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FROM WOODBLOCKS TO OIL PAINTINGS: Topher Alexander features hand-crafted creations in ‘Perspective’ at The ArtWorks

With only a few days left before Christmas, traffic is getting heavier as travelers and shoppers scramble to find last-minute gifts. Luckily, the Arts Council of Wilmington offers a more enjoyable alternative to trudging through crowded malls. They’ll have their monthly Fourth Friday Gallery Night on Dec. 23—the last one of the year. Participating gallery The ArtWorks of Wilmington will host a “last chance before Christmas” sale for anyone struggling to find the perfect gift for a loved one. Featuring work from artist Topher Alexander, The ArtWorks will be open after hours from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for spectators to find unique works of art Alexander has created over the past decade in “Perspective.”

DOUBLE DUTY: Jake Gyllenhaal (above) plays two characters in the multi-layered film ‘Nocturnal Animals.’ Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

“For the past 10 or 12 years I’ve really been dedicated to art,” Alexander says. “It’s something I work on year-round. I try to come away with about 30 to 40 pieces per year.”

Originally from Colorado, Alexander has lived in Wilmington off and on for the last 20 years. “I tell everyone Wilmington is my favorite place to come home to,” he says. After graduating from UNCW, he was approached with a job opportunity at the Cultural Arts Building (CAB) as the assistant gallery director. Alexanders love for art extends throughout the community, too, as he helped introduce printmaking workshops to Cameron Art Museum, and has taught printmaking there for two years.

“I’ve been doing a lot of woodcut printmaking lately and also a lot of intaglio printmaking,” he tells. “I do some painting as well, but I haven’t really had time to paint lately. Printmaking is a little easier to do at home or on the go.”

Alexander was inspired to try printmaking after being drawn to large organic woodblocks at a printing event at Carolina Beach. “As soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to work in that medium,” he says. “Afterward, I put my attention and focus toward woodblock and intaglio. It’s kind of like going back to basics with the black and white work.”

Woodcut printmaking is a process involving a drawing and carving it into a block of wood. After a layer of ink is rolled over the carving, paper is placed over the block. Applying pressure to the paper allows for ink to transfer from block to paper. The carved lines show up as white over the ink.

“A lot of times, I use a wooden spoon to press the ink and transfer it,” Alexander says. For intaglio prints, the process is similar but requires a different set of tools. “[I work] on copper plate, so [I] need an etching press, something with a little more pressure than [my] hand to lift the ink off the paper,” Alexander explains. “Luckily, I’m able to use the etching presses at UNCW and Cameron Art Museum.”

While printmaking has been Alexander’s main craft for the last decade, his exhibit at The ArtWorks features a variety of mediums he’s worked with throughout his career. “There [are] oil paintings, woodcuts and intaglio prints,” he offers. “I lived in Vietnam for three years, where I did some traditional Vietnamese lacquer paintings, so those are on display as well.”

Seeing all of his pieces displayed together is a bit surreal to Alexander, as he realizes how much work he’s completed ina short amount of time. Some major contributors to his projects are his sketches, which he finds time for wherever he goes.

“I always carry my sketchbook with me, so I’m always sketching whenever I have a free five or 10 minutes,” Alexander explains. “I’ll either draw what’s around me, or an image in my head. I usually work from those sketches, taking pieces I like and start incorporating it into a bigger project like a woodcut or intaglio print.”

Though the drawings are random, they usually suffice as preparation for his pieces. “I try to keep my work immediate,” he says. “There is some conceptualism in my work, but I’m mostly just trying to keep busy.”

As far as other influences, Alexander draws inspiration from his fellow ILM artists, like Ben Billingsley from Cape Fear Community College. “He does a lot of woodblock work,” according to Alexander, “especially large-scale woodblock work, so I really admire him and work well with him.”

Alexander acknowledges Shannon Bourne, another local printmaking artist, as an influence. He also admires the intaglio printmaking of Jennifer Page of Carolina Beach. “There’s also CAB Gallery director Donald Furst,” Alexander adds. “He’s been in printmaking forever, and is kind of like the art guru around town.”

While the products of Alexander’s inspirations will remain on display at The ArtWorks until February 24 of next year, folks may purchase his work for much lower prices only during this week’s Fourth Friday Gallery Night on Dec. 23, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Featuring the artwork of Topher Alexander
Friday, Dec. 23, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
The ArtWorks
200 Willard St.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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