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Meet Alex Rydlinski

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alex Rydlinski.

Alex, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in Alaska, mostly preoccupied with writing and playing music. I was in a band, and we decided to move from Alaska to North Texas in hopes of playing bigger and better gigs. We toured the country for several years and accomplished a lot of our musical goals, and I was also able to produce the band’s artwork along the way.

After a period of time, it became apparent to me that my primary focus should be visual art, so I made the difficult decision to walk away from the band and promptly started painting in oils. I began learning to paint by studying old picture books. I started with Van Gogh, my childhood favorite, and worked backwards in time into the depths of the old masters.

When I came to study Rembrandt and Velazquez earnestly, this time having the experience of trying to paint myself, I couldn’t believe the power of those pictures. I became completely gripped by the quality and sincerity, and have set out to reach that level in my own work. But it is not a short road…

Last fall, I studied with the master painter Odd Nerdrum in Norway. Odd is famous for his grand, often shocking large-scale compositions and his incredible painterly technique. I learned so much from him it makes my head spin, and I have spent the months since my return home trying to apply the knowledge and create a new body of work. I’m very excited for the future.

Has it been a smooth road?
Learning to paint in our time is a very strange thing because the old knowledge can be hard to uncover.

You learn very quickly that oil painting is a technical craft as well as a creative one, and if a painter doesn’t build the painting carefully it is sure to crack and fail. Some 20th-century paintings, some Jackson Pollock’s for example, are already starting to require special conservation efforts, while many 15th century paintings are still going strong. So that can hang over a young painter’s head like a black cloud, the threat of technical failure.

Also, the materials have changed. Art supply stores are packed with ready-made cotton canvas and additive-heavy tubed paint, which act completely different from well-prepared linen canvas and the hand-ground pigments of the past. As a new painter I tried to replicate the effects of the old masters, but my materials were so completely different. It took several years to understand why my paintings never quite had ‘that look.’

Luckily I’ve learned enough from Odd, and from George O’Hanlon at Natural Pigments that I’ve begun to be able to work around the limitations of our time.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with your work. What else should our readers know about you and your art?
I’ve been commissioned for all different kinds of paintings. Landscapes, pets, still-lifes, portraits… The most meaningful of those for me has been portraits. When you look into the eyes of a well-painted human being they seem to look back at you; there is life there. Photos and movies both have their great strengths, but the painted portrait has its unique space that has let it endure all these years. So I definitely like making portraits, it can never get old.

Something that is also unique these days, that I learned from Odd, is the value of painting from life. I try to paint directly from a model as much as possible, rather than from reference photos. Painted this way, the pictures have more energy to them, more life. It sounds maybe a little too metaphysical, but there is definitely value in a picture painted from life. For the sitter, too. I modeled for Odd while I was a pupil, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
DFW has a way of feeling like a small town, despite its size, which is a positive for me.

When you get into a scene where it doesn’t take long before you’re a part of it. And we’re fortunate to have a great symphony and some great art museums. But I prefer the cold, not the heat. DFW is not my favorite place, geographically haha

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