Duck Soup

Alex Fraser - Gallery of Paintings

The paintings in this gallery are the work of Alex Fraser and they can be found in the Biology Department at the University of Cincinnati. Try to keep an idea of the size of the paintings as you're looking at them as many of them are quite large, perhaps eight feet or so vertically and many times more than that horizontally. They're extremely difficult to photograph because of their size and the limited space in which to photograph them.

I've offered background notes and interpretations on many of the paintings below and this might seem a little presumptuous but he thought my opinions on art were important. I'm really not sure why as I've had no training of any kind but that may be exactly what he wanted. I was fairly uncomfortable with having life and death power over his paintings and would sometimes avoid the living room as I knew there was a painting in there that I didn't like and I didn't want to judge it. Despite the discomfort at the time, that's part of the relationship with him that I now remember most fondly.

He experimented with different media but the vast majority of his paintings were in acrylic on canvas. He never used oil and this was probably because he simply didn't have the patience for waiting for it to dry. He appreciated watercolor but he had no passion for it.

I have no idea what type of paint was used for the Biology Department but it would have been impractical and hugely expensive to have used normal artist acrylic paints for that. Also, you'll frequently see in his paintings textures that seem slightly out of place. This is because he would Gesso over a painting if it didn't meet his standards and then he'd paint something altogether different in its place but some trace of the original texture would remain. For some canvases, there could be as many as three or four paintings layered over each other.

Alex was red-green color blind. You will sometimes see evidence of it in color balances that don't seem to quite work. It was never altogether clear what red and green really looked like to him and it seemed like one or both were rendered, to him, in shades of grey. In any case, they certainly did not look as they would to you or I.

SPECIAL NOTE: All of the photography on this page was done by Professor Larry Erway of the Biology Department of the University of Cincinnati. He and Alex were very good friends for about forty years, starting in California and then moving to Ohio. Larry's friendship couldn't be more clear in his work to preserve Alex's memory and I'm very grateful to him for providing the many images he sent me.

Last updated: April 24, 2006 - Alan Fraser

Click on any of the thumbnail images on this page to see a larger representation of the painting.

This is an uncharacteristic series of abstract paintings and you can interpret them as you will. He didn't do a large number of extreme abstractions as he was much more inclined to try to tell a story with a more literal interpretation of what he saw.

The first one is of some importance as it's the first painting he did but this not the first version of it. I had photographed a long-exposure image of a circus carousel at night and he was quite taken with the result. I don't know what ingredients mixed within him to get him to decide to paint it but, after a while, he went out for some canvas and acrylics and started painting from the photograph. He painted for the rest of his life.

Sometimes he just painted things because he thought they were interesting and/or pretty. The one with the flamingoes is most characteristic as he has used gradients of colors in the background. The flamingoes are presented as a time lapse of the birds taking flight and this, to some extent, is rooted in his work in animation back in Australia. Looking back on it, the inclination to paint had always been there but was never seriously expressed until fairly late in life.

He hated it when I would call his paintings "interesting" as that was pretty much of a kiss of death. It was more power than I really cared to wield as he would almost always break out the Gesso and re-use the canvas after that. In this one, we have a chameleon, perhaps the world's only white one!

These paintings are some interpretations from within his field of Genetics.

He loved working with optical illusions and he frequently used gradients of colors as some people react strongly to them and the mind's attempt to smooth the image would yield a sense of motion within it. This painting was done in a stairwell to get an added sense of drama and movement as it appears to me that he intended that it be viewed while you are moving as well.

These paintings are in part a contribution to the Biology Department and are also motivated in part by the fish that were being raised at home. There was rarely a time in which there was not at least one tank for tropical fish at home.

Some of these paintings have something of an Impressionist aspect to them and they were tributes as he had an absolute reverence for most, if not all, of the painters of the Impressionist period. Cezanne was a particular favorite.

He worked with the color gradients in landscapes in many different paintings. It was particularly fascinating to him and it's really not clear as to whether he finally captured precisely whatever it was that he sought in them. He did many versions of these types of landscape gradients on canvas and you can see the effect if you look at a series of receding hills as they will get progressively lighter the farther they are away. The gradients of colors stylized this effect.

This painting is a mystery as it is almost photo-realistic and Alex never painted anything like that. It is totally uncharacteristic except insofar as it could play into his enthusiasm for optical illusions, something that has been highly trendy of late. He may well have been trying to give the impression that there really was a greenhouse at the end of the hallway.

At first this appears to be another abstract painting but it's more topical than it appears at first glance. The second image reveals a woman, at first bowed and then finally reaching skyward. Whatever might be driving the ascent is something you will have to bring to the painting yourself.

Again we see the gradients of color used to create a sense of motion in the paintings. This appears to be some sort of machine but could be whatever you like. This one was positioned in a stair well to further enhance the sense of motion.

In the first painting, the mice appear to be floating in space and this might be a case of his color-blindness getting the better of him. It's kind of an odd painting and it's not at all clear as to what he was trying to achieve. The Musk Ox painting is another contribution to the Biology Department and it was probably painted from a picture he saw in "National Geographic" or similar.

Whatever else Alex may have been, he certainly wasn't cute so it's a bit surprising to see paintings of pandas. The first one has a hint of a Hamlet staging so it might have been his idea of comedy but the second one is definitely all-out cute.

This painting stretches down a large wall and it features an extended scene of an African savannah that finally reveals a large baboon contemplating its domain. It won't take Art 101 to figure this one out.

These paintings are yet more experiments with optical illusions. The first one has almost the effect of a 'potato stamp' but it was painted line by line. He was very interested in how much or how little was required to convey the image so he had a keen interest in pointillism as well.

Once again, the gradients. The spiral images in these demonstrated an optical principle that was incredibly fascinating to him. His theory was that certain individuals would see motion within this spirals if they observed them with their peripheral vision. The individuals who saw the motion were inclined to be artistic even if they did not necessarily express it. In his younger days, he probably would have pursued this in a formal scientific investigation.

The effect was quite real and the spirals would spin to the point of being physically disturbing to those most sensitive to it. For others, there was no effect at all. Perhaps this will be researched at some point to determine the basis for it.

The painting on the right is on canvas and is the one he used for testing the effect. It links to a much larger version of it but don't look directly at the image when you display it. If there is any effect at all, your peripheral vision will pick it up. If he were here, he would be chastising me (deservedly) for bad science in that I've already suggested the result of the experiment but make of it what you will and perhaps someone will see his work and carry it further.

This is a painting on a canvas board and it's the best example of his pointillist period. It's a highly surrealistic vision and it's one of my all-time favorites. Whenever I move my music studio, this is one of the first things to go up at the new location. (The photograph of the painting was shot off-center to minimize the glare from the flash.)

In these paintings, the gradients are presented again to give some drama to the flowers. He did not ever use any kind of hallucenogenic substance and did not even drink very much. He certainly drank prodigiously at infrequent parties but he was terrified of alcoholism, with good genetic reason, and never drank on a routine basis. Insofar as these paintings are reminiscent of the visions one may see in a mind-altered state, it is inevitable that one would suspect such influence in his works but it definitely was not there.