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Artist Alexey Chernigin

Magazine “Pratique des arts”, France

Alexey Chernigin. Jeux d'eau et de lumiere

About me and my studio
I was born in 1975. I was born in Nizhny Novgorod, and now I live here. It is a large city even by Russian standards, with almost 800 years of history. The city is located not far from Moscow, probably this proximity to the capital makes it somewhat provincial, but I like it. There is no Moscow hustle and bustle here. The city is located at the confluence of two great rivers, the Oka and the Volga. “Port of Five Seas”, “Pocket of Russia” – all this is about Nizhny Novgorod and its former merchant glory.
My studio is located in a quiet, patriarchal area of Nizhny, on the attic floor. Big windows, two easels, a bit of a loft, some antique furniture, lots of paintings.

– What artists influenced you?
It is difficult to talk about the influence, although it is undoubtedly present in one way or another. First, of course, this is my father, Alexander Chernigin. Since childhood, I grew up surrounded by his works, I remember the smell of paints and varnishes in his workshop. I often posed for him, and of course I liked to watch him work. I could watch for hours, fascinated by the appearance of the first separate chaotic strokes, fixing the nodal points of the figure, the expressive intrusion of color into the white field of the canvas, the gradual “germination” of the form. And most importantly, this is the visible pleasure that the father receives from work. Therefore, I probably see in my father not only a master who discovered the craft for me, but also the embodiment of a model of attitude to his work. He is honest, he is sincere, foremost, to himself, he does not try to seem, adapt or “catch the wave.” And at the same time, he is constantly changing, never shy about learning, restlessly looking for his way in each new work. He literally does not let go the pencil, constantly paints something, fixes some thoughts or images. So, looking at my father, I began to understand that a person can create his own world, his own little universe, in everyday life, with his own laws and rules, which only he himself can establish or violate. It has always fascinated and intrigued me. And of course, there were always many albums of artists and books on art in the house. This is how I met Velasquez and Vermeer, Feshin and Wyeth, Sargent and Degas, Zorn and Bonnard. All of them at different times carried me into their “worlds”, evoked delight and a desire to learn.

Which of the contemporary artists do you single out for yourself?
I now have a huge number of creative reference points, people who truly surprise and delight me. For example, Alexander Shumtsov, or as he calls himself Arush Votsmush (Shura Shumtsov, vice versa) became a revelation for me. Brilliant watercolorist, this is not an exaggeration. A virtuoso, refined technique, combined with freedom of thought and desperate recklessness, give a simply amazing result. Honestly, I’m kinda jealous. And I’m learning from him.

– Where did you study painting?
At first, my father took me to the art studio at the Palace of Pioneers, the same old studio where he studied himself. There was a very free, creative atmosphere, wonderful, non-standard thinking teachers. The guys were very different in age and their artistic interests. I immediately had new idols, I wanted to compete with them in courage and skill. It was possible, for example, to turn the wheel of a printing press for weeks, printing your engravings in more and more new color variations, satisfying the instinct of the first printer that had suddenly awakened. In the studio, for the first time, we began to participate in international children’s drawing competitions, it was also an unforgettable experience.
In 1990, I entered the Nizhny Novgorod Art College, but not for easel painting, where painters traditionally study, but for graphic design. There I discovered a lot for myself in the field of graphics, because graphics have a completely different, paradoxical for a painter’s sense of the sheet, the balance of his composition. We were engaged in posters, polygraphy, photography, three-dimensional plasticity. I received a huge charge of new things at the school. At the same time, I began to work in my father’s workshop, studying his technique, mastering the way of painting. After graduating from college, I entered the design department of the Architectural and Construction University. Here I found myself in a completely new environment for me, where graphics and plasticity are elevated to a cult, and most importantly, where they think spatially and conceptually. We had a great teacher of painting, drawing and associative composition, Alexander Korneev. He guided our group through all six years of study. In many ways, it was he who formed in me the foundations of my current method of working on the concept, understanding of space and composition. And of course, the architectural school itself switched me to a new aesthetic code, more ascetic and restrained. After university, I tried myself in both industrial and interior design, for more than fifteen years I have been teaching interior design at my alma mater. But all these multidirectional movements of mine still could not take me away from painting, this is the main thing in my life.

How does design education make itself felt?
Design is primarily conceptual thinking. In order to create a thing or space, you need a project. The project is based on the concept, that is, on the definition of the goal or main idea in my case, and the means of expressing it. That is, it is necessary to first establish for yourself the rules of the game, the laws by which the future artistic construction will live. By the way, if you approach any business in this way, considering it as a project, life becomes much more interesting.
Architectural, design education makes it possible to understand the world around us not just in volume, but also in its multidimensionality. Design brings up an aesthete in a person, forms a sense of style at some physiological level, when the slightest discrepancy offends like a false note.

Movement in pictures
In many canvases I explore the theme of speed, movement, the relationship between man and city. We live in the rhythm of the city, obey its chaotic movement, dissolve in it. And sometimes you want to stop, get out of the stream, look at this multidirectional movement from the side. In general, speed is the central concept in painting. Without it, painting is dead. We find this thought in Andrew Wyeth, the greatest American artist: “The main thing is the internal movement in the picture. The picture represents space, the inner speed brings the category of time into the picture. And together, space and time form life. Moreover, each picture has its own internal speed. It can be subtle, like a morning breeze or the slow movement of dust particles in a beam of light, as in the work of Wyeth himself. But this internal speed is still there.

How do images appear? What is the inspiration?
It seems to me that the most interesting and most difficult thing in my profession is to learn to react in my own way to the world around me. After all, people often simply do not see anything around them. Rather, they see, but do not feel with their eyes. Yes, we see objects around us, walking down the street we don’t run into poles, we get into doorways, but all things for us are just symbols, like in a computer game. They are of no interest to us. After all, it takes time, and in our accelerating world it is sorely lacking, we are always in a hurry, perceiving the world as a clip, a kaleidoscope of bright frames. We are chasing new experiences, taking countless photos, replenishing the network with millions of new shots every second. And only by slowing down this crazy rhythm, dissolving in the feeling of the moment you are experiencing, you can try to start seeing differently. At the same time, you forget about yourself, or rather, you begin to feel through the environment. You need to enter a resonance with the environment, feel its pulsation inside. This state is beautifully described by Brodsky in his essay on Venice: “The eye in this city acquires independence, like a tear. It’s not separated from the body, but completely subordinates it to itself. A little time, and the body already considers itself only a vehicle of the eye, a kind of submarine for its wide-open periscope”.

Sometimes this reconfiguration takes a long time, sometimes it doesn’t work at all. But when this short circuit occurs, you are immersed in a magical state of thick, viscous enjoyment of the fullness of life. This is the beginning of creativity.

How is your work going?
Each new work is a new story. It happens that the work is made in one day, sometimes it takes years to be born. I love it when the work is done right away, but this rarely happens, often it is simply not technologically feasible. But we are considering only the process of painting a picture, and it also has an “underwater” part – this is the development of a concept, the search for a composition and sketches.

What pushes you to begin a picture?
The picture is not born suddenly, it is always a layer of life, the idea appears like a light breath of the breeze, like subliminal stimuli, flashed and stuck somewhere deep. For the time being, it does not make itself felt until a random association is superimposed on it, causing a completely new reading. Then it begins to unwind like a wheel, acquiring new images and gradually forming into an inner picture, which is already torn out, does not give rest.

Work organization
I am convinced that inspiration does not overshadow lazy people, only systematic work, a state of constant involvement in the process can give a result. One of Dali’s principles: Artist, draw! It’s simple and ingenious, it’s a recipe for all time.
Once I saw an interview with Mikhail Shemyakin, in which he spoke honestly and simply about his methods of work. The master talked about how he tries to catch every new potentially interesting idea, meticulously fixing it in a separate folder and placing it in his “library of ideas.” At first, it seemed to me that this approach is old-fashioned and accounting. But gradually I began to understand that in order to move to a new level, it is simply necessary to understand your “bunch of ideas”, systematize it, and then follow Shemyakin’s advice, taking care of your insights.
First, some image or fragmentary impression, a phrase from a conversation or just a word appears in my folder. Gradually, the folder is filled with new images that directly or indirectly intersect with the main ideological line. Sometimes these new thoughts, like the tributaries of a river, direct it in a new direction, sometimes they completely change the original concept. And sometimes an idea just dies, which means that either I was mistaken in considering it interesting at the time, or I just grew out of this idea and moved on. This is a very lively process, and I am extremely fascinated by it, this is real creativity.

About the palette and colors
Palette… Now I began to understand that this is not very important at all, because the quality of paints is deteriorating every year, but you can always find a way to solve each specific color problem. I recalled an interesting example when, while studying at the institute, we had one task in painting. It was necessary to paint a portrait in three primary colors: red, yellow and blue, without the use of white and black. Having tormented myself with work all day, in the evening I went to my father’s workshop in a rage, believing that the task was idiotic and impossible in principle. My father took my tablet and in half an hour, right on top of my work, he wrote a new one. Without nature, just based on my sketch and my feelings. And everything suddenly changed, wild, open colors magically began to balance each other, reflexes added depth and light vibration, cacophony became an exquisite harmony. That is, the most primitive means can solve any artistic problem, the main thing is to understand the theory of color and have a practical skill.

But if we still talk about my main palette, then there are no secrets:

White titanium
Lemon cadmium
Cadmium yellow dark
Indian yellow or Ocher yellow
Light ocher
Sienna natural
Umber natural
Thioindigo red-brown
Cadmium red light
Cadmium red dark
Lake red strong
Lake pink or lake purple
Cobalt blue medium
Soot gas or Peach black

This is the main palette, small adjustments are made to it depending on the specific task.

About the portrait.
The portrait pushes two personalities on opposite sides of the canvas. The artist knows his task, sometimes he already has a preliminary layout plan, figure placement, lighting. But often all this is premature and meaningless. Whoever claims that they know in detail what they will do, in my opinion, is simply lying for solidity. Unlike the craft plan, in which the path from beginning to end is clearly traced, let the artistic plan manifest itself in improvisation. It is impossible to plan schemes and poses in isolation from a real person. The initial condition for creating a portrait is Personality. Hence, the lack of planning. When an artist tries to control a Personality like a mannequin, it simply hides inside itself, immersed in its own thoughts. The personality disappears, replaced by an idol similar to it with extinct eyes.

The portrait is an improvisational interaction in which the skill of the artist and the receptivity of the model are fused. A man brought to my studio by whim or circumstance has no idea what a riddle and enticing mystery he is before me. Curiosity overwhelms, and curiosity is necessary, otherwise one cannot approach the creation of a portrait.
I watch the model, I try to see the very smallest characteristic features that are characteristic of this particular person and express his true essence. Based on these observations, a certain sign, symbol, abstract idea is formulated, which expresses the image of the model as fully as possible. Then, already in the material, I try to maintain this state of the sign, step by step evaluating what has been done and discarding the unnecessary. It takes weeks, and sometimes even months, to achieve the necessary combination of accurate reproduction of the details of the form and at the same time some of their universal state.

Drawing materials
I started as a graphic artist, experimenting with gouache, acrylic, mixed media. I love watercolor with its insane freedom, unpredictability and at the same time a huge responsibility for every action. Watercolor is an improvisation based on constant training, it is impossible to leave it for a month and then return to it the same “maestro”.
In oil painting, I try to preserve that feeling of lightness, transparency and emancipation that attracted me so much in watercolor. But my tasks have become more ambitious, so oil has become a universal material for me.

Oh, sun
I love the sun, it gives meaning to everything, fills with emotions. And how many gradations, states it has during the day. Sunlight sculpts, as if feeling the form, makes the most boring object glow from within. He brings out the color, and he also plunges everything unimportant into the shadow. And the reflexes! They contain all the salt of painting! Sometimes the light becomes the main character of the picture when everything else is just the sum of the surfaces on which this light falls.

Women’s images
A woman for me is the universe, an endless variety of diversity and nuances both in plasticity, proportions and in the search for new readings of the same model. This is not just a frozen form, but a bunch of energy, emotions, feelings. It pulsates with life, it moves, it breathes. The very structure of the skin interacts with light in an amazing way, giving the surface of the body a special color depth. My paintings are often attributed to the genre of erotica, for me this erotic subtext is of course interesting, but not primary in my work. Perhaps it appears in the course of work, but it is never the original, or, even worse, the only meaning.

About water
In my works, I try to place the model in a kind of borderline state, leaving him face to face with the elements. It can be a city with its endless movement, or sunlight that creates a shadow. It could be water too. I love living, moving substances. Water in this sense is unique, it instantly doubles the image, or vice versa breaks it into thousands of parts, in order to put it together in the next moment, but in a new quality.

Such balancing on the verge of the elements allows you to take the picture beyond the usual relationship between the object and the background, sharpen their relationship, cause their interaction.

How do you feel the job is done?
This is probably the most interesting question for me, it is both simple and infinitely complex for me. On the one hand, this is just a moment when you feel that everything has been said, that today this is the limit of your capabilities. On the other hand, it is often important not to reach this limit, to leave some understatement, to preserve in some way the lightness and honesty of the original underpainting. Sometimes you just need to stop so as not to ruin the work. This is a really important question, and I don’t have an exact answer to it, if I find it for myself, it will be a very important leap forward. I’ll let you know right away-)

Actually, work on a painting can be continued indefinitely, it is not uncommon for artists to paint one painting for years, even decades. And some even manage not to lose the feeling of fast, expressive drawing. I came to the conclusion for myself that if dissatisfaction remains, the picture does not let go, then it is better to start a new one on the same topic. At the same time, the size, proportions, composition change, because you have already grown out of that original picture, you are moving on. And the first option is valuable in itself, no need to try to reshape it for yourself with a new one.
Yes, it happens that the work is over, but over time you begin to feel that it is spinning inside you again, catching images, accelerating the flywheel. So this idea has the potential for something more. For example, I already have a whole series of works on the theme of carrying the cross. Initially, I tried to understand for myself what a modern icon might look like, drawn not according to the canon, not on a board, and not by a monk. I wanted to see the majestic in the simple, ordinary, everyday. To see His face in the crowd, to notice his mournful figure out of the corner of my eye, flashing between the rushing streams of cars, or to freeze, looking at him in the rearview mirror. This is how the painting “Against the Current” appeared. Foremost, I wanted to emphasize the impossibility of what is happening from our usual point of view. The cars in the picture are arranged in such a way that a collision should occur in the next second. But at the same time, we see that so far it has not happened. That is, either this phenomenon has just arisen, it is momentary, like a flash … Or vice versa, this figure moves in eternity, and all these cars, roads, bridges, exist only here and now. This is a very personal work, people perceive it differently. I do not decipher my messages and do not give simple answers, everyone is free to find them for himself.

About painting
The work of an artist now is primarily a search for new meanings, new forms, new horizons. Indeed, by and large, traditional painting has exhausted itself already at the beginning of the twentieth century. The black square of Malevich became its tombstone, a refusal to continue the struggle.
Painting began when it was the most informative, deep and, in fact, the only means of conveying a visual image, capturing an idea. With the advent of photography, cinema, virtual media, painting naturally fades into the background in this function. It is difficult for a painting to compete with the latest forms of art in terms of the possibilities, the arsenal of means of influence that they have. The image in the cinema has become not just alive, it is greatly enhanced by the possibilities of combination, overlay, frame editing. And that’s not to mention sound, speech, music, noises, etc. An avalanche of information falls on a person, involving and subordinating all his senses.

What can oppose this painting? The same piece of bleached linen canvas, stretched over a wooden stretcher and covered with several layers of adhesives and primer. A brush, this stick with a bunch of bristles. Paints, the composition of which was found in the 16th century. And a whole system of limitations inherent in the very principle of a flat image. The picture is two-dimensional, limited in size, and most importantly, mute. Plato insisted on the silence of the artist. The peculiarity of painting lies in this double condition: the desire to express and the determination to remain silent. It is a passionate desire to express something, but by silent means. Therefore, painting begins to fulfill its communicative function when the possibilities of language are exhausted and reach the limit: it is like a compressed spring, ready to break through dumbness, prompting the knowledge of the inexpressible.

The ease with which we perceive the picture makes us admit that no effort is required from us, as viewers, to understand it. The suddenness with which, without the slightest effort on our part, the picture appears before us, paradoxically makes painting the most secretive of all arts. Painting contains the most important contradiction between the visible – the image, and the hidden, hidden – its meaning. We should not expect from the picture a spontaneous discovery of its meaning. The charm of painting is that for us, it is an eternal hieroglyph, unsolved and ambiguous. Snatching a fragment from reality, the artist puts it in strictly defined frames, but in such a way that the snatched piece acts like an explosion, opening a window to an incomparably larger reality. Real painting is an expression of the inexpressible, when the innermost begins to emerge through everyday reality, when a face becomes a face, a tree becomes a tree, and a door becomes a gate.

The language of art is an image, not a direct statement. The artist must say with the picture everything he wants and can, and step aside, leaving the viewer alone with it. He cannot write an explanatory note to the picture or attach an art critic to it. But this is what contemporary art most often does, replacing its original meaning of direct and honest contact with some extensive concepts that beautifully explain what a given installation or performance could mean. We live in an era of total substitution of genuine cheap surrogates. We watch reality-altered films, listen to music on headphones, and communicate virtually. Art also strives to conform, it is becoming more and more technological, gradually moving into the field of design. But design is only aesthetics, it does not imply spiritual content. Perhaps that is why I returned from design to painting to discover something for myself.

In painting there is some kind of inexplicable primal magic, an internal energy that, like a compressed spring, is ready to break out, overcoming two-dimensionality, dumbness and all other frames and limits. Perhaps that is why there is a timid hope that the crisis of art, which we are all now undoubtedly experiencing, will sooner or later be replaced by something new, big, real. After all, despite all the funerals and rebukes that were given to painting in the twentieth century, despite schools of sharks in formalin in the present century, painting is still alive. And not just alive, but as before, incomprehensible and unknown to many people. We just need to work harder, both artists and viewers.