Articles, Blog

Alex Kanevsky. Painting as a form of dialogue.

J.W.i., 2014

There is still the question of what should and should not be considered art, what defines beauty and what is simply the reflection of a cultural and social crisis. We continue to classify knowledge in sets which are now without meaning, demarcations which have been overcome even by their supporters. Is the viewer who is engaged by such questions really looking at the artwork? Is he/she communicating with its author? Or is he/she an inattentive viewer who is chasing something which satisfies his/her personal, yet standardized, hedonistic research?

Big Bed, 2010 - Kanevsky

Big Bed, 2010

Whatever the scope is, every author starts a conversation, takes the first, second or last speaking turn, and knowing the subject is not so necessary in order to be invited to listen. Whatever the challenge and the “circumstances” are, the author chooses some elements, either phonemes, traces or numbers, and relates them to each other, allowing them to communicate to each other.

“I suppose, if painting is a form of language, I attempt to create a language, foreign to all but myself, and then say a few things in that language in such a way that would make it clear to anybody who listens, even if the language remains foreign to them.”

In a historical moment in which, with increasing conviction, we foreshadow the comeback to classical arts and to those artistic forms of expression which, until recently, we would undoubtedly considered unable to represent the contemporary world, painting and drawing once again become the favourite instruments to examine visual language and its perception. The artwork becomes a bridge between the sender and the recipient of the message, who are sometimes the same person, the same performing subject, or the artwork itself becomes the message, the process, the assertion which is made by means of the selected language.
However, this discourse can assume multiple meanings and provide several interpretations, which increase in turn, enriching the vocabulary and varying the recipient of the message. The risk of this wonderful and exponential form of communication is becoming an extremely modern Babel unless the viewer pays attention, stops to listen, to look in order to have the chance of actively entering the dialogue or even only becoming the recipient of a message.

J.F.H. Ten Times, 2010

J.F.H. Ten Times, 2010

After paying attention, after listening to and looking at Alex Kanevsky’s research, being Kanevsky an author who defined painting as a form of dialogue on several occasions, let us read a statement, from an interview he has given, which resumes his entire visual research and confirms our introduction:

“I suppose, if painting is a form of language, I attempt to create a language, foreign to all but myself, and then say a few things in that language in such a way that would make it clear to anybody who listens, even if the language remains foreign to them.”

Kanevsky’s paintings and drawings are researches on visual perception. The author chooses natural phenomena, landscapes and, mostly, the existential nudity of the human being as subjects; these subjects allude to great universal themes, but deprived of any narrative reference and of minor importance to Kanevsky, who uses them.

Kanevsky lives in Philadelphia (USA) and teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he himself studied between 1989 and 1993, but he is native of Rostvo-na Donu, a province in Russia, and he spent some years in Vilnius (Lithuania), where he graduated in Mathematics. Mathematician and painter.

Engeneer's Body

Engeneer’s Body

In his works, Kanevsky portrays the subject with detachment and without any emotional
participation. The viewpoint changes as the nature of the vision varies: in the portrays we attend to the intimate confession which a body makes in the presence of a silent observer, who watches from the outside and takes notice of its every slightest movement in the space; in the plein air landscapes or in the interior scenes, instead, Kanevsky leads us into a 360° vision of which he himself is the centre.

He catches and fixes the transition of the object in space and time on the canvas as well as the perception, by nature impossible, of this passage to his eyes. By looking for the exactness in the rendering of the movement, Kanevsky uses his knowledge of optical aberrations, sometimes also observing the object through a camera lens, which is capable of making unpredictable visual mistakes due to technical defects which are quite similar to the optical illusions of the human eye.

His look is filtered by an invisible lens which allows the division of the phases through which a form passes in the space-time, subverting the paradox of the continuity of visual perception. This process is more visible in the drawings, where the shape is defined by traces and signs as if they were the imprints of the movements of matter.

J.W.i., 2014

J.W.i., 2014

It is the colour that builds the vision in the paintings: innumerable layers of sharp-cornered and iridescent brush strokes overlap each other so as to create a sense of definite unity, fully expressing an axiom of the Gestalt psychology which states that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The layers which build the image are discontinuous, they break into seemingly arbitrary sequences, and, in the portions of empty space they thus create, in the slits, you clearly recognize the former passages, the remains of a now passed and already changed movement. It is exactly these differences that give dynamism to the figure, so as to every portrayed character is defined by his/her same movement.

The capture of a change which is imperceptible and performed in an infinitely short time needs, conversely, a quite long period of preparation, which is necessary to the sedimentation of the single images of the work on the retina and the surface.

The building of the shape is made by means of the juxtaposition of different phases, and the representation of single frames of a subject’s gesture from a viewpoint which records its every microscopic aspect paradoxically expresses its timelessness and universality. Partly as it happens in Balla’s “Ragazza che corre sul balcone”, and partly by developing the premises assumed by Seurat’s pointillism or the Divisionism in the expression of a uniform vision in the human perception, which is obtained by splitting up the image into really tiny basic elements tied to each other by relationships of colour and shape. Or again, the research of the visual exactness in the variation is modelled on Morandi’s still lifes, hundreds of compositions of objects which are treated as if they were real landscapes, extremely close and usual landscapes, exposed to constant changes in light and viewpoint.

Diego with His Knives

Diego with His Knives

Having appropriated the lesson taught by his chosen masters and contemporaries, first and foremost Euan Uglow, Kanevsky adds a sort of scientificity to the observation of the space-time variables of a body. He photographs the chosen subject, stumbling across technical distortions willingly, if not intentionally, and he ponders over the pictorial work at a later time. He cooperates with male and female models, who work with him for years, and he paints their spontaneous gestures and their silent emotional intensity, which, in Kanevsky’s view, represents the key to his relationship with everything he portrays.

However, according to Kanevsky, drawing is a more abstract form of communication. The subjects of the drawings are bodies which are pulled out from their contexts and placed in a uterine and neutral space, within which they make movements which are recognizable and isolated from one another. Here there is not an atmospheric rendering obtained through layers of dense and coloured brush strokes, but rather there is the intensification of the representation of the shapes of movement, which highly resembles Muybridge’s photographic experiments.

It is the “Progress sequences” that confirm his scientific approach to the image: these are different series of frames which show all the phases related to the building and the composition of the artwork and preceding the completion of the artwork itself. Ultimately, the author analyses his own method, explores the concept of time through his images as well as the time of painting, making a metalinguistic experiment.