Keith Alexander (1946 – 1998) was born on a farm in what was then called Rhodesia. He grew up in the desert and thus his fascination with its endless beauty is very evident in his work. Although he is known most famously for his paintings, the sculptures that he produced also hold an abstracted essence of his prime subject matter: the desert. His style shows an ability to reproduce reality and yet put across his own emotion and self-expression in the atmosphere of each piece, be it sculpture or painting. Although his career spanned only 25 years, as a result of his early death, he was a prolific artist who was quickly able to establish a unique style and full body of work.
As Keith Alexander grew up and found his passions grounded in the art world, he traveled to London, where he studied at the Peterhouse College in Salisbury. He later returned to South Africa to study Fine Art at the University of Natal, specializing in sculpture. Because he was working during the time of the Rhodesian Bush War, much of the things Alexander found himself wanting to create in his art could not be done through sculpture, often for economic reasons. He switched over to work in painting and as such developed his characteristic style that seems to float between the understandings of realism and the moods of surrealism. Because his career was relatively short, his legacy truly lives on through the work that he produced. David Robbins wrote his biography and titled it Keith Alexander- the artist in retrospect; his paintings and sculptures are housed in galleries and collections around South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Organic Form I
The polished wooden piece Organic Form I is testament to Keith Alexander’s skill as a sculptor. The piece is an abstract creation, musing over the aspects of soft form and organic shapes and made from a soft wood that is expressive of lines and suggestive of desert landscapes. The three-dimensionality of the piece’s shape speaks to the notion of an ‘organic form’, while the negative spaces speak to the empty expanses and hollow sounds that travel across the sand dunes. The technique of carving into wood seems to be reminiscent of the stone sculptures from Zimbabwe in the tradition of Shona art. This style of working became popular in the 1950s and 1960s, when the European markets became interested in the sculptural output from Southern Africa. Keith Alexander was born in Zimbabwe and thus would have had some background understanding of his country’s sculptural traditions. In making his Organic Form I, Alexander quotes the landscape of the desert and the sculptural traditions that had been successful.