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Anatole Krasnyansky-Beautiful Paradoxes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by Park West Gallery

Excerpted from the upcoming new book on Anatole Krasnyansky

kras image for blog

With an entirely mischievous twinkle in his eyes he greets me. I ask how he is, and as usual he responds, “Still alive,” with deadpan seriousness.

I have known this man for more than 15 years and every time I am with him I am again surprised and amused by his paradoxes. He is a walking paradox; a tangle of contradictions and ironies in living color. Spend a few moments contemplating one of the twisting, turning, swirling, multi-colored, multi- textured figures that inhabits his art and what is true about him in reality, becomes symbolically true in pigment.

He walks slowly and carefully and carries a cane, but I have watched him dancing (think Groucho Marx meets Henry Kissinger).  He is intimate with the architecture and the liturgical symbolism of the world’s greatest cathedrals and yet I have seen him irreverently posing for photographs as a “saint” by holding a plate over his head to act as a “halo.” His physical appearance and demeanor both exude sophistication and refinement suited to his classical cultural training, yet the genesis of much of his imagery emerges from something as foreign to classicism as rock and roll and “over the top” American entertainment. He cites the stimulus for creating one of his styles as experiencing the band “Kiss” (while working as a set designer) and how he was traumatized to the point of needing to create a cathartic artistic exorcism to feel normal again.

No surprise then that this duality carries into his extraordinary art. I know of very few artists who have worked simultaneously in multiple disparate styles. Yes, artists almost always pass through transformations in their work which often yield dramatic differences in style, subject and content, but Anotole creates a continuing artistic dichotomy to mirror his paradoxical nature.

His “Cityscapes,” which delight so many viewers reveal his deep experience as a draftsman, his brilliance as an architect and his poetic ability to create a poignant, evocative mood through a facile command of the unforgiving technique of watercolor.

His “figural” imagery, steeped in the groundbreaking theories of visual perception that pass from Cezanne, through Picasso, to the aesthetician, Rudolph Arnheim (Art and Visual Perception, 1974) continually wrestle with the complex visual problems of plastic space, color interaction and orchestration of form. Yet both styles reside harmonically in the creative world of Anatole Krasnyansky. He has also sought ways of “reconciling” the two styles of his art, and fusing them into a unique conception. These works display his figures in architectural interiors, with lavish cityscapes seen from the windows, or figures flying above complex architectural structures beneath them. Most recently, he has begun to populate interiors with modeled figures (akin to a notion of sculpture) in various poses and activities, with elaborate and detailed vistas of architectural designs in the distance.

Regarding the content presented in his works, there is also a fascinating duality. Though his works initially appear to be driven by formal concerns, as they “dance” and entertain the eye in an aesthetic “performance,” he also contemplates carefully and with great detail the messages he intends to present. I have listened to him discuss a painting and describe one-by-one each figure presented. With great precision he illuminates the subtle nuances of expression, position, apparent activity and even the costume worn by the figure and its relationship to his messages. Often they carry political meanings and incipient statements about dictatorship, hypocrisy, guile and manipulation stemming from his experience as a Soviet citizen. It is rare to find an artist so fluid in the formal language of art to be so articulate as well in the meanings of his imagery. Most artists allow the viewer to draw one’s own conclusions. Anatole welcomes these as well, but typical of his paradoxical nature is anxious to reveal his own allusions.

It is also this two-sided artistic coin that makes him so interesting in the early 21st Century world in which we reside; a world which seems to be less and less attuned to beautiful artistic dichotomies. Herein is another irony. In a world where the “elite” art of our time resides in an anti-aesthetic, an obsessive artistic narcissism wherein art continually looks at itself in the “pool” of context and asks itself over and over again, “Am I art, or not?”– Anatole’s art evokes powerful responses from thousands of people all over the world. The enthusiasm for his artwork is often dramatic, certainly passionate, and enduring for his devotees. I know collectors who have dozens of Karasnyanskys. Anatole and I have discussed the history of art many times. We’ve walked museums together and contemplated dynastic Asian sculptures, paintings by Velasquez and “installations” composed of truck mud-flaps and lunch box thermoses.

In all of this, I feel comforted though by the thought of future generations viewing his impressive and expansive body of work; his paintings, drawings and prints, and seeing his historical position in the pantheon of the champions of beauty. He has “walked the walk.” And he has devoted his life and career to enriching us through his unflagging efforts, often in the face of extraordinary challenges and difficulties.

Dr. Eleanor Hight’s excellent article which follows adroitly sketches the arc of Anatole’s life and career. It is important that his story is told and the details of his accomplishments be recorded in this beautiful book, this record of his life and art at this place in time. But I know much more.

I know the story of how he borrowed the original watercolor paintingsfrom the Soviet institution that had nationalized them, made copies which he replaced in the frames when returned, and walked on the backs of the originals to make them look old and unimportant when the customs officers located them with his belongings as he departed Ukraine. I have seen these paintings as they now hang on the walls of his living room. I know how that when he proclaimed his intent to leave the U.S.S.R, he became a “marked” man and of the fear and uncertainty he and his young family faced, especially as Jews. I know while barely able to speak English he pretended to have experience as a scenic designer to get his first job in Los Angeles so that he would not have to go onto the streets as a beggar to support his family. I know of the widow of a famous Russian painter who lent him her husband’s studio in California without charging a cent, to allow him to work because she believed in him. I know of his insecurity when he first showed his works to the Dalzell Hatfield Galleries in Los Angeles with master paintings on the walls surrounding him and the joy he felt when he was invited to exhibit there. I know of his love for his family, his strong, smart and devoted wife, Nellie, who has stood by him all these years and been his “rock.” I know of his love of Louis Armstrong, and Mozart, of Kandinsky and El Greco. Yin and Yang. Two sides of a coin.

I know too of his uncompromising dedication to his art; his refusal to accept anything that does not meet his standards; the way he labors and studies his imagery and considers carefully the content it conveys, his preliminary drawings, his printing proofs. He knows that his work needs to be uncompromising because every painting and print released to the world by Anatole Krasnyansky is a piece of his soul, a testament of his dedication to his chosen profession, his struggles, his triumphs and his mark on the history of art. It is part of the narrative of a man born and trained in a communist world whose journey has brought him to a world of nearly limitless freedom. This is a story that resembles many artists who have walked a similar path in their quests to find freedom for their art. But, I can’t think of another who has walked as uniquely as Anatole Kranyansky. Or one who has walked it with so many beautiful paradoxes at play.