Sunday, August 25, 2013

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.

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