Meet artist Alex Koleszar, who became a full-time desert resident about two years ago, several years after the death of his partner, Dr. Scott Hitt.
Koleszar is a Michigan native who, upon completing his undergraduate work at University of Arizona, moved with Hitt to Los Angeles. There, Koleszar completed his MBA, and founded a highly successful consulting firm.
However, he eventually decided that his consulting business was not satisfying enough for him. That revelation, as well as a series of challenges and hardships in his life, led to him becoming an artist.
Much of our conversation occurred in the artist’s Palm Springs studio, where he spoke candidly about his art, and the challenges he faces with this second career.
When did you first begin to paint?
Actually, I began to paint twice. Between ages of 11 and 14, I completed some 30 canvases, several of which were hung in my hometown’s City Hall.
However, being bullied by other boys in school effectively eliminated my interest in painting: I was called the “creative faggot.” To the bullies, artists were not masculine. For many years, I suppressed my creative self. That means playing sports and, in Michigan, going hunting. More than eliminating my desire to paint, these experiences did a number on my sexuality: I became increasingly conflicted about my being gay.
You have mentioned that while in Arizona, you came out and met Scott. Ultimately, you moved to Los Angeles where you completed your MBA. You were living the gay American dream: living in West L.A., with a handsome partner, both having highly successful careers and recognition in your community? Why throw all that away?
This was the time when the AIDS epidemic was still escalating. The combination of watching people close to me die from AIDS and being in a marginally creative career produced my midlife crisis; however, mine was on steroids. I found myself living in a bubble: helplessness, loss, death and tragedy were my norm.
Existential questions, like “What I am doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” emerged. Unlike Scott, a physician, who actually helped his patients, I thought myself powerless and confronted by two additional questions: “Who do I really want to be?” and “For what do I want to be remembered?” No longer was being a highly successful entrepreneur who writes highly praised computer manuals enough!
Ultimately, I closed my consulting practice. Realizing that I required formal training, I began working with two successful Los Angeles artists. One taught me painting; the other mentored in me drawing. They taught me how to engage my creative, left brain, without forgoing my analytic self. For example, I learned how geometry, something highly analytic, is at the core of many successful canvases. Today, I still return to the classical principles they taught me.
Was your painting simply cathartic? Did you show your work? Was there any recognition?
It was all of the above. And, yes, my work then and still today reflects my working through multiple losses. Concurrently, my work was shown and received recognition.
My early works clearly reflected the AIDS crisis. Despite, or perhaps because of, the way I incorporated the narrative into my painting, it came to the attention of a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)’s art rental and sales gallery. She selected my painting “Returning Home” to be one of two pieces included in the museum’s annual observance of (AIDS losses) “A Day Without Art,” a 10-day exhibition.
Despite my reticence to show/sell any paintings until I had a cohesive body of work, I accepted the curator’s request. … In addition to being tagged as a “new and emerging artist,” I was invited to participate in the Florence (Italy) Biennial. During this highly productive time, a number of art collectors from around the country bought my paintings.
Amidst this burgeoning career, Scott, my partner of 16 years, was diagnosed with cancer. His incredible ability to move forward in the face of adversity fortified my decision to continue as a painter.
Why did you leave L.A.?
After Scott’s death (in 2007), it became apparent that a serious change of scenery was required. I had always liked Palm Springs, and it seemed like a place that was gay-friendly, and I could once again focus on my art.
Is there anything unique in your style today?
Actually, there is. Before putting brush to canvas, many painters create grids and/or create a sketch of their future painting. In contrast, for many of my paintings, I create a mental image of what I want to paint. Everything on the canvas reflects my mental picture.
What themes and influences affect your paintings?
My paintings then and today contain, in their own way, social and political messages. Political correctness is not my style.
I find myself immensely influenced by the surrealists, especially Dali and Miró. Dali, in particular, never seemed to worry about controversy. My painting “Night of Ravens” (right) embodies a social message with hyperrealism and surrealism.
While I continue to explore hyperrealism and surrealism, I am moving in some new directions. For example, I’ve been creating diptychs of butterflies. With my butterflies, the viewer sees my idealization of the wings of one particular butterfly species. There is one wing on each panel. The innate balance and symmetry of wings make them an amazing subject. This is especially true with my diptych “Spritual Catharsis” (below).
My series dealing with musical notes is far more labor-intensive and exhilarating. Because I work in layers, I must work quickly; however, there is little room for error. The process is exacting. …
Having always been fascinated by the moon, I just started a series of oversized canvases that will depict the moon in each of its unique permutations. … I have already finished two canvases and stretched the canvas for the next painting. I foresee painting full moons, blood moons, lunar eclipses, etc.
During my fall show at Archangel Gallery, I expect the “Moon Series” to be the focal point.
What challenges lie ahead?
Actually, my painting is moving ahead quite well. Right now, I dedicate four to six hours a day in the studio. Also, I recently returned from a short trip to L.A. and found my creative self recharged.
When I hit a slump, I recognize that those periods are part of the creative process. Like the best artists, I force myself to work, even if it is doing basic drawing and painting studies to improve my technique.
My major challenges are interrelated: artistic purity and commercialism. Like most every artist, I don’t want to compromise on my aesthetic. At the same time, my MBA brain tells me that I need to make a living as a practicing artist.
Right now, I am fortunate. I can and do invest totally in my art. With my strength, focus and creativity, I will make it happen.
For more information, visit AJKART.ME. The author of this piece, Victor Barocas, has also shown his work at Archangel Gallery. Below: “Spiritual Catharsis.”