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A L E X K A N E V S K Y Some Paintings In No Particular Style

HOLLI S TAGGART GALLER I ES

ALE X K ANE VSK Y Some Paintings In No Particular Style

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A LE X K A N E VS KY Some Paintings In No Particular Style

March 9 to April 8, 2017

HOLLI S TAGGART GALLER I ES 521 W 26th Street 7th Floor NY, NY 10001 212 628 4000 hollistaggart.com

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Foreword Alex Kanevsky is a painter’s painter, independent and self-assured, with a remarkable ability to surprise and intrigue the viewer through skillfully orchestrated compositions. He has a preference for the enigmatic, the unconventional, and the unexpected as opposed to the easily discerned or understood. He deliberately refrains from explanation, and as a result it is left up to the viewer to interpret what is seen through his or her own personal lens. From a technical viewpoint, Alex is a virtuoso. His application of paint recalls the technique of John Singer Sargent, with a comparable feeling for color, light, and movement. His figurative works are unique in their presentation of the human form as fractured, shimmering, and multifaceted, as if suspended in time and space or existing in another realm. Combining the powerful presentation of Francis Bacon and the understated excellence of Albert York, Alex demonstrates an intimate understanding of the human form and is able to depict it in a manner that is gripping, provoking, and demanding of attention and interpretation. Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings In No Particular Style comprises an entirely new body of work. As the title suggests, this group of paintings is the result of the artist’s stylistic experimentations, though Alex never strays too far from his signature approach. The gallery is delighted that such a dynamic painter is part of our contemporary program and we enthusiastically present these paintings to the public. Many thanks go to the entire HTG staff, in particular Ashley Park for an essay that reveals close interaction with the artist. For his engrossing and thought-provoking discussion of Alex’s paintings we thank David Reeve. Our indefatigable designer, Russell Hassell and our highly professional printer, Robert Nangle, also have our utmost appreciation. Hollis Taggart

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Meditations on Some Paintings by Ashley Park A bright winter light shone through the large windows of Alex Kanevsky’s studio during our recent conversation, providing a stark contrast to the darkly enigmatic paintings that surrounded us. This group of works, so varied in style and subject, is unified by a shared sense of mystery and narrative opacity, a resistance to simple explanation. The artist hopes the viewer will be prompted by this complexity to a deeper consideration, and perhaps further on to personal interpretation that forms a stronger bond with the work than a received visual narrative would have formed. “I try to trigger narratives that are not mine but actually belong to the viewer.” 1 His paintings act as mirrors, reflecting whatever the viewer has brought before them by leaving generous space for ambiguity. Imagined landscapes recur in this group, both with and without figures. Several of these compositions come from time spent in the artist’s small studio in the woods of New Hampshire. In New Hampshire Trees (pl. 19), Kanevsky “wanted to paint the landscape as a series of overlapping densities, rather than any particular trees or any particular places.” This indefiniteness is shared by all of his landscapes, lending them an ethereal, in-between quality. They exist between abstraction and representation, between this world and another. Sleeping in New Hampshire 1 (pl. 16), occupies this same space, but has inserted a model into this foreign landscape. She lounges on a brightly colored quilt: “it’s absolutely unreasonably saturated, bright colors, and models look great on it. It represents somebody’s version of nature, and so I thought it would make sense to insert the whole thing into a painting of nature, sort of like nature and somebody’s idea of nature.” This introduces another kind of layering into the work, not just the pictorial layering of forest density, but an ontological layering of representations of nature: Kanevsky’s, the quilt maker’s, and the viewer’s. This combination also occurs in JFH with Nature Blanket (pl. 9), where the garish bedspread has been replaced by a centuries-old heirloom that enshrouds the model: “to me it was interesting because the blanket represented a kind of touching idealized version of nature. She was surrounded by the very scraggly New Jersey hillside, which really was real nature, and the blanket was there to hide nature from sight, because under the blanket she was nude, as she usually is in the paintings. So the whole situation was very complicated and beautiful.” In these and several other compositions, Kanevsky juxtaposes the wild beauty of the natural world with the more contained beauty of the female nude, as well as with manufactured images of nature. The nude in the landscape takes a darker turn in C.B. with Darkness (pl. 10). Kanevsky probes primal feelings with these works. He elaborates: “Figures in the dark are worrisome. Why is she in the dark? Is it scary? Is it exciting?” This uncertainty is heightened by the foregrounding of the nude rather than the landscape, which increases the tendency toward narrative, and by translating the scene from day to night, thereby obscuring the details of the model’s surroundings. In all, the pervading tone of the work is one of mystery and potential, almost portentousness. Should we be worried about her? It is this sense of mystery that Kanevsky hopes will “trigger” the viewer to craft a personal, responsive relationship with the work. Kanevsky’s triggering impulse at times takes a whimsical turn, as in M.S.S. with Fish (pl. 6). Standing before this picture, there is “a dark moment of wondering what the hell is going on, and then realizing that nothing really terrible is going on.” Instead of a wide surgical gash or a strange mechanical apparatus, the

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work depicts nothing more than a woman lying prone with a red snapper on her back. “Nonsensical situations like this, they kind of derail people’s normal tendency to build a narrative into the paintings. I want to sabotage that [impulse toward narrative] because I don’t really care what’s happening. I’m there for the visual, the visual language.” What sets Kanevsky apart is precisely this unique visual language. His system of abstraction captures movement and time in a way that resists adherence to a single moment or a single interpretation. His approach to abstraction is layered and painterly, and he takes obvious pleasure in the materiality of paint. Paint asserts itself throughout these works, as in the energetic streaks of green and white in New Hampshire Trees or even more subtly in Bathroom with Reflection (pl. 1). This interior scene, taken from a photograph of the dilapidated Divine Lorraine hotel in Philadelphia, depicts a spare bathroom in tones of cool blue and white. A close inspection reveals that the titular “reflection” is in fact that of a hovering spot of blue paint, brighter and more animated than the surrounding blues. Kanevsky describes this work as “French cerulean reflecting itself in the mirror.” As for its unusual handling of the intersection between material and subject, he continues: ”People forget that paintings are really flat works, so this painting questions itself, its own structure. What is it? Is it an object, or is it a window? Does the blob exist in the bathroom?” These questions drill down to an essential formal layering found in Kanevsky’s work. He builds up strata of paint alongside strata of experience, leaving both in a shifting, shimmering state that the viewer must decipher. Perhaps the most visually striking work in the exhibition is Dinner on a Battlefield (pl. 23). This is Kanevsky’s third iteration of this composition, based on a found photograph of French and Serbian soldiers in World War I who have paused the bloody business of battle to gather for a civilized sit-down dinner. The artist came across this photograph several years ago and was immediately drawn to both the subject and the composition, with opposing soldiers seated together, separated by a white tablecloth and fine china. The figures are obviously posturing, seated rod-straight with chests puffed out, and have brought their finest—the man at front right has donned a voluminous fur coat. In this canvas, Kanevsky moves the scene from the open-air battlefield into an enigmatic interior. Doors can be seen at right and left, but the molten wall at back flows slowly downward, rippling like a slow stream over the heads of the seated guests. In our conversation, Kanevsky referenced a postcard he received from a friend depicting a many-headed, multi-limbed Hindu deity as a source for the dreamlike reverberations emanating from the seated figures. Dinner on a Battlefield epitomizes the alchemical energy of Kanevsky’s work. Throughout these paintings, he shifts easily between the recognizable world and pure form and color, seamlessly interweaving truth and aesthetics, this world and another. It is this in-between space that allows the viewer to enter his creations, to inhabit the narratives that they themselves create with the artist’s prompting. In this way, we become players on his stages, together performing “the endless mess of being.” 1. All quotes are the words of the artist, from a January 2017 conversation between the author and the artist in his Philadelphia studio.

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Alex Kanevsky: Love, Beauty, Possession by C.D.C. Reeve In one of the greatest of all works on love, Plato’s Symposium, there is a priceless moment at which Socrates, famous for claiming to know only that he knows nothing, says that there is one thing he does know, and that is what he calls ta erôtika—“the art of love,” as translators render it—“erotics.” What lies behind his apparently contradictory self-characterization is that in Greek the verb eran (to sexually love) and the verb erotan (to ask questions) overlap. So Socrates’ ta erôtika is at once an erotics and an art of asking questions—the one art that someone who knows nothing can in fact master. And the deep truth about eros that is thereby dramatized is that answers glut our desires, whereas questions—which by their very nature alert us to our need for answers—make us hungry. Talk of erotics is bound to remind us of two great Susan Sontagisms: “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art” and “interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.” Now an erotics of art, as I imagine it, would be something that made you hungry for the art itself, while the revenging intellect would attempt to satisfy your hunger with something else: with some theory, or some words, that would, in the present instance, be the purported takeaway from Alex’s show—what it all means. So, as a lover of Alex’s paintings, part of my task is to put the questions to them that they raise in me, in the hopes that they will make you question them more and more—make you want to go on actively feasting your eyes and minds on them. Let us first focus on Models Painting Themselves (pl. 15). In it, one woman lies prone on the paintsplattered studio floor while another kneels over her. Who is painting whom? The kneeling model seems to be painting the prone one. Is the light paint on the prone figure’s face and chest revealing or occluding her? What about the white on the kneeling figure’s back? How did the white paint get there? Since the kneeling figure cannot have put it there herself, it must be the prone figure who put it there. And when she put it there, was it to white the kneeling figure out of the painting? Similar considerations apply to the kneeling figure: she too, it seems, is painting out, not in. So the way the models are painting themselves is stranger than it first appears. For the prone figure is painting herself into the painting by painting the kneeling figure out of it, and vice versa. And what is Alex painting? Is he painting these figures into or out of his painting? Are they in the process of vanishing into the paint or being born out of it? Behind the two figures, filling almost the entire upper half, dark gray fades into the smoky black of night. On it are etched or painted white vertical lines like a forest of Russian birch trees fading into the distance, being swallowed by the dark. Or is it the dark that is threatened by the encroaching gray light of day? What is this space? It brings to mind a bit of the Philip Larkin poem, Love Again: Something to do with violence A long way back, and wrong rewards, And arrogant eternity. Time—that is, the action of the prone figure and the kneeling figure on each other, and the action of Alex on us—seems to need arrogant eternity. To feel what time is, we must see and feel what time has devoured

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in becoming part of the eternal past—like one figure having already partially painted out the other. We need the sense of the past’s violence and the palpable absence of what is hidden within it. We need the birch trees, like the slender living tombstones of our absent loves. We need to see the two figures (and so Alex) as painting in the dying light and painting against it. Paint is material, of course, and as paint can reveal or conceal, so material things can possess every bit as much as they can be possessed. We see this particularly in Woman Pursued by Her Possessions (pl. 13). Her clothes, instead of enhancing and revealing her beauty, instead of expressing her identity, can be seen as a tangled force that threatens to destroy her altogether. Or perhaps as a cocoon falling away. It is impossible to look at this painting, or at any of the others in the show, for that matter, without reaching for the word “beauty.” But what do we mean by it? Stendhal said that “beauty is nothing other than the promise of happiness.” But if we want to know how and to whom beauty keeps its promise, we must turn again to the Symposium. There, Plato says, the work of love is “to give birth in beauty.” Putting the two ideas together, we might say that beauty keeps its promise of happiness only to those who, in loving it, give birth in it. “When a man has his mouth so full of food that he is prevented from eating, and is likely to starve in consequence, does feeding him consist in stuffing still more food in his mouth,” Søren Kierkegaard asks, “or does it consist in taking some of it away, so that he can begin to eat?” In other words, we must tolerate having something taken away if we are to give birth in beauty, so that we can begin to feast our eyes and begin to love what is in front of us. And what is that something? It is the false comfort of thinking we know when we don’t—the comfort that results from not having enough questions to ask, because we arrogantly think ourselves already stuffed full of answers. No more looking; no more seeing. At that point, the painting is just a pretty possession on the wall that you no longer even really look at, that you no longer really love. In Models Painting Themselves, we look into a space that is indifferent to our gaze: the kneeling figure is busy with the prone one, not with us. But even in Alex’s spectacular portraits, where the model more or less faces us, as in J.W.I. In Her Room (pl. 11), she seems unaware of us, looking away, off in a world of her own, not yet possessed, but already apprehensive about what possession can mean. Sometimes, indeed, the model has her back turned to us, as in J.F.H. with Nature Blanket (pl. 9), or has her face hidden, as in C.B. With Darkness 1 (pl. 12): The effect is to increase the privacy of the model’s world. By not being shown one thing, we are shown something else. “The human face is the best picture we have of the human soul,” Ludwig Wittgenstein writes. What Alex might be showing us, if that’s right, is how hard it is to know other people’s souls in a material and materialistic world. Wallace Stevens tells us: Beauty is momentary in the mind— The fitful tracing of a portal; But in the flesh it is immortal. The immortality of beauty in Alex’s paintings is the strange mortal immortality of flesh at once dying and being born. Threatened, but—for now—not succumbing.

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1 Bathroom with Reflection, 2016 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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2 Three Views of a Bathroom, 2016 Oil on linen, 66 x 66 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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3 Lulu in Madrid (Twice), 2017 Oil on board, 12 x 72 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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4 Walk-In Closet, 2016 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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5 L.D.V. with Her Pink Robe, 2016 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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6 M.S.S. with Fish, 2017 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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7 Flying Tangerine, 2016 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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8 S.B., 2017 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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9 J.F.H. with Nature Blanket, 2016 Oil on board, 36 x 36 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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10 C.B. with Darkness, 2017 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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11 J.W.I. in Her Room, 2016 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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12 C.B. with Darkness 1, 2017 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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13 Woman Pursued by Her Possessions, 2016 Oil on board, 36 x 36 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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14 L.H. in the Dark Pond, 2017 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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15 Models Painting Themselves, 2016 Oil on panel, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled on verso

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16 Sleeping in New Hampshire 1, 2016 Oil on board, 12 x 36 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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17 Sleeping in New Hampshire 2, 2017 Oil on board, 12 x 36 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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18 Poor Farm with Colors, 2016 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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19 New Hampshire Trees, 2016 Oil on linen, 36 x 56 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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20 Night Dancing in Lambertville, 2016 Oil on board, 18 x 18 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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21 Man Riding a Horse from South Carolina to Key West in Search of Better Life, 2017 Oil on linen, 66 x 66 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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22 Battle of San Romano, 2017 Oil on board, 48 x 24 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

23 Dinner on a Battlefield, 2017 Oil on linen, 66 x 66 inches Initialed and dated lower right Signed, dated, and titled verso

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This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition “Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings In No Particular Style,” organized by Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, and presented from March 9 to April 8, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9985000-1-0 Front cover: J.F.H. with Nature Blanket, 2016, pl. 9 Back cover: C.B. with Darkness, 2017, pl. 10 Inside front cover: Alex Kanevsky in studio, 2017 Inside back cover: Alex Kanevsky in studio, 2017 Publication copyright © 2017 Hollis Taggart Galleries All rights reserved Hollis Taggart Galleries 521 West 26th Street 7th Floor New York, NY 10001 Tel 212 628 4000 Fax 212 570 5786 www.hollistaggart.com Reproduction of contents prohibited Catalogue production: Ashley Park Design: Russell Hassell, New York Printing: Meridian Printing, Rhode Island Principal photography: Joseph Painter, Pennsylvania

HOLLI S TAGGART GALLER I ES Chelsea 521 W 26th Street 7th Floor NY, NY 10001

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Private Viewing 18 E 64th Street 3F NY, NY 10065

212 628 4000 hollistaggart.com

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A L E X K A N E V S K Y Some Paintings In No Particular Style

HOLLI S TAGGART GALLER I ES

ALE X K ANE VSK Y Some Paintings In No Particular Style

2/13/17 11:16 AM

Profile for Hollis Taggart

Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings In No Particular Style  

Published on the occasion of the exhibition "Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings In No Particular Style" held at Hollis Taggart Galleries from Mar...

Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings In No Particular Style  

Published on the occasion of the exhibition "Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings In No Particular Style" held at Hollis Taggart Galleries from Mar...

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