The film, Muscle Shoals, blames the Singing River for attracting and enhancing the talented artists to the Shoals area. Tuscumbia AL, in the Shoals, was the birthplace of artist, philosopher, and activist, Helen Keller, and these same waters have fostered the beginnings of the renowned contemporary artist, Alex Wilhite. “My grandmother grew up with Helen Keller.” Like Keller. who transcended her impairments to create her artistry, Alex Wilhite grew up in Tuscumbia, and he is deaf.
Wilhite is from a fourth generation European family that migrated to Tuscumbia, AL and bought a cotton farm. “ I left Tuscumbia when I was four years old to attend a special school for the deaf in St Louis 1965 till 1976,” Wilhite recalls. “I returned to Tuscumbia to Deshler High School from 9th till 12th grade, except when I attended American School of Kuwait for 10th-grade year.” It was not easy growing up deaf for Wilhite. Deaf since birth, he was the only deaf child in his family. “I had just a few friends. I felt isolated.” His family tried to support him by trying to “fix” his hearing, but “it never worked out.” To be a deaf art student was “challenging,” but he remembers Dr. Betsy Walter, Chairperson of his department at the University of North Alabama, Florence, where he received his B.F.A. She had hearing challenges herself and was understanding. Wilhite received his M.F.A. from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY.
Alabama has influenced the encaustic work of Wilhite. His other senses heightened, Wilhite was “visually intrigued” by the red soil on their farm. “The earth communicated with me,” Wilhite remembers. “I tried to figure out why the soil was different colors. I studied the color and material of soil and changing of color during sunsets. “ Today Wilhite collects pigments from all over the world and still “learns from the soil.” From his Artist Statement in Deafart.org:
My years of experience in traveling throughout the world guide my inspiration about the value of color, which changes every hour in every day. My perception of color is the value of the three primary colors changing into varieties of colors. High or strong colors define outlines; strong contrast are involved into my own style of painting, which influences me to follow the value of nature’s colors to change from sunrise to sunset. I use those colors to combine with black, white or grays. I try to develop two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms. I still research and experiment in abstract illusionism. I am deeply interested in combining Hard-edge paintings into action, which flows into optical colors. Gradation represents my form of Neo-Platonism.
Shoals friend and avid collector, Patsy Novelli, was once Wilhite’s audiologist. “I met him when he was 4 and did not see him again until he was fully grown.” Wilhite communicates through an interpreter, but with Novelli, he signs and “he lip reads really well.” Novelli is an “avid fan” of Wilhite and his work. He has a “wonderful and eclectic personality.” According to Wilhite, “She is the person who knows me better than anyone.” Novelli has helped to promote his work and says, as an artist, Wilhite “sees as he creates, using his feelings.”
Novelli shared that Wilhite was one of 5 artists chosen to participate in a Russian exhibition. The event video captions: Five USA Deaf Artists are cordially invited to attend the International Cultural and Social Art Exhibition, “The World is Heard by the Soul” in Saint Petersburg, Russia this August 29-September 2, 2013.
Alabamian, Wilhite, has exhibited his work worldwide He is also passionate about the environment and is connected with VIDA, which “connects artists with craftspeople and manufacturers to source and design products.” Indeed, it is no wonder that Novelli finds Wilhite to be “…so dimensional and one of the most intriguing people I know.”
Alex Wilhite resides in Houston, Texas and currently works as an Artist/Teacher at School of the Woods. His credentials take him all over the world, and his profile can be found at https://www.saatchiart.com/alexwilhite.