Skip to main content

Studio Visit with Dimitri Pavlotsky

A few months ago, I visited the studio of artist Dimitri Pavlotsky at his home in Chicago's Logan Square neighbourhood. I met Dimitri online when we both took part in Paul Klein's Klein Artist Works program last fall, and we then got to know each other IRL (in real life, as they say nowadays to contrast with the spectral 'meetings' that occur via the internet).

After I arrived at his house, we sat in his kitchen for a while, drinking tea, and talking about Dimitri's journey in life from an upbringing in Russia to his present life in the United States. The walls are covered with his work--paintings from different times of the last ten years or so, but all having in common a thick impasto style and an image that at least begins in something representational, usually the human figure. The impasto is so thick that Dimitri says it can take months before a painting is finished, as each layer of oil paint, juicy and oozing like cake icing, or a slithering mass of maggots, perhaps, gradually forms the first layer of dried skin and permits a further assault on the canvas. His studio space, in a hot attic room drenched with light from a skylight, shows the evidence of this process, the floor smeared with paint droppings, pools of linseed and white spirits still fresh here and there.

We discussed painting from memory, and painting from life; finding out when to stop a painting, and when you've gone too far; whether a picture should have more elements in it or fewer; how far to push the image towards abstraction; how to settle on one style, or one theme for a group of pictures; the strange demands that are made on your art when you come into contact with the commercial art world.

In contrast to most artists and teachers of art, I don't see it as my job to go into an artist's studio and tell them what I like or don't like about their work, or an individual piece. Even when asked to resopnd in this way, I try first to get at what someone was trying to achieve, and ask them what they think is working or not. It's impossible to keep one's value judgements out of it entirely, but in general I prefer to be a wall for someone to bounce a ball off, so to speak, rather than an imperialist invading the country of someone else's mind with my completely partial beliefs and responses. (It's a different case when I'm reviewing work in a show, though even then my preferred method is: if I don't like it, I don't review it.)

But I can say that I was impressed by the energy of Dimitri's paintings, the sensitivity to the paint that shines through the violent slashing gestures of the surface. Like any artist, he is engaged in his own personal struggle between what he wants to achieve when he starts a painting, and what the result sometimes ends up as. But he clearly has the skills and the tools to solve that puzzle.


Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

I Did Nazi This Coming

Metropolitan Opera, New York: Parsifal Act III
Despite being a lifelong lover of and listener to opera, I've never had the ear for Wagner's music. I love hearing everything from Gluck up to John Adams, but skirted around or jumped over Wagner whenever the temptation presented itself.

I used the provocative 'N' word in the title of this post because one of the things that has always made me wary of the Bard of Bayreuth is the stain laid on it by its National Socialist admirers. That's not the only reason.

Reasons why I never liked Wagner:
The enormous length of his operas, often five hours plus. And my objection was not to the length per se, but to what it said about his musical language. For example, if like me you are steeped in Mozart's operative language, with its brilliance and variety and liveliness, Wagner's music can seem turgid and static by comparison.
The ridiculous medieval stories. Given the chance to watch Mozart or Puccini or Richard Strauss…