Listening to Atlanta artist and high school art teacher Chloe Alexander, 34, talk about her students reminds you of the profound influence teachers have in so many of our lives.
“Seeing that your teacher cares,” she says, “is important to me.”
Alexander will be one of 29 artists participating in The Creatives Project’s “Drive Thru ATL” event June 6, an art exhibition on wheels where viewers motor past an array of visual art and performances at the Moreland Avenue Atlanta Art District. “Drive Thru” was the brainchild of fellow Creatives Project fellow Mason Webb (also presenting work) who wanted to offer a social distanced art experience that would be something other than digital. “We really wanted something you could interact with,” says Alexander. You can also see her work on view in “CreateHer” at Kai Lin Art.
She tells her students, most of them black and Latino, that they don’t have to take the expected path in life; that a great house and great car aren’t the end-all of human achievement. “Your goal in life is not to peak in high school,” says Alexander. “There are many paths a person can take.”
Alexander found her own creative trajectory thanks in part to a Roswell High School teacher, Matthew Phillips, who encouraged her to pursue a career in the arts. At Georgia State University, where she earned her BFA, printmaking professor Matthew Sugarman let her know that it was OK to make beautiful, visually appealing artworks, and not everything had to be rigorous conceptualism to be taken seriously.
It’s why Alexander fell in love with the medium. “In printmaking, I wasn’t necessarily shamed because I wanted to push the aesthetics of my work; because I wanted it to look good,” she says.
That message of opening her students’ eyes to the world’s possibilities can also be seen in Alexander’s artwork which often focuses on rekindling childhood’s potential and possibility, “that sense of whimsy, that sense of wonder, that sense of mystery,” says Alexander, that can often atrophy in adulthood.
“Mentally I think I never left the space of childhood” says Alexander whose connection to her own children, now 9 and 14, and the children she teaches shapes her work.
“I grew up kind of isolated as a kid, which may explain why I feel so comfortable in quarantine,“ laughs Alexander. She grew up in rural Fairburn. “So I spent a lot of time reading books, especially elaborately illustrated books.” Today she often uses metallic ink in her screenprints to reference the gilded storybooks she collected and loved as a child. Chris Van Allsburg’s heavily illustrated storybooks and the European fable of Reynard the Fox were imaginative portals for Alexander. She lost herself in those images, in the stories she spun in her head.
Alexander’s artwork taps into the vast and mysterious potential of storytelling, featuring motifs of children and animals, maps and games. Alexander often uses her own sons as models in her artwork. Her images of children playing cat’s cradle or of a little boy, gazing up at birds flying past in her screenprint “Army of One” while legions of other children bow down to their devices invests these African American children with a sense of wonder and whimsy. It’s a space that black children don’t always get to inhabit in storybooks.
“They deserve to exist in a space that doesn’t have any political narrative,” she says of these images of innocence and imagination in her work. “They can just be like everybody else.”
Representing black experience and the imaginative, dreamy potential of black children is one dimension of Alexander’s artwork. Speaking up for people who look like her has also played out in Alexander’s life outside the studio. As one of the first city council members of color in Hapeville, Alexander has had the chance to put into practice two of her goals for her 60 percent black and Latino constituents, and, promoting the arts and integrating the Latino community into the creative life of the city.
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