“Only after this aesthetic decision-making is complete can Alexeev embark on the culmination of his process: a finished composition filled with space and color, its geometric tendencies subtly corresponding to those of St. Petersburg.”
Fedor Alexeev: Abstracting St. Petersburg’s Landscape
By: Jill Smith
Fedor Alexeev is an artist whose craft derives strongly from the place he inhabits. His oil-covered canvases, which consist of colorfully delineated geometric forms, bring to life the cityscapes of St. Petersburg, the artist’s home base. Yet aside from this urban aesthetic, Alexeev’s work is equally indebted to innovators of the Russian canon: namely, Suprematist master Kazimir Malevich. Malevich’s flatness, basic geometry, and the idea of color as form, play major roles in Alexeev’s work, becoming the result of his rigorous process.
Before even turning to canvas, Alexeev renders his subject in a multitude of studies and sketches. Taking into account spatial and figural relationships, the artist then elects a color palette suited to his uniquely chosen vista. Only after this aesthetic decision-making is complete can Alexeev embark on the culmination of his process: a finished composition filled with space and color, its geometric tendencies subtly corresponding to those of St. Petersburg.
For example, #7 depicts a quiet moment of contemplation in a small corner of the city—and for the first time, Alexeev’s colorful canvas is juxtaposed against a more literal translation of the site. The right side of the work consists of black and white cross-hatching, shading different layers of the crowded urban setting. The shadow of a figure stands atop a curved bridge; behind him lingers a large, columned edifice. Rooftops and apartment buildings peek out in the distance, leaving only a small portion of untouched sky. To the left of this depiction is the end result: a rationalized portrayal of the city space. In this work, depth is the determining factor in selecting hues; the nearest objects appear in magenta rectangles, while the arc of the bridge is allotted a muted teal. Near the top of the canvas, a field of rust links harmoniously to the other tones.
Not all of Alexeev’s works translate so meticulously to the canvas. #1, for example, demonstrates a less precise approach to representing the environment of St. Petersburg. The right-hand sketch focuses less on architecture and more on inhabitants, as a back-turned woman is the focus of the work’s foreground. Another figure in the distance walks freely toward a building, while the shadow of a figure turning the corner is also visible. To the left of the work, an unadorned façade frames the scene, linking with no other forms than a perpendicular wall and the sky. The painted portion of this work reflects the simplicity of the moment, illustrating three rectangles filled in by slightly dulled renderings of the primary colors. Surprisingly, without the black and white drawing, there would be no identifiable link to St. Petersburg as the subject of this work.
Courtesy of the artist.
I recently interviewed Fedor to hear more about his exciting work.
Jill Smith: The colorful palette of your is playful and serious all at once. How did you arrive at painting this way?
Fedor Alexeev: I studied at the private studio of Georgy Mudryonov, the Mukhina academy, the monumental art department, and at the Repin institute. I studied the main academic disciplines – drawing, painting, composition. I was most interested in exploring the field of color (the combination and development of shade and color relations and interactions of the natural world). I was expelled from all three of these schools for cosmopolitanism, in being too attached to the international artistic heritage, for not understanding the compositional tasks that determined the ideas of that time. After this I only worked on what I found interesting in the sphere of art, and did not call these endeavors painting. During the thaw of the 1990s, museums began displaying artists of the Russian avant-garde – Puni, Malevich and Kandinsky. And I realized that I was not alone on this path, but was making it together with them. This type of art is determined by the basis of form; that interests me in the sphere of representation. Form is Color. Color includes all possible categories of representation: space, light, volume, air. I’m not interested in thinking of a special name for what I do on canvas.
JS: What role does geometry and nature have in your works?
FA: I start working on a subject with a large number of drawings, studies and sketches. The motivation passed through a graphic, color selection and moved on to the canvas. Anything accidental and vain is gradually suppressed by several layers of paint, which cover each other thickly and translucently. (To illustrate this to yourself, you could lift one of my early works that you have). The finished composition is the determination of my plein-air vision, expressed by way of my creative and artistic language. For me, my paintings are not geometric plains covered in paint, they are three-dimensional, spacious in the direct or reverse perspective, filled with air, and correspond to the natural (motivational) state. They are made up of large patches of color. The circle and sphere in the world of linear drawing is depicted identically. They are only distinguished by what fills them.
Courtesy of the artist.
JS: What is the inspiration for your work?
FA: I am inspired by my city, where I was born and where I live, which I have never left for more than two weeks – I feel lonely without it. The artists who faithfully and patiently create works from the archaic to the modern; the people whom I love and who love me.
JS: What new projects are you working on that viewers can anticipate?
FA: I want to paint the Sun, which illuminates, warms, fills and determines the entire figural world.
It will be exciting to see what Alexeev paints next, if indeed it is the sun. Whether the viewer recognizes geometric forms or St. Petersburg landmarks, the end result of looking at one of Alexeev’s works is always calming, yet enlightening. He reminds us that there is no singular way of seeing, and that the shapes of space can be colored infinitely.
Courtesy of the artist.