Archive for January, 2009

Alex Kanevsky

January 8, 2009

INTERVIEW WITH ALEX KANEVSKY (painter of this painting right underneath here)


Q. To what extent does formal training inform what you do? did you study any formal or classical system (such as cast copies or sight-size excercises) at the pennsylvania academy? If so, how far has your process strayed from your training?

A. The formal training was some years ago, so you might say I have strayed quite a bit. When I was at school I did all the casts and site-size exercises and what not, but never very enthusiastically. I pretty much treated classes as opportunities to paint models anyway I saw fit. So I was asked by my teachers several times why was I in their classes in the first place if I ignored the assignments. You know: why paint with limited pallet, for example, just because some guy to told you to do it, when you can use all these colors? I suppose I always thought of good painting as something that happens as a reaction to, not because of schooling.

Q. How do you approach measuring? how about the block in? are you very precise, or are you allowing for correction in subsequent layers? it seems to me this sort of “rubbing out” or painting over without removing the artifacts from the previous layer is key to the richness of the final works. An evidence of process perhaps?

A. I don’t really measure anything. I try go purely by sight. Not because I am so precise, but because I need opportunities to make “mistakes”. Some struggle, conflict with reality is what makes perceptual painting interesting to me. You are right – there is a lot of fast, imprecise painting that goes on with subsequent repainting in hope to find the illusive reality. The evidence is, of course, present in the paintings. They are in some ways diaries of their own creation. If I give them opportunity to get out of control, my work becomes a form of dialogue rather than mere exercise in imposing my will on them.

Q. On your website, you have an interesting section documenting the progression of several paintings. Approximately how long does each session/phase take you? Is the model always there, or do you use photography ever?

A. Each session is between 2 hours and an entire day. This can go on for weeks or even months with interruptions when I loose my way. The models are not always there. Some of the best work happens right after a model leaves for the day, while the memory is still fresh. Depending on the painting it might be purely work with a model or purely from a photo. Or a mix of the both. Photography is very useful, but not as a form of reference. It is mostly useful as a way to remove oneself one step away from my own perception of reality which is colored by all sorts of sentiments.

Q. In criticism, we often ignore the physicality of paint itself. With this in mind, I’m curious about the alchemical mixtures you’re using. what are the ingredients in your paint “soup”? Do you use any industrial (wall) paints? what kinds of mediums if any?

A. There is not much soup. I don’t have secret formulas. Just good quality oil and sometimes alkyd paints, Liquin and sometimes turp. I don’t use any industrial (wall) stuff. I rely on subtle color and texture shifts, and the industrial stuff is formulated for consistency and uniformity. It is hard to push around. Besides, I don’t trust their quality. Judging from my own experiences in house-painting, the manufacturers of the wall painting want you to have to repaint your wall every few years.
Q. what’s your approach to mixing colour? do you mix on the canvas or on the pallette? How many pigments are you typically working with?

A. I try to arrive at canvas (actually, more often board) with a color already well mixed. Then I can see it clearly for what it is. If I am not satisfied with it I will continue to change it, but always by working into it something already mixed. The less you push around the color already on canvass, the fresher it looks. If I can’t get what I want after one or two attempts, I return to it when it is dry. Keeps things fresh.

Q. How deliberate has the journey been in developing your style? did you (and do you) have a clear overarching vision of what you wanted ( a “how to” journey), or was the process more trial and error (a “what if” journey)?

A. I am not interested in style. Style is for fashion designers. They have the problem of maintaining a signature look while trying to fit into this or that general trend. I am interested in neither one of these objectives. If my paintings express my own perception of the world with clarity and commitment, they will always look like they are mine. If my perception or creative process changes, the painting “style” might also change. I just have to let the cheeps fall where they may and deal with consequences.

For each individual painting I have a very clear and concise vision of what it should be. I am committed to it. But, as I said, my work is a form of dialogue, so as a result of my experiences while working on it my vision of what it should be, my ideas of what I want often change quite drastically. There are also times when it becomes clear that what I wanted is impossible, and it has to be abandoned. This is very disappointing and it takes a while to accept the fact. For example, the painting of the male figure in my website’s progression series eventually crushed and burned after two years of struggle.

Q. Who are some of your key influences?

A. Diebenkorn, Morandi, Freud, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Lopez Garcia, Ingres, Kline, Giacometti, Cezanne…

Q. biggest challenge?

A. There are things that appear very difficult if not impossible. I would like one day to try to do a good painting of either Elvis or kittens. At this point i don’t even know where to begin. What I am trying to say that it would be interesting to take an iconic image overloaded with industrial strength sentiment and try to rescue the image, overcoming this sentiment. To distill it free of all ascribed meaning, as it were.

Q. What contemporary artists are you interested in these days?

A. Cecily Brown when she paints well, Hokney’s drawings, Nan Goldin, William Eggleston, Euan Uglow, Sophie Jodoin, Peter Doig, Ann Gale, and many others – in no particular order
Q. Is painting a comforting endeavour, or is it terrifiying? maybe neither? what’s your relationship to the process?

A. Certainly not comforting. Who wants comforting? It is not a sofa. Nor is it terrifying. Painting is not something I do to a canvas. It is a form of conversation, and just like a conversation it can turn out exciting, boring, ugly, beautiful, enlightening. Like a conversation, it can have unexpected turns, sudden discoveries and hidden subtext and periods of silence. All this is what makes painting endlessly fascinating

To see Amore of Alex’s work, visit:

If you are interested in other interviews, go to:

Also be sure to check out the latest Charlie Kaufman film “Synecdoche” which features Kanevsky’s art