THE WORLD OF ALEXEY KRASNOVSKY
An essay by Paul Gardner, 2007
Swimming alone in the Black Sea as a youngster, Alexey Krasnovsky immersed himself in the silence, even when the sea, a very dark blue, seemed agitated. Pushing through the water under heavy skies, he thought to himself, how huge it is, this space, this world! It released within him a longing for life. When the sea was calm, he was able to peer around him with what's called the special "swimmer's eye," in which distant land assumes odd angles, moving away from him in uneven line. The sea, providing a painterly vision of light and ambiguous shadow, was a source of peace within a world of chaos and uncertainty.
Recalling his youth there, where his father was a lighthouse keeper, Alexey Krasnovsky smiles broadly: "I loved my childhood. I remember the dolphins. I remember the revving up of engines of many ships." Krasnovsky, who was born in 1945, transferred the uneasy mixture of peace and uncertain loneliness onto his landscapes.
He focuses, with great affection, on the art of pavements, empty streets and desolate buildings, often slipping away from us at diagonals of "the swimmer's eye." He rarely returns to Russian sites. And yet, he observes, everything he paints is from some far-off memory. Thomas Moore, the 19th-century Irish poet, wrote, "Memory brings the light of other days." For Krasnovsky, memory opens and refreshes his work with surprising resonance. Looking at startling new vistas, Krasnovsky captures dreams of yearning - the yearning of an outsider in a new land who cannot forget fragments of his life experience. Krasnovsky confides, without embarrassment, "The scenes I paint reflect the heartbeat of my own sadness."
[As a young adult] Krasnovsky realized that since he could not swim to America, he would attempt to paint his way there. At age 33, he finally succeeded when he sprinted to the American Embassy and explained that his desire to seek asylum wasn't political. "I just want the opportunity to paint. I don't want limits put on me." The Embassy helped him reach Vienna, a diplomatic East-West crossroad, where he lived for two years. He received aid from the Tolstoy foundation and his work was shown in a group exhibition in Vienna. The recognition made him feel rich.
Arriving in America, he settled in New York City and the borough of Queens. His printing and lithography skills kept him alive. He learned English by watching TV and listening to locals on the street. He stared at the surrounding asphalt, marveling at the endless cracked and fagged sidewalks. Street scenes were burned into his mind.
A humble, modest man, Alexey Krasnovsky finds his rewards in humble, modest scenes. His humanity is always evident, though he remains the observer intrigued by the angle of a street, a building, a doorway. He concentrates on the cities of his new life - their strange, almost lurid heat. His appreciation of mood and atmosphere draws you into each scene. Oranges, reds, limpid blues unravel, expose or turn the table of your mind as if these colours tell a story that only the artist knows; nonetheless, you are there, within the tale.
- Paul Gardner is the author of Louise Bourgeois (Universe/Rizzoli) and produces art documentaries, the latest Richard Tuttle: Never Not an Artist (Twelve Films).