The sea of ALEX KANEVSKY
Based on the Interview with NEIL PLOTKIN
More than the representation of
a natural reaction is the constant presence of a powerful movement. A self driven object with no other ambition than to crash where it so desires. Waves-the plural denomination of one ocean’s occurrence, the playful chain of naval manifest, the greatest parade leading up to the horizon. Alex Kanevsky illustrates that movement with precision, capturing all the visual segments that make up these beautiful waves.
Alex Kanevsky is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania based painter who teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He shows at J. Cacciola Gallery and Dolby Chadwick Gallery, and had a show at J. Cacciola Gallery. He also had a show in Milan, Italy at the Barbara Frigerio Gallery in the last years.
“I was fortunate to depart Lithuania and to arrive to the US at the time when I was already well familiar with the European /Eastern European traditions and somewhat educated in that direction, but not convinced yet that I wanted to go in that direction myself. So in the US, I found myself with one foot in each tradition, both feet not too firmly planted. Having been deprived in this way of strong authority figures, I mostly had to fill the vacuum with my own inventions. As the result, I don’t feel strongly tied to either tradition and certainly do not feel myself to be a part of any lineage. It is a rather confusing mix of influences that I never tried to sort out.”
It seems that your work underwent a rapid evolution about 10 years ago, becoming more fluid and comfortable. Can you talk about that transition and how your thinking changed at that time?
“A little more than 10 years ago I won a Pew Grant that allowed me to do nothing but paint for almost two years. Doing that, I discovered continuity. Being able to come back in the morning to the painting I left last night, the memory of the work still fresh, and the sense of flow uninterrupted. It made a big difference to me, probably because I am not a fast painter, so I can never start and finish anything in one day. Usually, the paintings stay with me for weeks or months. The continuity was addictive. It gave me the taste of my personal right modus operandi. When the grant money run out, I realized that I was now committed to this kind of life and would rather be very poor, but paint every day than return to the part-time world. For a while that is what I did, and later the paintings began to sell in the galleries, so I was able to go to my studio and paint every day ever since. That was my personal mini-revolution: the understanding of how I need to function as an artist and the commitment to do just that regardless of the circumstances.
You’re considered by many artists and critics to be extremely at ease in your drawing and painting skills. But you often talk about how difficult you find painting. What are you struggling with right now?
“Well, it is the road with no end. As your skills inevitably get better with time, you expect more from yourself. Skills in themselves, beyond certain serviceable level, don’t matter very much, but I always want to function at the limit of my current abilities to keep things exciting. There should always be danger of painting crushing and burning. I want painting to be difficult so that there is always room for failure. Working this way has an unintended consequence of improving the skills.
The struggle then has nothing to do with the technical difficulties and the level of skills. The struggle is mostly to find clarity.”
You teach at PAFA one day a week. You have said that one day a week is the ideal amount of teaching, what does it bring to you/your artistic practice?
” It keeps me honest and on my toes. We deal with the same painting issues in this class that I face myself every day in my studio. The class forces me to verbalize these issues and find the ways to express them and the solutions clearly. I would not be naturally inclined to do that if it were not for the students. It is clearly an adversarial situation both for them and (less evidently) for me. At the end we all benefit from more clarity.”
Can you describe the perfect studio for you?
The perfect studio is not very important. I think one should not become too attached to buildings and geographical locations even if one works happily there. It is a good idea to move from time to time to shake up the old paradigm. Some things are important to a painter: good constant, natural sunlight. Enough space to walk away from paintings. Otherwise I am more clear on what I don’t want: big multi-studio buildings full of various artists.
What are you obsessed with right now, or what’s inspiring you?
Pure viridian green, colors in Scandinavian cinema, Japanese pottery, making a perfect teacup, digital tapestries, imperfections in digital panorama software, fast painting, different levels of care and carelessness as an expressive tool, human bodies, unconnected riffs, Rorschach test blots, Liu Xiaodong…
What are the lowest and highest points in your career so far?
I love being an artist. Having a career would kill that joy. Career implies progress, some sort of goals and their accomplishment. I don’t have that. I have a stasis, not a career. What I am trying to do is very difficult for me, so there isn’t much of progress or accomplishment of goals. If there were, I would probably be disappointed and have to find something else to do.
I do have highs and lows, though. This painting probably is one of my personal lows. As you can see from the progress sequence, it went on for a very long time. It had stages when I should have left it alone, but I kept on pushing for something else that I wanted and it would not come. Eventually the painting “crushed and burned.” It does not exist anymore. I remember that day — definitely a low.
The highest points also have to do with individual paintings that were difficult, but eventually amounted to something resembling that extreme clarity of my view that I mentioned before. Paintings like these are happy occasions because they push the horizons a little more open and give you permissions to do what didn’t seem possible before.
What would you say to an artist just starting out?
Build up your self esteem to the level that might seem unwarranted. This will help you ignore both positive and negative responses to your paintings. Both are usually misguided, since they come from the outside. Be your most severe and devastating critic, while never doubting that you are the best thing since sliced bread.