Master painter Albert Alcalay exhibits works from a long and fruitful life in art. Photo by Ben Scott
Master painter Albert Alcalay exhibits works from a long and fruitful life in art. Photo by Ben Scott

Artist Alcalay celebrates grand 89th

By Brooks Robards - August 10, 2006

Celebrating his 89th birthday this year, expressionist Albert Alcalay will exhibit a series of oils, watercolors, and drawings from his private studio collection this month. The show will take place at the West Tisbury home of Joshua and Laurie Plaut from 3 to 6 pm this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, August 12 and 13, and again on August 19 and 20. The official birthday celebration will be held Sunday, August 20.

This year's exhibit charts the variety and vitality of a prolific artist whose life began in Paris at the end of World War I and went through profound change and upheaval. Laurie Plaut has selected a range of works dating from 1944 to today.

Albert Alcalay's oil painting, "Italian Hill Town," one of many colorful works he created in Italy. Photo by Ben Scott
Albert Alcalay's oil painting, "Italian Hill Town," one of many colorful works he created in Italy.

Mr. Alcalay has completed a memoir, "Persistence of Hope," due out this fall, in which he recounts his experiences growing up in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, studying under German expressionist Michael Fingenestein while interned in an Italian concentration camp, and then teaching at Harvard University's Carpenter Center. As a Jew educated to live in a kibbutz near Haifa, Israel, Mr. Alcalay says he and his wife, Vera, are deeply distressed by the war between Israel and the Hezbollah and listen to the radio to keep up on the Middle East.

Some of the exhibited works are cityscapes set in Jerusalem and Acre, near Haifa. "Found Treasure" is an example of a work in gouache and watercolor on the same kind of sheepskin parchment used for the Torah. Since this material reacts to changes in weather, the painting must be framed without a mat.

Mr. Alcalay has lost much of his vision to macular degeneration in recent years, but the loss does not prevent him from painting. Although he no longer can distinguish between blue and green, he knows where to find them on his palette. "I still see color with these eyes," he says.

"Little Landscape," finished last year, demonstrates how the artist has adapted to his visual limitations. Like a pointillist, Mr. Alcalay works with small dabs of brilliant color. "I like to work in a small format," he says, "but to create a sense of grandeur."

In "Hilltop," Mr. Alcalay manipulates his brush in different ways to give some juice, as he puts it, to the colors. In "Impressions of Venice," finished in 2005, the artist uses memories from earlier times in Italy. Another Italian work, "Santa Maria della Salute," is a pen and ink that dates from 1989. Remembering the "incredible imagination" of landscape artist J.M.W. Turner, Mr. Alcalay says he loves to draw with pen and ink, like the English artist.

Painted in 1949, "Abandoned Villa" is a signature Albert Alcalay work, in which, using abstract expressionist techniques, he tries to evoke, not describe. A pen-and-ink piece titled "Grand Canal" is a masterpiece of fine detail and animation. Of "Collision " (2003), the artist says, "I'm trying mostly to bring the poetics - a sense of lyricism - in many different directions."

Mr. Alcalay recalls seeing an exhibit of Kandinsky's work and says "it killed me." His answer was to depict his own wonderfully vibrant, abstracted ships in "By the Beach - Ostia," (1949) a pen and ink with wash.

Many, many other Albert Alcalay works are part of the exhibit. As the artist quotes from the aphorism, "You don't stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing."

Albert Alcalay exhibit, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 12 and 13, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 19 and 20 (birthday celebration), 3-6 pm, 32 Bridge Lane, off Lambert's Cove Road. For directions, call 508-696-0487.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.