No matter what happens, nothing stands still. Even in the moments that feel like time itself has stopped, there is no hiatus. It's the passage of time, captured both as a flux-state, but also an existential feeling, that gives Alex Kanevsy's work the magnetism and psychological depth of the best portraitists to precede him.
Painting is a static pursuit. Not for the artist themselves, but the subjects that they capture stay still, as much as motion might be a part of the image itself. Physics cannot be defied. Yet, Alex Kanevsky almost does. His portraits aren't as much a single image as a composite of moments - closely related, but entirely separate. They come together in a chaotic dance, like a jigsaw that can be completed even though the parts don't exactly fit. Life in itself is chaos, no matter how much we try to instil order. Kanevsky knows this and captures it unlike any other.
Before him came Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon, two portraitists who abstracted their physical subject into a psychological being - almost as if the painting session itself was a psychoanalytical process. Kanevsky looks at time and memory, acknowledging their deeply fragmented nature and in doing so, their natural limits. There's only so much that can be captured in a painting - yet the Russian born artist seems to manage just a little bit more.
His style, which seems so natural, truly is. Growing up in Soviet Russia, Kanevsky was exposed to the prevalent form of art - a brand of realism that could (and arguably should) be cautiously viewed as propaganda - one that Kanevsky viewed as "the usual official drivel about workers and peasants engaged in heroic toil, done up in the style of the time, both bombastic and sentimental, heavy on dappled sunlight and Popeye-esque forearms."
It was this early scrutiny towards the prevailing narrative, the propaganda of his homeland, that appears to have led to the inquisitive nature of the artist. There are the people we see, the people we know and then the ones we truly understand. Understanding people through portraiture goes beyond painting a likeness, and into the intangibles, capturing something that will arrest the audience. In portraits, an artist stops time, even when portraying its passage - but perhaps more importantly, they must stop that of the audience.
After Russia came a move to the charismatic capital of Baltic Lithuania - Vilnius. Here, the young artist's eyes were opened to new horizons that were a far cry for the art he had grown up with, despite its proximity to his former home. Here, the prevailing expressionistic mode of artistic being prevailed. Leaving the social realism at home, his art became inflected with an emotional depth that is often eschewed by authoritarian regimes.
This wasn't the final step though. Vilnius eventually ran its course and the developing artist required a new arena for his artistic pathway and so decided to go to Philadelphia. It was at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts that he began to hone a unique artistic voice and won himself a fellowship grant enabling Kanevsky to develop over a two year period without interruption. In that time, galleries began to take notice of his deeply resonant works.
Kanevsky has dichotomised time into speed and stillness that he explores through a textured and layered approach, building a narrative that we can both understand, yet try to guess, by fracturing the linearity of time as we understand it to be.
The result, unflinchingly honest, ranks alongside the aforementioned in terms of the depth of study into the nature of the mind. Even the process is a continual adjustment to the hands of the clock as Kanevsky paints fast, with fairly fast-drying materials, to capture a feeling and a sense, something overarching a mere aesthetic depiction of life.
Fluctuating between a solid composition and moments of erasure means that a painting is never finished until it actually is. The endline is never in sight, because the starting line has never been established. Connection is clear. The timeline of the artwork, the way the first painted stroke somehow figures itself into the final one. Kanevsky holds a deep connection to his subjects, often knowing them for years, to allow a sense of magic to enter - opportunities to pick up on the minuscule movements, the invisible habits that might have happened in the past, but make sense to depict now.
These are dreamy paintings that strike at the heart of reality's impermanence and futility, yet at the endless possibilities of the artist as creator and God, where one person can navigate times and dimensions to make a person's entire life become distilled as life on a static page.
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