Artist Spotlight: Alex Buchanan

After twenty years of working on the water both in the Coast Guard and as a licenced Merchant Marine Captain, Alex Buchanan has a lot of experience with rope. From massive deck lines to small lanyards, ropes of all types and sizes that are used to secure ships and everything on them, including the people who sail them.

For Alex, the journey from the Merchant Marines to professional artist using rope as his primary medium began off the coast of Mexico.  “The idea for this transition took place while tying knots aboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Research Ship, Atlantis, back in 2006, after having discovered the Ashley Book of Knots in the ship’s library,”  he says.

His portfolio back then was solely photography, but it led him to matriculate at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, graduating in 2014 with a thesis in sculpture. “I’ve been creating three-dimensional pieces out of retired industry materials for over ten years whether I was receiving popular interest or not, but I’ve always felt like I was on to something.”

Today Alex is a full-time professional artist with gallery exhibits, private commissions and partnerships with designers. “I prefer working with used rope. It has a patina and stories to tell, and I utilize it while honoring its original purpose.”

Alex was born in Boston, and later moved to New Bedford to become part of the artist community.  “It’s nurturing and incredibly supportive.” says Alex. He finds the city’s dedication to its nautical history inspiring, and the nonprofit community active and encouraging. “My studio space in a repurposed mill building is exactly what I need for my large-scale work.” The space he has chosen may even reflect his interest in repurposing the old for the new.

It takes physical strength to create rope sculpture. Towing hawser, for example,  is seriously heavy, and Alex acquires, stores, and repurposes thousands of pounds of used rope.  “People would be surprised by what it takes to move and manipulate rope as a medium,” says Alex. “I like knowing that I’ve recycled so much material and given it a new purpose.”

As he looks to the future, Alex has ideas for work that transcends the rope’s industrious nature with purposeful qualities in other every-day materials: neckties, handkerchiefs, and even grape vines. “Each material has a job and a different story to tell.”  It’s clear that Alex has the ear and talent to coax out these stories and share a unique voice with the rest of us.