Gloria Alford, 'Target Practice,' acrylic on paper
Well-raised, well-read and well-educated, the middle-class girl from Northside Chicago went to Berkeley in the 1940s to get a degree in social sciences and—as was expected of young women of her time and class—choose a brilliant man to marry and with whom to have genius children. In the 1950s, Gloria Alford worked as a kindergarten teacher to put her husband through his Ph.D. program, then, with children in school and husband’s career launched, she took up again what she had begun as a youth at the Chicago Art Institute, re-entering the world of art via the acceptable milieu of sewing, fabric printing and design. With an innate intelligence and awareness of the turmoil of the 1960s, however, Alford did not fail to notice the growing influence of the computer in every sector of society. Compelled to make art that commented on the changing world around her, she increased her vocabulary, learned to vacuum-cast plastics and paper and investigated the language of computer code.
“Gloria K. Alford—A Selected Retrospective 1974 – Present” at Felix Kulpa Gallery begins in this period, during which Alford (who is now married to Santa Cruz Weekly
poetry editor Robert Sward) was represented by a prominent New York gallery. Using vacuum-formed plastics in contrast with pretty textiles in conjunction with imagery that used computer code as a graphic device, her work was innovative and surprising. I’ve Always Lived in a Garden (1974) contains a quilted screen-printed Edenic idyll in velvet fabric within a plastic keyhole of harsh black-and-white graphics of present-day urban life. Eight works from this era show the artist’s fascination with such contrasts and with the vestiges of mythology that thrive within the computer age. The most timeless works use imagery from cave paintings overlaid by molded plastic on which programming symbols are printed as a matrix to create light and shadow.
Molded plastic gave way to papermaking in the 1980s and thereafter exclusively to painting, now completely abstract. Over such a span of time, styles and materials, the artist’s unerring feel for dynamic composition, bold use of color and consistent pursuit of new materials and techniques keep the work fresh and exciting. Red & Black Sonata is an acrylic collaged with what might be silver joss paper under swirls and stripes of color. The energy of the marks—some painted, other scratched into the paint, the dynamism achieved out of what are essentially stripes—chudder by like a film reel. The scars and shadows she has made and left so imperfectly perfect, the seeping underpaint and luscious surface texture: these for me define Gloria Alford’s best work. Defiant of art trend and fashion, Alford at 80 is a redoubtable and ever-inventive force. The exhibition continues through Feb. 27. Read more at KUSP.org/exhibitionist.