Interview with Alex Lavrov
(published in VOYZX Art magazine #7, vol. III (January – April 2020))
Alex, you attribute your artworks to surrealism. Can you explain why? Does it mean that you accept the basics and philosophy of the well known Surrealist Manifesto? Are there any other reasons?
For me surrealism is an art style, not a philosophy. It’s more of an amusing visual (or otherwise) expression rather than a tool to impact societal views and behaviors.
If I understand some of Breton’s ideas expressed in the surrealist manifesto correctly, he was trying to shatter the established traditions in art and society in general through the use of this, then emerging, art form. It was necessary in those days. Since then, I think, surrealists accomplished a great deal in shaping the modern perception of art. Thanks to them we have an abundance of art styles and a great freedom in art expression nowadays. I don’t think there is a need to break any more rules or traditions, not in art anyway
I don’t really like the term “automatism” that they used to describe they’re creative flow, it inevitably, at least in my mind, associates with automatic, mechanical, robotic, lifeless, etc. Breton wrote: “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern”. I think “improvisation” would suit much better what Breton was describing in his manifesto.
I think in those days, about a 100 years ago, Breton and his group of creatives were heavily influenced by the ideas of popular psychology, especially those proposed by Sigmund Freud. If I’m not mistaken, he was thinking of the subconscious mind as a bundle of blind forces, “automatic processes”. I’m not an expert in psychology, but I think that’s where Freud was wrong. My point of view is that the subconscious mind is the mother of all creation, including the conscious mind. The conscious mind is like a wave rising from the surface of the ocean (the subconscious).
In my opinion, all great and original ideas are first conceived in the subconscious and later are adopted by the conscious mind.
Tell us about your journey into fine art. How and when did you decide to devote yourself to visual arts? What does fine art mean for you?
I was more or less serious about being an artist since the age of 15. Before that, I was kind of avoiding it for childish reasons, mainly because it wasn’t considered cool enough in my peers’ eyes. Also I didn’t see any art that could influence me into pursuing this career. We didn’t have internet then, all I knew about art was through the artworks that could be seen in a local gallery or in books as illustrations.
Only after I had a chance to see some impressive artworks, my interest in art started to grow. But the road of becoming an artist turned out to be quite bumpy. After embarking on this journey I had to take brakes due to financial issues and other personal struggles. But I always returned and continued on my path.
Looking back I see that art plays a central role in my life, I can’t simply get rid of it. Art was my mentor when I was at a loss, soother when I was suffering, helper when I struggled.
When looking at your art one can see a solid background in terms of education. Could you tell us about your education in fine arts – your teachers and influencers?
As a child I was able to doodle better than most kids of my age, but I didn’t take it seriously until the age of 15 as I mentioned already. At that time I acquired a new group of friends that were more artistically inclined than my previous one. It would be fair to say that my new friends were my first art influencers and introducers into the world of fine art. Thanks to them I began to be more artistically expressive.
I started to try my skills in writing poetry and attempting my first surreal drawings. I signed up for classes in local art school, but never completed my studies. At the age of 16 I moved to Israel. After the initial assimilation in the new environment I continued studying painting at the private art atelier of Galina Telpis for a couple of years. There were other art and design classes I took along the way. I also got a diploma in 3D animation, but I quit the industry pretty much the moment I completed my education. Sitting all day in front of the computer isn’t for me it turns out.
Your style is very distinguished. How did you come to adopt it?
If my memory is not deceiving me, my actual interest in art and its possibilities started to emerge when I saw the works of Boris Vallejo. His highly detailed depictions of monsters and half naked women set in fantasy worlds could stir the imagination of any developing teenage boy. Later on, when I became acquainted with the mind-blowing works of surrealists, especially Dali, I embarked on the journey of becoming an artist. I went deeper into studying art, its technicalities and history. One of my favourite artists from the old masters became Hieronymus Bosch. His fantastic depictions of hell, weird worlds and their inhabitants are quite surreal, though in those days they didn’t have the concept yet. Later on my interests shifted more towards cubism and symbolism, the styles that still are my favorite up until now.
Partly, my artworks look the way they are, is because I work a bit differently from the way I was taught by my art instructors. Generally speaking, you are supposed to squeeze out onto the palette only those paints that you need to work on a predetermined piece of art (usually somewhere between 4 and 10 colors).
Since my art is improvised I never know which paints I will be needing.
I have 20 different colors on my palette at any given moment. I need to be ready for the caprices of the subconscious drives. You never know where they gonna take me. But it doesn’t mean that I use all the colors in each session and quite often there will be the dried out paint on my palette, which wasn’t touched at all. I know it’s a waste, but there’s not much “I” can do. The subconscious is the creator, “I’m” just a helper.
Coming back to influence. In our opinion, a strong influence of cubism can be seen in your artworks. At the same time, it also can be seen as an opposition to cubism. We could assume that, considering the conceptual construction and composition of your artworks, there are many parallels with the artworks of Pavel Filonov, the famous Russian, later Soviet, artist of the early XX century, who is considered a founder of analytical art. Would you agree that your artworks can be attributed to analytical art?
It’s interesting that you’ve mentioned Filonov as he is one of my biggest influencers of all time. His “dissection” method is something that has always fascinated me. I would like to mention though that the term “Analytical Art” as something opposing to Cubism (“anti-cubism”) was his own invention. In my opinion, without going deep into his philosophical views, his art style is a variation of Cubism. The only substantial difference between Cubism and Analytical Art is the subject matter. Cubism deals with the outer world as opposed to Analytical Art, which concerns itself with the inner world of a human being.
“Where do you draw the line between inner and outer?”, if I may ask. If there is a distinct line between inner and outer worlds, I doubt anyone can define it. It is a big philosophical dilemma which I shan’t attempt to clarify except providing an example. When you see an object (a bird for instance) in the external world, it’s undeniably there, but it also is in your brain as a perception, as a reflection in the mirror. So where is it really from your perspective? Inside or outside? On the other hand you have the so called “inner world”, but if you take a closer look at it, it is really constructed out the pieces taken from the external. Our experiences are based on interactions with external objects, our memories are basically photos and videos borrowed from reality. We often attempt to rearrange these recorded pieces of reality and then we call it “imagination”. Our imagination is really just a byproduct of these memories and experiences. That’s how I see it. But I digress. Every original artist adds something new to the style he/she works in. I don’t think there’s a need to classify differently every new variation of that style.
Going back to your question. I would definitely agree that my art could be attributed to Analytical Art, since its subject matter is mainly extracted out of my “inner world”, as it is commonly understood. My themes are psychological and philosophical and not merely the objects existing in the outer reality.
Take for example one of my latest artworks “Imaginary Friends”, where I depict the world of thought processes. “Thinking” is a fascinating subject in itself. Without going deep into the core understanding of the nature of thought, I would like to give an example of what I mean. Let’s say that one thought process takes the role of one person (myself for instance) and another process the role of a person I had a conversation an hour ago on the street. The person I had a conversation with is long gone, but in my mind I still continue our conversation, repeating what was said or thinking what I would say differently. The person I’m talking to exists in my imagination only at the moment, in other words he’s my imaginary friend. This painting is clearly has little to do with external reality, it depicts the workings of human mind.
Another one of my recent artworks that comes to mind is “Caffeinated”. The subject of the painting is about the “high” that caffeine gives you. If you ever had a bit too much of coffee to drink you’ll know what I mean. That feeling of elation and readiness to do things, boost in confidence. It’s not something that you “see” as an object in the external world, but rather a subtle change in your physical sensations.
I think that the majority of my works could be attributed to Analytical Art, but as I mentioned before, I don’t really see the need as it is simply can be considered as a variant of Cubism.
Your artworks don’t seem to annihilate existing order and relationships, as the philosophy of surrealism proclaims. This idea can be traced back to many classical surreal artworks. On the contrary, you examine your objects as a whole and as fragments, you study interactions between them and emphasize the most important. Then you present the results of your research and analysis to your audience. How can you comment on this?
I guess I’m drawn to a story that is grounded in reality as opposed to surrealism, the purpose of which (at least according to Breton) is to shake the very foundation that reality stands on by eliminating the common sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love surrealism in its multitude of forms, it’s very entertaining to witness. But when I’m the one who expresses through art, I like to convey a solid idea or tell a story, to make an impact on the audience by opening a conversation with it and possibly to bring a life changing experience. Some of my artworks may seem surreal at first glance, but there is always a hidden meaning which is expressed through symbolism. That being said, I like implementing surrealism in my artworks, but only because I enjoy this visual style, not because I agree or disagree with the underlying surrealism philosophy.
One of my latest works “Puppet show” for example, has a strong resemblance to surrealism. It certainly is true, but if you are interested enough to look for a meaning in this painting, you’ll discover that the objects and their relationships with each other is not coincidental. There is a deep underlying symbolism. The story/idea depicted in this painting can be interpreted in various ways. Who is the puppeteer? Is it a societal rules controlling our freedom? Is it the relationship between two people? Why is the puppeteer has holes for eyes? Why there are holes in the hands? Is the whole in abdominal area really a hole or is it an illusion created by the spaghetti like shape of the body? Why are the feet of the puppeteer and the puppets are melted together? Could it be that this is a single being? Etc. These questions have different answers, depending on a person viewing them.
We can say that your artworks reflect various sides and observations of our day-to-day life. What are your sources of inspiration? What attracts your attention, what triggers your artistic mind? How do you choose the themes of your next artwork?
I’m afraid I don’t choose the themes for my next artwork, my subconsciousness does, it’s where my inspiration and everything else artistic comes from. Let me elaborate. I don’t sit in front of the clean canvas thinking: “Hmmmm. What should I paint today? Where should I begin?” I did this when I drew my first drawings and painted my first paintings. You could clearly see the influence of Dali in those first attempts. I was also imagining various objects and trying to arrange and combine them in a “weird” composition on paper/canvas. But it doesn’t work this way. Someone once said (don’t remember who): “Conscious mind CANNOT create anything original, it can only arrange old things in a new order!” Over the years, in order to create original art, I’ve learned to trust the subconscious to do the job. Now I just approach the canvas with my palette and brushes and start painting without any beforehand planning. Then, layer after layer, the shapes become sharper, the colors more distinct, the shadows deeper. The painting starts to show it’s character. This is when the conscious mind comes in and says: “Ahh! I know what this one is about!”
With that being said, the subject matter is not disconnected from the reality I’m in. It’s usually something that I was deeply influenced by at some point in my life. Let’s take as an example one of my recent artworks “Raskolnikov’s Dream”. Not too long ago I finally finished Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, it was my 4th attempt to read this book over the years. The scene that left the biggest impression on me was the scene where Raskolnikov murders his two victims, especially when he deals with the second lady, the one he didn’t plan to kill. She came home earlier than expected to meet her fate. Not that I enjoy murder stories or excited by crime, but the actual depiction of that scene left me in a pondering mood for some time. A couple of months after I finished the book, my subconscious mind “blurted out” the painting, so to speak.
Another example that I would like to bring to your attention is my latest work “Improvisers”. I was for a long time fascinated by improvising comedians, the way they create a scene on stage out of nothing without preparation for our amusement. They do something very similar to what I do with visual art, but they use a very different medium, namely acting. In the past few months I started to take more interest in “improv”. Went to see some local shows, watched a lot of performances on youtube, took some workshops. In short, I really immersed myself into this whole thing. As something that had a great impact on my existence, it was impossible to avoid using this subject in one of my artworks. Subconscious mind absorbs everything that it interacts with all the time.
So to answer your question it would be appropriate to say that everything that the subconscious consumes is digested and later comes out onto a canvas. Whereas I (the conscious mind) look at it and marvel.