful,
sometimes even making it into her pictures- but more often the initial
candid gaze gives way to a more knowing look…
In the large pictures, the difficulties ol composition. daily routine
and sluggish effort do not permit such unguarded spontaneity. In these
pictures we witness the accumulated experience of a lifetime - that
baggage which takes up so much room and weighs a ton. Here, the streaky
paint conveys the threatening environment and the passing of time:
little girls push against a barrage of solid middle-aged bodies or
play at being ghosts in an already haunted garden.
The good girl stares out from a paddling pool at the spreading shadow
of a scarecrow.'
Paula Rego 1997
'Though she is in many obvious ways a very painterly painter, it seems
to me that everything in Naomi Alexander’s work comes down basically
to draughtsmanship. It is not only that she has a natural understanding
of how to capture the shape and solidity of objects and people in
line, but that her compositions themselves are always dictated by
a strong instinct for graphic form. These days - and perhaps especially
in Britain - we frequently mistrust such evidences in a painter, tending
to dismiss him or her as an illustrator merely. Perhaps it is an inveterate
romanticism in British taste, which inevitably associates the act
of painting with a lot of flashy brushwork and "temperamental"
flinging-about of paint.
In comparison with such conventional notions, Alexander’s paint
is always firmly under control. But after all, so it should be. It
has always been said that the trouble with American Method acting
was that when the Actors’ Studio was set up in New York, only
Stanislavsky’s first book, An Actor Prepares, had been translated
into English, so that the inventors of the Method remained blissfully
ignorant of later writings wherein the Russian director explained
what the actor should do with his psychological raw material once
he had prepared it. In the same way, the British art world has felt,
at least since Turner’s later developments were understood and
accepted, that "finish" was somehow insincere, mitigating
as it did raw impact of the initial conception.
Alexander’s art, in contrast, places proper weight on the fundamental
brainwork of painting. Since she has taken to exhibiting her on-the-spot
watercolours and even on occasion preparatory pencil sketches, such
as those for the series of oil paintings of Chatsworth attics where
she was invited by the Duke of Devonshire, we are able to see exactly
the roles played by instinct and calculation in her most finished
work, The Chatsworth sketches are magical in their evocation of these
neglected, private spaces: all the atmospheric essentials are there,
captured in a moment. To compare them with the ultimate paintings
that result is, however, like comparing chalk with cheese. It helps
one to understand why the first critic of Monet were so puzzled by
his, so-called "Impressions" of dawn and dusk: they were
undoubtedly vivid and immediate, but where was the fundamental brainwork?
Now, at least, we see the separate advantages and merits of both approaches
without feeling it incumbent on us to choose between them. A drawing
is a drawing, and a painting is a painting, quite different phenomena.
And somewhere between them comes the watercolour, a form of painting
which retains the immediacy of a drawing. Certainly Alexander’s
do: these thumbnail sketches of people bathing on sparsely populated
beaches have all the lightness and humour and humanity of the moment
as it flies. It is illuminating to compare these pieces with the larger-scale
oil paintings which eventuate from the same body of observations.'
John Russell Taylor 2005
Art Critic for The Times