On the evening of February 7th, artist Alexey Steele gave a lecture at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, California, which accompanied that museum's acquisition of his monumental drawing "Quiet Steps of Approaching Thunder." Before the talk, Alexey's good friend Maksim Velichkin set the mood for the unveiling with a piece for cello. I thought this would be a great place to recount some of the ideas Alexey (born in Kiev, Ukraine) brought up during the course of his lecture, as I've always loved his perspective. [Once you've met Alexey, you'll recognize his infectious laughter and palm-searing high-fives ANYWHERE.]
Art is very integral to the Russian way of life - when everything else in a society fails, art is still there and speaks to Truth. In many ways, art can be a tool of survival. Alexey contrasted this deep connection of Russians to their art with that of the American relation to art, the latter being one primarily of decoration today.
A living breathing Art needs public interaction to communicate, which is where museums fill their greatest role. Although acknowledging the need for galleries and collectors, he lamented that once a piece is acquired for a private collection it is no longer accessible to the public.
The Russian idea of art deals very much with opposites: life/death, male/female, light/dark, advancing/retreating, etc.
An idea first has personal relevance to the artist; it is only later that it may have relevance on a larger stage.
Art is communication.
While he offered some explanations for his piece now in the Carnegie collection, Alexey was intentionally vague about defining everything. Using realism to communicate the unseen, the four-headed seraphim-esque figure is not completely visible to the viewer, and not everything is necessarily literal; to see one of the hidden faces, you would necessarily lose sight of another one as the figure rotated. This hints at those unexplained parts of normal life - nothing is ever completely seen or completely understood, but Art can give us a piece of the picture.
I also have to mention Alexey's fantastic studio where he recently hosted another music concert with Classical Underground. Originating about a year or two ago as a small gathering of artists and musicians just hanging out at the studio and playing music all night, it has developed quite a following, usually boasting a few hundred devoted fans at each monthly performance. After a potluck prior to the concert, everyone sits back to enjoy the performances, which are now being taped and filmed. (Jeremy Lipking has some good photos from an earlier performance over at his blog.)
Apart from all the great musicians there (some are a part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic), there is a cadre of artists who frequent these concerts (some visiting from out of town),including Peter Adams, Glenn Dean, Logan Hagege, Dan McCaw, Ignat Ignatov, Stephen Mirich, Daniel Pinkham, Tony Pro, Christopher Pugliese, Rodolfo Rivademar, Katya Walker, and Aaron Westerberg. Here are all of the musicians for the February 9th performance, as they were the reason we were there in the first place (in order of appearance): Radu Pieptea (violin), Mikael Oganesyan (piano), Alexander Suleiman (cello), Yana Reznik (piano), Marina Kesler (mezzo-soprano), Maksim Velichkin (piano), Carter Larsen (piano), Indira Rakhmatullaeva (cello), Eduardo Delgado (piano), Moni Simeonov (violin), Pepron Pilibossian (piano), and Harout Senekeremian (piano).