This month in the Lobby Art Gallery we present Alex Mac Lean, who uses found natural materials from the beach to create his work.
Gallery Hours: Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm
When Alex Mac Lean was 4 years old he left Scotland at a time when there was rationing and it was tough to make ends meet. Fortunately, they made it to New York where his father, a highly skilled joiner (cabinet maker), found work. Each Mac Lean son received a jackknife from him at age 12. It is no accident that for 40 years now that is the single tool Alex makes use of at the shore. Alex had a fun-loving, close-knit family who particularly valued kindness, humor, and generosity. He was not keen on the academic aspects of school in Brooklyn, preferring socializing and athletics. It was interesting that at age 12, he was friends with a classmate named Sophie who became his wife in 1986. They have a daughter named Kira who lives in San Francisco. His first job in Brooklyn after leaving school was working as an elevator mechanic.
A critical event in his life occurred in 1966 when he was drafted. After the rigor of basic training, he was sent to Vietnam for one year during the Tet Offensive. That very painful chapter continues to play a role in his life today. During the 1970s, Alex had the good fortune to live in London for five years in a part of the city where everyone seemed to be an artist. He hung out with unusual people and got to see all kinds of art being made. Once back in California in 1974, he settled down to work, becoming a highly skilled and successful cabinet maker for clients who had amazing art in their homes and offices.
Regardless of the weather, Alex makes the trip from Novato to a Point Reyes beach at least 5 times a week. Quickly he is over the dune, immersing himself in all that the ocean and sky offer – sounds, smells, wind, weather. He is filled with emotions along with a sense of losing himself as well as finding himself. Alex walks up and down in the dry sand in search of likely driftwood “sticks” and lengths of bull kelp for his work. One might think that working with sticks and kelp is the antithesis of the specialized cabinet-making that dominated his work life in the past. For Alex, it is much the same because he is using his hands and knife to join his carefully chosen beach materials together to create something surprising. The challenges are just the right size, allowing him to become calm and content. Alex has invented a personal form of meditation involving his eyes, hands, legs, and memory. His joinery artworks made at the beach become his unique gifts to all of us! The communion of nature and the arts is very palpable throughout Alex’s creative, healing process.