As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Russian Canadian Artist on the Edge of Nuit Blanche

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Preparations for Nuit Blanche at the Alexandre Studio

At the Alexandre Studio on 1083 Queen St. West I met the artist Alexandre or Sasha as people with the name Alexandre are nicknamed in Russia. Sasha was working to get ready for Nuit Blanche. With him was his “publicist/web designer” who was also named Sasha.
Alexandre will open the unique works in his studio during the hours of the Nuit Blanche art festival, and his studio is in the heart of the festival zone, though it will not be listed on the official festival program guide. “They make you register really early for all the events”. He confessed that like most artists he had “difficulty with time”.
“The artist is always stopping time. Capturing one particular moment”. Although he often describes the perspective that he communicates through his work, it is snapshots of those moments he remembers. He told me a story about one particular moment in which that communication was itself inspired. The passion in his voice made it clear this understanding was important to his work; something deeply personal. It was a moment in which he said “I met someone who explained my painting better than I did”.
I asked whether operating on the periphery of the festival, even though he is a recognized artist of some acclaim, made him an outlaw.
“The artist is always an outlaw”. The other Sasha added “except instead of running away from rich people you run towards them because they are your patrons”.
Speaking again about time, and how savouring art is a casualty of time’s tyranny, he continued: “art is visual, yet we are surrounded by so many visual distractions. It’s like a genocide of visual art. All visual art is flying to [obscurity]. As an artist you are materializing your thoughts, dreams, and material desires. You can’t go against [visually materializing these things as you are compelled to do. Yet there is the tyranny of time]“. I could empathise with  any creative who felt strongly compelled to follow whichever way the wind of that creativity blows, sometimes in the process losing track of details that are meaningless to the creative act … like deadlines for festivals.
Being near Queen St. a stones throw from the mental health facility, there is a crazy guy living downstairs. “They open the doors and let them out” Sasha complained. The man introduced himself but seemed somehow invisible.
Sasha indeed had an interesting story. Born in Azerbajan to grandparents who had to escape from St. Petersberg due to problems with the Bolshevics, he was taught to draw by his father and then enrolled in the Academy of Art which saw him return to the St. Petersberg his grandparents had left. It was not quite returning to learn from the same Bolshevics that his grandparents had run from, since by then the government had changed … and in any case he noted that the school was “in a building built in the Tzarist period”.
Etobicoke School of the Arts
Just across the street from Alexandre Studio the Etobicoke School of the Arts was having an exhibition of its own surrounding the festival. Originally, the working theme of the exhibition was the artist Duchamps, but the exhibition soon became a free for all of expression. I spoke to Carmen Umana whose family originated from Latin America, specifically Guatemala and Honduras. Her piece was a human sized stuffed figure, covered in a burgundy velour and in the shape of a shovel. The piece was appropriately called “shovel”. Carmen is a grade 12 student.
Photography Exhibit at the Lens Factory
I also met photographer Ivana Otovic from Belgrade, Serbia and now living and working in Norway. Her photography featured in this exhibit captures the psychological impact of social spaces, an impact that is more clearly seen when the spaces are empty. Furniture, fans, ceiling, and brick walls, are forms captured in her photographs. Through the repetition in which they are arranged spacially throughout the building, they convey an orderliness which becomes part of the social impact conveyed by the architectural space itself.

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Preparations for Nuit Blanche at the Alexandre Studio

At the Alexandre Studio on 1083 Queen St. West I met the artist Alexandre or Sasha as people with the name Alexandre are nicknamed in Russia. Sasha was working to get ready for Nuit Blanche. With him was his “publicist/web designer” who was also named Sasha.

Sasha, the publicist/web developer for Alexandre, in front of another of Alexandre's works.

Sasha, the publicist/web developer for Alexandre, in front of another of Alexandre's works.

At the Edge of the Festival

Alexandre will open the unique works in his studio to public viewing during the hours of the Nuit Blanche art festival, and his studio is in the heart of the festival zone, though he did not register so he will not be listed on the official festival program guide. “They make you register really early for all the events”. He confessed that like most artists he had “difficulty with time”.

“The artist is always stopping time. Capturing one particular moment” he elaborated. Although to his audience he often describes the perspective that he communicates through his work, he remembers those communications only as snapshots of meaning. As an example he told me a story about one particular moment in which the communication with his audience was itself inspired. The passion in his voice made it clear that the idea of the moment was important to his work; something deeply personal. His story described a moment of extraordinary communication with the patron; a brief slice of time during which the patron “explained my painting better than I did”.

I asked whether operating on the periphery of the festival, even though he is a recognized artist of some acclaim, made him an outlaw. ”The artist is always an outlaw” he answered. The other Sasha added “except instead of running away from rich people you run towards them because they are your patrons”.

Alexandre in front of a scene that incorporates the store itself set against the Toronto skyline.

Alexandre in front of a scene that incorporates the store itself set against the Toronto skyline.

The Tyranny of Time

Speaking again about time, and how savouring art is a casualty of time’s tyranny, he continued to say that: “art is visual, yet we are surrounded by so many visual distractions. It’s like a genocide of visual art. All visual art is flying to [obscurity]. As an artist you are materializing your thoughts, dreams, and material desires. You can’t go against [visually materializing these things as you are compelled to do. Yet there is the tyranny of time]“. I could empathise with  any creative who felt strongly compelled to follow whichever way the wind of that creativity blows, sometimes in the process losing track of details that are meaningless to the creative act … like deadlines for festivals.

Being in Liberty Village, which is a stones throw from the mental health facility, there is a crazy guy living downstairs. “They open the doors and let them out” Sasha complained. The man introduced himself but seemed somehow to remain invisible.

Alexandre Studio is a recognizable landmark at 1083 Queen St. West

Alexandre Studio is a recognizable landmark at 1083 Queen St. West

Boshevics and Tzarists

Sasha indeed had an interesting story. Born in Azerbajan to grandparents who had to escape from St. Petersberg due to problems with the Bolshevics, he was taught to draw by his father and then enrolled in the Academy of Art which saw him return to the St. Petersberg his grandparents had left. It was not quite returning to learn from the same Bolshevics that his grandparents had run from, since by then the government had changed … and in any case he noted that the school was “in a building built in the Tzarist period”.

Etobicoke School of the Arts

Just across the street from Alexandre Studio the Etobicoke School of the Arts was having an exhibition of its own surrounding the festival. Originally, the working theme of the exhibition was the artist Duchamps, but the exhibition soon became a free for all of expression. I spoke to Carmen Umana whose family originated from Latin America, specifically Guatemala and Honduras. Her piece was a human sized stuffed figure, covered in a burgundy velour and in the shape of a shovel. The piece was appropriately called “shovel”. Carmen is a grade 12 student.

Carmen, a grade 12 student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, took part in an exhibit that featured the work of many of her schoolmates as well.

Carmen, a grade 12 student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, took part in an exhibit that featured the work of many of her schoolmates as well.

Photography Exhibit at the Lens Factory

I also met photographer Ivana Otovic from Belgrade, Serbia and now living and working in Norway. Her photography featured in this exhibit captures the psychological impact of social spaces, an impact that is more clearly seen when the spaces are empty. Furniture, fans, ceiling, and brick walls, are forms captured in her photographs. Through the repetition in which they are arranged spacially throughout the building, they convey an orderliness which becomes part of the social impact conveyed by the architectural space itself.

Ivana Otovic prepares for a television interview during a very popular special preview of her exhibit that was held tonight.

Ivana Otovic prepares for a television interview during a very popular special preview of her exhibit that was held tonight.

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