Alexander Mackenzie was born in Liverpool in 1923, and had an early introduction to art when his school was evacuated to Newburgh Priory, Yorkshire. He was inspired both by the history of its art and its rural setting. Towards the end of the war, Mackenzie drove an armoured car for the Inns of Court Regiment in Europe.
After being demobbed, Mackenzie went to study at Liverpool College of Art, then, as soon as he graduated, he moved down to Cornwall, where he was to stay for the rest of his life. He took up a teaching post in Penzance in 1951, and became wholly involved with the artistic community in that area. He soon forged a good relationship with artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, and became a member of the Penwith Society. His work at this time tended to be represented in earth and grey tones, with an emphasis on figuration. He painted the fishing boats, buoys, and buildings that he saw in Cornwall, venturing occasionally into abstract reliefs that were a nod to Nicholson’s work. Towards the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, his style changed, with a more gestural attitude towards paint and colour. He retained the palette of his earlier work (albeit, exchanging it for a slightly warmer one), but the brushstrokes had more power and less control behind them, with almost-washes building up layers of paint on the canvas. The shapes that are drawn out of the background are often criss-crossed by curving black lines, both thick and thin. These pieces were mainly abstract, but they echoed his earlier concern with the natural world, and, from time to time, he moved back to figuration.
Mackenzie started to have success exhibiting, initially at the Redfern and later at the Waddington Gallery (in 1959, 1961 and 1963). His first exhibition in New York followed in 1960 (at Durlacher’s Gallery). He participated in group shows, often with the Penwith Society, at which one of his paintings ('Reclining Landscape') was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, in 1959.
In 1964, Mackenzie was made Head of the Department of Fine Art at Plymouth College, a post that he held until 1984. From 1986 until his death, he lived in Penzance. His work can be found in significant public collections, such as the Arts Council, Pallant House, and the Tate.