02 November 2011

Bringing the Mystical Back: Alejandro Chernovetzky

Photo from "Glances of Mexico" (2000)
     All we really want from visual art, all we really want when we look at a painting or a photograph is three things: we want it to attract our eyes, we want it to challenge our minds, and we want it to stir our souls. That's why the works of painter and photographer Alejandro Chernovetzky honor us in being the subject of our first post.

     No one tells La Jolla-based Alejandro Chernovetzky what to paint, he doesn't even tell himself what to paint.
    "I don't know what I will paint before I start," he says. "I get ready to paint, and then I tap my hand against my thigh, and it's the tapping that tells me what to do. It feels like some larger entity is moving the brush, even though I know it's really some vague part of me."
   He takes his photos in a similarly instinctive way: "I take pictures of things that look beautiful or interesting to me. I don't know why. It's just something I have to do. I see it and I just go for it."
     Chernovetzky began painting at age 12 (his first work a still-life of a foot on a table with fruits), and after high school, he studied for a year and a half at the Emily Carr Institute of Art, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was around that time that his independent art-self bloomed, and since then he has only taken guidance from his own intuition.

      In 2000, he compiled his first book of photographs, Glances of Mexico, which is a collection of lush black & white shots of Mexico's people in the city and in the countryside, at work, at rest, and at play. The collection is striking because the people are so comfortable being themselves with him around them. The slight glances they give into the camera makes them and us active participants of the work, transforming mere documentary work into a complex mode of communication. We feel their sweetness, their love, and their pain. Chernovetzky focused on the grit and the shadows, and he tried different angles and a wide range of subjects, always aiming for something that would strike us both emotionally and cerebrally, until we finally forget that a camera was even involved, and it's as if we're right there.

Photo from "Traces" (2011)
Photo from "Traces" (2011)

     In 2011, Chernovetzky self-published his second book, Traces, in which he shares the pics he snapped during his trip through Prague, Budapest, and Vienna. What makes it such a remarkable collection, is that he decided to altogether skip the people and the iconic architecture, and instead focused on the easily over-looked nooks and crannies, cracks in walls, splatters of graffiti, water stains, peeling paint, pasted advertisements, rotted wood, electrical wire, and many other unusual textures, sometimes all in the same frame. There is nothing in the book to even let us know which nation each photo was snapped in. The photos are presented as if they were abstract paintings, and it's a powerful effect which reminds us of the beauty that surrounds us daily, not just in the flowers, and houses, trees and people, but also in the places we neglect, in the way our structures decay, and in the way our goals conflict. Beauty abides, that's the bold and bittersweet maxim which Traces embodies.

     As for his painting, Chernovetzky grew sure of his abilities through phases of painting florals, landscapes and nudes, and he is just now coming out of his most recent phase of abstract works, with dozens of canvases to share. This abstract phase of his is clearly his most inspired, since the canvases communicate like his works never have before.

One of Chernovetzky's abstract paintings (2011)
    When I first visited his studio, I was dazzled by the wealth of brilliantly-conveyed emotions displayed all around me. There was a canvas that I was sure was a re-incarnation of Monet's waterlilies, though this time the canvas seemed more free and practically spilling over with fiery lavender and yellow. Though these works are all untitled, they are each so distinctive they are easily identifiable. There was one that seemed to me an eagle's eye view of a children's playground under the late afternoon sun, though the center of the canvas was exed out so that I was left yearning to see more of what was going on down below. There was another canvas that evoked a scene of a tropical fish making its way through an underwater wasteland, mystical rays of light beaming down around it in a variety of colors. That "sea bottom one" stands out especially because of how thinly the paint was applied; in fact, most of it is blank canvas, which gives it the feel of a watercolor. It's so easy to look at in part because of how easily and organically it seems to have been created, without fuss. And there are about a dozen others, each very deep and inviting, but my personal favorite had a cool but intricate metallic blue background. It was so cool it was celestial, and in the center, superimposed upon it, was a single bold blood-red stroke. The stroke looked like Persian or Arabic writing to me, which makes sense, since Alejandro is enamored of the Middle East region's music and the sound of its language. All of the works, every single one by itself deserves at least a paragraph of rhapsodic waxing, but suffice it to say for now that each one provides a deep, private pocket in the universe into which you can enter and solve little private, emotional puzzles you never knew you had.

An abstract Chernovetzky painting (2011)

     "I had a difficult time personally during the last several years, and now I'm feeling stronger, more productive, and happy than ever," Chernovetzky says.

An abstract Chernovetzky painting (2011)

     There's usually no telling where Chernovetzky's independent and sensitive spirit will go next, but the last I talked to him, he told me that his newest paintings, which are still wet, incorporate figures again. So, it seems that it's only a matter of time before we're able to venture on another thrilling trip courtesy of this fine San Diego artist. We will surely and happily keep you posted....

[Original prints from Glances of Mexico are currently on display at Su Casa Mexican Restaurant. A selection of Alejandro Chernovetzky's paintings will be on display at Gelato Vero Caffe through the month of December. For more info about Chernovetzky's paintings and photos, feel free to visit his Facebook page, or email him at outsidevisions@gmail.com]

1 comment:

  1. I have seen your two photography books, Glances... and Traces, and I appreciate your ability to capture images that bring about memories of places I have been, of people I have encountered, and of just raw emotion ... without needing words to explain what is being experienced.

    Now seeing some of your paintings here further inspires a curiosity, a desire to engage with your paintings full size (not just online) and to experience whatever emotions or ideas are inspired by the colors and forms on your canvas.

    Jim S.