The Bill Alexander Story – Part 7 – Hard Times

“Maybe one of the reasons that landscapes are so popular is because living in the country is the most natural thing. Even city people like to go back to the country. It’s a kind of instinct. The country is still the beginning of people on earth. The earth smells fresh, and after a rain, it has a sweetness on its breath. Every day is a joy with a special kind of color, a bursting of oranges in Autumn or green laughing with you in Spring. You can put your seed in the garden and you can harvest what you plant and you make the tools to live by and you repair the things you create. This is an instinct of being human.”

 — Bill Alexander

photo of Bill Alexander at the easel

Bill at the Easel

Hard Times

Life was hard for Bill and Margarete in Los Angeles. In spite of his teaching and the opportunities to paint Bill still wasn’t making much money. They were living in a run-down tenement in Long Beach. Margarete cleaned and painted all the rooms and hung bright curtains to make the rooms more pleasant. She did that everywhere they lived, just to try and make it more their own.

Margarete was the manager of the building, but the owner was a rough cut guy. A former submarine captain, he treated everyone as if they were his enemy. He would only rent to certain people, and if any of the tenants missed paying their weekly rent he threw them out. If a tenant couldn’t pay, Margarete would give them more time. However, when the owner found out, he became angry. He would storm to their apartment and pound on the door. If there was no answer, he would open the door with his master key. Then he emptied the apartment of its contents by depositing them on the street. The tenant, upon his return, could not get into the locked apartment. Worse, yet, all their belongings were now out on the street.

Bill and Margaret, never wanting to see this happen to another tenant, often tried to help. Danny was just such a tenant.

Danny

Danny was about forty and he hailed from the Ozarks. He and his father ran a still when he was a young child. They hid the still at the bottom of a thirty-two foot well. Each night his father would lower Danny down into the well. Danny worked in the well all night long. Then, when he was eighteen, Danny left home. He wandered across the country to Los Angeles. He enlisted in the army and was discharged a Korean War veteran. As a result of being wounded in the war, he became addicted to morphine and heroin. After he left the army, his drug addiction landed him in prison. In spite of his background, Bill felt Danny was a nice guy at heart. Danny married a beautiful woman, Ellen, who was an alcoholic. They were trying to get sober when Bill and Margaret met them. They tried to help them straighten out; and, over time they all became good friends. Danny and Ellen were trying to stay clean.

They ran a little variety store on First Street where you could buy everything from ribbons to knives. They worked long hours to make it successful. It was a struggle for them, and they would often lapse back into their old habits. Danny would disappear for days at a time. Then, one day, he disappeared and never came back.

Sadness of Life

Bill and Margarete were always fighting the sadness of life around them. Bill was getting his hair cut one day, shortly after Danny disappeared for the last time. The man in the chair next to him told Bill that at one time he had a beautiful home and family in Long Beach. One day he got an eye infection and had to have an operation. The surgeon left a cotton fiber in his eye when he closed up. That eye got worse and the infection spread to the other eye. The operations were so expensive he had to sell his house. Not long after that his wife died and his daughters moved away. He was living in a worn down tenements in a run down area of the waterfront . He said that it smelled in the house and he sat there all day just listening to the sound of the carousel from the nearby amusement park.

Bill and the old man became friends. At one time, he was an artist and still went to Bill’s art shows. Desperate to find a better place to live, he and Bill often talked about having a house in the country. Bill wanted to have a two story house so that the old man could live on the second floor and help take care of the property. Bill was almost ready to ask Margarete to pack up so they could all go away together. Bill figured that it would be tough, but they would make it some way. One day, Bill went to visit the old man and found that he was gone. The landlady told Bill that the old man’s daughter came by and gathered him up. Bill and Margarete met many such good hearted people in the city, even though their lives were tough. Bill often wondered though if people like that ever found their dreams.

Burglars

It was the Sixties and everything was getting turned inside out. Life was getting rougher in the cities. Crime was increasing. Burglars broke into Bill’s house twice. He went to the police because he thought he knew the person who robbed him. The police said there was nothing they could do without proof. Bill figured his only option was to bar the door. He went to the Salvation Army and got a used metal bed frame. He rigged it to stand up inside the door. Bill set a trap so that when the burglar came through the door the metal bed frame would fall and hit the burglar on the head. However, when Bill tested it to see if it would work, the frame came down so hard it went right through the floor! Scared that he might kill the burglar, Bill spent the next couple of weeks wondering whether or not to use the trap. During that time burglars robbed his house two more times.

Next Week: A Way Out!

More Than A Painter

William "Bill" Alexander

William “Bill” Alexander

Bill Alexander was more than a painter. He was more than an artist.

When you watch Bill’s videos you will not only see someone who paints beautiful images; but, if you listen to what he says while he is painting, you will learn what makes Bill’s contribution to art so very important.

As a kid I loved watching cartoons. In fact, I still do. I grew up with the cartoons of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker. But my favorite cartoon character was Popeye the Sailor. I loved Popeye because of what he said “between the lines”. Some folks might call it “muttering”; but Popeye’s “mutterings” contained true pearls of wisdom and were an expression of his views of life. If you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t hear them and they would be lost forever.

When I watch Bill paint it’s as much for his philosophy and words of wisdom as it is to learn how he creates his images. This is what makes Bill’s work so very important for all of us who care about him and are interested in furthering his work.

Bill’s greatest contribution to art was not his paintings, although they are wonderful images conjured up in the mind of a truly imaginative genius.

Bill’s greatest contribution was not his television shows although they were important in getting him known and exposing his work to a broader audience than the hundreds of folks who would flock to the shopping malls to watch him paint early in his career.

Bill’s greatest contribution was not even the model he gave us of his own life and career as interesting and astounding as that was.

Bill’s greatest gift to all of us was to show us that we could create art; that we could become the artist. That we had, within us, an ability to express ourselves in a creative and imaginative way that would empower us to become greater than we dare believed we were.

I have watched many, many artists on YouTube. What I find interesting about most of them is that they really show you little more than how well they paint. I wonder how many folks, after watching some of these painting demonstrations actually pick up a paint brush and start their own art journey. I’m sure there are a few; but it was Bill’s dream that every single person he met would pick up that brush and begin to paint.

In the most recent video we posted on YouTube with the late artist Diane Andre, Bill states, very clearly, his concern about being “only one Bill Alexander”. It was during this period he began to build a training program which would include a cadre of artists who would sweep across America and the world training more and more people to paint.

I truly believe, in Bill’s heart, he felt that painting and art would free people from the chains of fear, inadequacy, and self doubt that he, himself, experienced in his life. Painting would help them become confident, creative individuals who would not only create art for themselves, but would become so excited about their new skills that they would want to continue their journey by teaching others what they learned and experienced.

We know that in order to become better at anything, you need to teach. Only by teaching will the lessons learned become an integral part of your very being. Only by teaching will you reach your fullest potential. Only by teaching can you truly empower another human being to become all they can be.

I have no doubt that if Bill could have taught every single human being on the planet, one on one, to paint, he would have done it. But he couldn’t. However, in the video he also introduced us to the beginnings of the Alexander Certification program.

Near the end of his career, Bill extracted a promise from Laurie to continue his work after he was gone. This is a promise we take very seriously at Alexander Art. It is our driving mission and in the coming months you will see how very serious we are about this!

Bill’s entire life was about giving to others. You can see that in every video he made. The words of encouragement to his viewers to “fire in” with that paint brush, the lightheartedness while he worked to show how enjoyable painting was, and the glee he exuded as he poked fun at the blank canvas were as important as the paintings themselves.

Join us in our campaign to empower old and new students alike with the Bill Alexander method of painting. Help us wake up the creativity that lives in all of us. And help us spread Bill’s mission to everyone on the planet.

You Can Paint, We Promise!

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photo of bill in front of Old MacDonald's Farm painting

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bill looking at self portrait

William (Bill) Alexander

April 2, 1915 – January 24, 1997

a child painting seascape

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