Studio Visit by Appointment
Santa Cruz, CA 96060


Gloria K. Alford, A 40-Year Retrospective 1969-2011


"My dear Conway, these things contain such wisdom as men shall need when their passions are spent. They will all be here, hidden away behind the mountains in the Valley of the Blue Moon…in Shangri-la."

—James Hilton, Lost Horizon, from memory


The fantasy of a hidden place—hidden but findable—in which marvelous treasure is lodged is no doubt of Freudian origin, but it is persistent. A fertile valley where you least expect to find such things—but which brings great joy (or sometimes, great ambivalence) upon its discovery. Howard Carter is reputed to have said as he gazed enraptured on the interior of Tutankhamen’s tomb: “I see Things…Beautiful Things.”


I saw exactly that—things, beautiful things—in “Gloria K. Alford—A Selected Retrospective 1974-Present,” a show presented at the Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz, California. (To get to the valley town of Santa Cruz you have to cross over a mountain, just as in Lost Horizon, though I went most willingly and was not, like “Flame” Conway, the object of a kidnapping.)


I saw the show the day before it closed, so I will have to direct you to the internet. Gloria Alford’s web site: www.gloriaalford.com/


I had seen Gloria’s art before and had always loved it, but there was something special about this show. I wondered whether I could write about it. “I paint,” she writes, “with acrylic on canvas and paper and my process is intuitive. That is, the first colors and shapes that I lay down suggest the next. The finished painting is nothing I could have conceived of at the start. Painting for me is always a journey to an unknown, which I can only recognize when I see it.” Journey to the unknown—to a lost horizon: lost but found.


The problem for a writer is that Alford’s work offers few verbal clues—titles about which the writer can riff. The only word that occurred to me as I gazed, fascinated, at this beautifully hung, utterly hypnotic work was Look. There was a marvelous EGO balloon about to be attacked by Cupids—and that perhaps best expresses what I was feeling. Writer’s pride was quickly vanishing under the impact of the experience I was having. I didn’t know how to describe these works, yet I felt that I was experiencing something utterly out of the ordinary—something I wished to tell others about. “My process is intuitive,” and it is precisely to the intuition that Gloria Alford speaks. None of these works looks very much like any of the others, yet in each instance the beauty—and sometimes the wit—brings you just to the point of speech, idea, and then abandons you. And you are happy that it goes because you are on to the next experience.


The best thing I can do is to tell you to go to her web site and look at some of the work. For the most part, I felt, her work “represents” nothing but its own beauty and completion. We look at it and feel the enormous pleasure of the interplay of line, shape, form. And yet the works are not quite “abstract.” These works, different as they from one another, are immensely numinous. They are like the artifacts of a religion whose dogma and ceremonies have vanished—and all that is left is the deep experience of mystery, which of course is one of the things that gave birth to religion in the first place. There is nothing that is “sentimental” here—so the work is not likely to be “popular”—yet there is much to intrigue, to tease the mind. Gloria Alford has never been “teachered,” so she has had to deal with her artistic problems and solutions entirely on her own. Intelligence, invention, deep feeling—“what men will need when their passions are spent.”

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