Years 28 • Resides & Creates Lakewood • Learned BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz

To indulge in an Alex Overbeck drawing is to enter another world – a complex, multi-layered world in which fantastical creatures traverse landscapes of perfectly patterned shapes and rich, vibrant hues, a world in which tranquility arises from collision between organization and disorder.

The scenes are surreal and unpacking them becomes an enveloping – and satisfying – endeavor.

“It becomes kind of a submersive experience just on this piece of paper,” Overbeck says. “I enjoy that. I enjoy the fact that you can play with everything there in your own way. I’m not really aiming to say anything specific, but I do want people to find a little bit of themselves in the work.”

“Hope to Find What You’re Looking For” by Alex Overbeck. Image courtesy of the artist.

In each piece exists liminal spaces where it isn’t necessarily clear what’s happening but something about it is intriguing. It’s from those spaces Overbeck’s art connects emotionally. 

“I try to find this weird middle ground between serenity and mania. That feeling of peace you get from that meditative aspect, meditation, or just in finding some sort of balance in yourself, and then also, the absolute insanity we live in on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “I guess it’s a way of processing that – the insanity I feel inside myself, but I think everybody feels (that) from time to time.”

Drawing has been an interest of Overbeck’s as far back as her childhood in North Muskegon, Mich. Her mother tells her she drew her first face when she was 3 years old. 

“It looked like an alien, I won’t lie,” she says, “but it had eyes, an actual head, hair and everything – it’s just really squiggly.”

But when she attended and graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy, a fine arts boarding school in Michigan, it was as a vocal-performance major, and in college, she continued to pursue music.

She left school after a couple of years and later worked in the catering business around Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. While at work, she’d often see Cleveland Institute of Art students carrying their work around the neighborhood, which inspired her to pursue a career in art. When she graduated in May 2018, her BFA was in both drawing and painting.

“I’ve always been more of a drawer than a painter,” she says, “but I wanted to double major in painting and drawing. Drawing was a strong skill set I had but I wanted to strengthen my understanding of color and material handling.”

Overbeck still sings, and in fact, her creativity doesn’t end there. In recent years, she became interested in flow arts – namely hula-hooping. To pursue those interests, she joined Anadano, a group of artists that performs and puts on workshops at festivals. In some ways, she says, hula-hooping provides a brief respite from drawing and painting. Being an architect of artistic worlds can be draining and exacting work. 

“Precarious” by Alex Overbeck. Image courtesy of the artist.

As Overbeck begins to execute an idea, she has a sense of what she hopes takes shape but acknowledges the process is pretty open-ended. It begins with general, gestural mark-making with loose ink and unfolds from there. 

“It’s a lot of repetitious mark-making, mostly because I love the way it looks. I think it’s stunning. Dot stippling is pretty common, a lot of cross-hatching with some shading. You’ll see it in a lot of this work. It’s all done by hand,” she explains. “It has this sort of ‘staticky realism’ to it with all the accumulated marks, it has this really cool optical effect I’m attracted to.”

Along the way, and in every piece, she says, she discovers something new. That dynamic stokes her creative fire and encourages her to expand her artistic practice. 

“I’m always trying to push it in a different way, experiment a little bit,” she says. “There’s so much play with it. I get to play with colors, I get to do whatever I want on this blank surface, and I feel like that’s the most rewarding aspect of it.

“It can be frustrating at times, especially when I’m on deadline and I’m like pushing myself to work hours and hours and hours at a time just to finish it, but seeing the finished result gives me that feeling of satisfaction that I made something beautiful, something cool. … That’s a good feeling.” C

On View

“Emergent 2019” will be on view from April 26 to June 9 at Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.

Tony Ingrisano

“Alex’s densely detailed, variegated drawings are portals to secret universes. The profuse mark-making and plays on spatial depth and scale shifts are a primer on world creating. Alex’s work never hesitates to get astounded reactions from viewers. Utilizing chance and gravity as stepping-off points, the artist meticulously builds kaleidoscopic mindscapes where the unexpected is always just around the corner.”

Tony Ingrisano, assistant professor, Cleveland Institute of Art