Alexandra Dawn Taggart is recognizable for her American Southwest mountainscapes, colorfully painted in oil, in which foreground rock stands jagged and discernible against the mountains, blurred by mist and clouds, that lie beyond it. The perceptible, gaping, gives way to a visual ellipsis pointing to the unknowable.
Taggart was drawn to mountains--their sublimity, mystery, and contemplativeness--after having lived nomadically for years with her husband. During this period, she traveled extensively throughout California and the American Southwest, living in such places as Joshua Tree, California; Ojai, California; Boulder, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, a place she now calls home. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Taggart found herself, as she was leaving New York in 2013, utterly caught up by the expansiveness of the West--by the seeming proximity of the moon, by the saturated ombré skies, and by the clarity and obscurity of the rocks and stars and piñon pines.
In much of Taggart's work, one can take note of the relationship between clarity and obscurity. This she achieves by creating a background in translucent oil, using the medium as if it were watercolor. The foreground, also done in oil, is thicker and denser, with certain outcroppings of rock called forth by dark lines while others trail off into each other and beyond. Here, the colors are blurred as if viewed in a waking dream. To come to know the natural world intuitively, immediately, she marries two of her greatest influences, Wilson Hurley with Roger Dean.
Before she started painting full-time, Taggart spent nearly a decade designing handbags in New York City's fashion industry. She was also an adjunct instructor of Accessories Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
When Taggart isn't painting, you can find her rock climbing, trail running, practicing yoga, traveling throughout the American Southwest, and meditating. As for the latter, the spiritual traditions of Rinzai Zen Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta greatly inform her daily meditation practice and, more generally, her intention to live a flourishing life in and as Emptiness or Awareness (depending upon who you're asking).
I never had the intention of moving to Joshua Tree, California, in the summer of 2013; I had only intended to pass on through. In June, I had been in the process of interviewing for a senior handbag design position in LA. As I waited to hear about whether I would be offered the position, my husband and I rented a house in Joshua Tree. I didn't get the job in LA, but we stayed in the high desert and there I learned to paint.
For the first time in my life, I was immersed in this wild, remote place ruled by silence and wind. I watched as the sun came up behind the backs of the mountains, casting shadows across the distant mountains while it warmed the desert floor. And I felt a kinship with the daily vicissitudes of a simple, quiet desert life: the sun rose and fell, the heat came and went, things lived, died, and hung on preserved. How could I lift out of transience some aspect of this ever-turning wonder? By painting a moment of it and thereby illuminating that moment as the sun illumines the desert.
In Joshua Tree, my fascination with mountains continued to grow: I painted them, I became a rock climber, I read mountaineering books, and I imagined them. What flourished, in time, was an interest in and study of human beings' relationship with mountains. In Marjorie Hope Nicholson's book Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite, I came to find that mountains were not always something to admire, to climb, to behold, indeed to paint. Ancient Greeks tolerated them but mostly ignored them, Ancient Romans saw them as impediments to conquests, early Christians condemned mountains due to their presumed lack of humility, and as late as the seventeenth century English poets still regarded them as terrifically ugly. It wasn't until the Romantic period, then, that a radical shift--from "mountain gloom" to "mountain glory"--took place. Romantics, with the fresh eyes of wonderment, experienced awe and sublimity as they observed "the geocosm–mountains, ocean, desert." In my paintings, then, I seek to evoke the sense of awe that the Romantics wrote so poignantly about. In our time, what Walter Benjamin once called "the age of mechanical reproduction," things have changed again: our perceptions are now so colored by manufactured "epic" and "beautiful" mountain scenes that rarely do we apprehend their actual luminous, stirring qualities. What might painting mountains' silent mysteries, those that only appear to the arrested mind, mean for us today? It's this question that thrills each brushstroke.
• Joshua Tree National Park Art Exposition juried exhibition, 29 Palms Art Gallery, Twentynine Palms, California, September 2019
• Joshua Tree National Park Art Exposition juried exhibition, 29 Palms Art Gallery, Twentynine Palms, California, September 2017
• Crossroads: A Sanctuary for Spirituality, Fresh Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 2017
• Hemera Foundation Contemplative Fellowship, Garrison Institute, Garrison, New York, October 2019
• Hemera Foundation Contemplative Fellowship, Zen Mountain Monastery, Mount Tremper, New York, March 2017