Spectrum, Paintings, 36 x 48

Nicole Alger: A Painter for the True New Age

New Age” is a term with a broad application, often encompassing a variety of multicultural disciplines that offer alternatives to the spiritual barrenness of modern life. Normally, when the term is applied to art, however, we picture images of unicorns, wizards, earth goddesses, fantastic landscapes in imaginary fairy tale realms, and other lighthearted, often banal subjects related to popular notions of a generalized gift shop “spirituality.” Wisely, Nicole Alger, a New York painter trained in classical realist painting techniques in Florence, Italy, does not apply this term to her own art. However, her paintings elevate the concept of what New Age art can be by virtue of her serious immersion in the chakra system, a term originating in ancient Hindu texts, derived from the Sanskrit word for “wheel.” The term is employed in traditional Indian medicine, which holds that “consciousness is pure energy and our thoughts directly impact our bodies,” as Alger puts it in her artist statement. The system divides the body into seven energetic wheels or chakras, each represented by a color. Thus the light and color in Alger’s vibrant oils on canvas derives from the symbolic language of the Chakra system rather than from outer sources, as in Impressionism and other schools of Western painting. Yet at the same time her work is steeped in the aesthetic traditions of Western figure painting, as seen in two youthful female portrait heads, respectively titled “My Siddhartha” and “Prayer II.” The former focuses on the compelling countenance of an exotic beauty with clear almond eyes, the red dot Hindus called a “bindi” in the center of her forehead, and areas of luminous blue light emanating from the thick, dark mane that surrounds her face like a halo. In the latter, another young woman’s soft features and serenely shut eyes appear enveloped in radiant auras which are enhanced by the gold leaf that Alger occasionally integrates holistically with oil pigments, rather than applying only to backgrounds and other discrete areas of the composition, as is traditional in Christian icons. More in the spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolists, Alger’s paintings project a sense of beauty and transcendence, as seen in both “Red Sun” and “Spectrum,” where the nude female form takes on new meaning as spiritual emissary rather than merely erotic entity. In “Red Sun,” a woman appears airborne against a swirling blue field enlivened by a scarlet solar burst. In “Spectrum,” a meditating figure levitates within a circle of light, the emblematic composition combining elements of Western realism and the Eastern mandala. A female nude in the lotus position also appears in an oil on canvas by Alger entitled “Aspiration,” here amid a panoramic vista of majestic mountains and rivers awash in glowing pastel hues. By contrast, in “Presiding,” all of the majesty is embodied in the figure itself. Although the nude model, posed grandly against an expanse of brilliant blue, resembles a blonde Nordic goddess, the glowing whiteness of her torso, accented by her contrastingly suntanned face and limbs, suggests the tantric mingling of mystical and sensual elements in the Hindu and Buddhist belief systems. Nicole Alger is clearly a visionary painter whose work recontextualizes and invites us to examine anew ancient wisdom and intriguing notions heretofore woefully unexplored in contemporary art. –– Peter Wylie

Read more reviews