Name: Dan Kiselev
Hometown/ Current town: Born in Moscow, USSR/ now living in Philly, Fishtown.
I’m working on a number of collaborations with local Philadelphia artists. I strongly believe that having to be intimately aware of an artistic vision that is not your own (which you have to do in order to really collaborate) pushes the artist to grow. Sure it can be difficult to get those two visions to align, but it forces you to consider what about your own art is essential, and what you can do without. Plus, I love contrast in all it’s forms, so trying to meld two very different aesthetics is just fun.
Describe your work.
It’s difficult to describe – check out the images (I know, every artist says this). Initially, it was just a means to express the surreal, fluid nature of the concepts that everybody struggles with: loneliness, fear of death, lust… And so I had to tailor my technique to be as fluid and responsive as possible. It started out mostly as a catharsis, a means to deal with personal issues, a form of self-therapy. Quietly though, that’s what all art really is – it’s just that I was not really satisfied with the tools and techniques out there, so I made my own. The ironic side effect of working with liquid, flowing medium is that I have a max of 4 hours to get it all out of my head and onto the canvas before the paint begins to set. This forces me to constantly focus only on what matters. I have a bad habit of meandering through my creative process (the fact that I am not alone in this is small comfort), so this really helps keep me on track.
The colors of your work are so vibrant, can you discuss your process?
I love color. I love contrast. One of the reasons I started experimenting with my current technique is because I wanted to express color with as much intensity as possible to match the vision in my head. I use acrylic pouring medium, which is basically the same substance that makes acrylic paint, minus the pigment. When you mix it with color, it in no way diminishes its intensity.
You recently launched a video project. Tell us more about this.
There is not enough active discussion going on about life as an artist in general and in the Philadelphia art community in particular. As a result, there is a huge gap of misunderstanding that surrounds the art community, which is often portrayed as an eternal party fueled by drugs and sex. It always struck me as odd how artists are so easily dismissed by society at large as dilettantes and unfocused daydreamers, even though in order to make a living through their art, artists have to not only create, but curate, market and sell their work without any reliable framework that exists in other industries. In truth, living as an artist is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, mentally and physically. And mind you, I grew up in ye ole’ Soviet Union, where dental surgery is done without local anesthesia. No, that is not a joke. I had my adenoids removed as a four year old kid, and the only pain relief I got was ice cream…after the fact. The amount of constant dedication, mental endurance, focus and planning it takes to be a practicing artist and not a hobbyist is backbreaking. To compound the issue, artists generally don’t like to talk about their art. We want our art to speak for us. So what you get is a cluster of almost mystical misconceptions about life as an artist and the artistic process. And yet, it’s such a kick ass fascinating subject. Fun to talk about. So I started with 60 second Instagram videos shot on my cell phone. Just to see what would happen. The reaction has been pretty positive so far, so I’m planning on uploading them to YouTube. We’ll see where it goes from here.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Aside from basic prep, I just get a mason jug of hot tea and start. In my experience, just getting to work is enough to kickstart me… most of the time. I think that’s because we process so much sensory input throughout our daily lives that we unwittingly store all the inspiration we would ever possibly need. It’s just popping the cork on that bottle that’s the trick.
What’s your art background?
Well, I was born in the Soviet Union, during the death throes of that cumbersome monstrosity. It is difficult to describe to people in the USA the surreal, dystopian place that was 1980’s Moscow. Best way I can give you an idea of what the overarching theme of that life was is this little story:
When I was around 10, I got hit by a car trying to run across a busy intersection like the delinquent that I was. I did not get hurt, just bruised. After the medics checked me out, I was escorted to the police station, where the Major gave me a stern lecture. Now, he was just being a good cop: putting the fear of law into a little kid to make sure that next time, I did not get seriously hurt. But the only thing I could think of – having just been hit by a car – is not letting anything slip that would get my parents thrown in jail. See, my parents were part of what is known as Intelligentsia, a community of thinkers, artists, academics and creators, who did not tow the party line. Divulging to a cop the topics of conversation around our dinner table could be fatal.
Speaking of, my parents got me started with art. My dad would drag me to galleries and museums, initially against my will. I clearly remember the moment when I finally ‘got’ how to look at abstract art. I must have stood in front of that painting for at least a half an hour, reveling in this new understanding. On top of that, my dad is an insomniac, and so he took up painting – pastels – to fill his hours. I got schooled in the basics of color theory and composition as a boy of 6, and front there it’s just a matter of practice. On the flip side, my godmother is an expert in traditional Russian Orthodox icon painting. I would spend hours watching her apply the carefully placed, almost ritualistic brush strokes that formed the faces of angels and saints. I think my personal style is an amalgamation of those two very different aesthetics.
What’s been happening in your life?
A lot. I don’t even know where to start. I’m ending a long term relationship, beginning an art co-op, dealing with health issues and starting amazing collaborative projects. I’ve been through all of this before in one way, shape or form, but it’s not the same now. Living as an artist is a very different experience than any other life I’ve known. Art, the creation, promotion and consumption of art takes over your life, and everything else becomes subservient to it. But that also means that all the little (and not so little) triumphs and tragedies we experience are amplified ten-fold. It’s pretty jarring, but at the same time it’s almost easier to deal with, because there is so much else going on, no one thing can overwhelm you.
Describe your current state of mind.
I feel like a kid. That means that whenever I’m not totally absorbed in the moment, I’m both excited by and terrified of pretty much everything going on in my life right now. Life as an artist is full of uncertainty and risk. When that risk pays off, it’s a grand adventure. When it doesn’t, you’re up a creek without a paddle. And that’s not even talking about normal life stuff. Everything just becomes amplified. There’s a stereotype out there that artists feel everything more strongly, that we’re permanently in a hyper state of awareness. That may be partly true…for some…some of the time. The reality is, the stress and pressure of being an artists drives a large part of that sensitivity. And don’t get me wrong – it’s totally worth it. Just a bit too much sometimes.
When we met up, you mentioned that art helps to create dissent. Tell us more about this.
So in our culture, dissent has a negative connotation. Maybe not across the board – there are plenty of circles where dissent is seen as a positive factor. But these are isolated communities – straight out of the box, ‘dissent’ is a negative word. And this is a problem, because nothing drives understanding and awareness more than focused, articulated dissent. One of the many social functions of art is to normalize dissent, and the beautiful part is that it happens naturally, without you realizing it. That is because no work of art is truly finished until it is viewed by the audience. It is at this point, when the vision, the idea that the artist poured into the work melds with the filters/associations of each and every individual viewer, that a new work of art is born. Every single time. You will never see the ‘Starry Night’ the same way that I do, because you never had the chance to look up at the summer Russian sky while laying in a hay bale in a forgotten village on the shores of river Volga. Every time I look at that painting, I immediately feel that warm breeze and the smells of that world flood my awareness. And yes, I’m aware of the irony that a work of art painted from the windows of a French insane asylum by a Dutch post impressionist master takes me back to a Russian countryside. You will never experience my version of the “Starry Night” just as I will never experience yours. Yet both are valid. This is why learning to critique art should be a required course in all schools. It teaches us how to acknowledge divergent perspectives as valid while still being able to point out actual, technical flaws. And to do so without animosity, with tact and respect. So in this way, yes, art helps create dissent, the type of dissent that fosters growth and creativity.
What’s inspiring you?
Anything that makes me stop and do a doubletake. I mean, art in general is basically a self portrait, a vision of the world around the artist reflected in his/her own awareness. So for me it’s anything from vibrant colors to sex to music to my phobias… And politics. Lately I’ve heard the argument that art should stay out of politics. That’s about as silly as saying travelers shouldn’t discuss the trip they are on. Politics plays a key role in determining our lives, both in the short and long term, so artists would actually be failing if they did not engage in portraying and discussing politics through their chosen medium.
Do you have any exhibits coming up/ past exhibits you’d like to mention?
Don’t like to harp too much about past exhibits, but there is one that’s really special.
Is any of your work political?
Not overtly so. As in, there is not blatant political imagery you’ll find in my paintings. But when love, truth, freedom are attacked at the highest levels of government, then all art becomes political.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?
Money. And time. Never have enough of those things. And it’s not like I don’t sell my work. But the consistency and sustainability of living as an artist is a challenge that I have not yet overcome. This means that I have to work for someone else to sustain myself. That takes time away from the process of creating and selling art, and that in turn makes it more difficult to sustain myself through art alone. It’s funny – art is an essential part of society, social and national self awareness. It is the mirror that allows society as a whole to self-correct and reflect on both it’s mistakes and achievements. And yet, most people see it as an optional luxury, an interesting but ultimately unnecessary pursuit. There is no safety net, no infrastructure designed to safeguard artists, rather than take advantage of them. And no, I’m not trying to whine here, but you did ask…
How has the meaning of your work changed over time?
I change, and so does the meaning of my work. Things that used to appeal to me no longer inspire – it’s a constant process of shedding old ideas. Ironically, there’s this great temptation to go back to the tried and true themes of the past – they’re proven, comfortable, convenient. But everytime I try to recapture that success, I end up with abysmal failure. Only when I risk trying to express something that I’m not truly comfortable with and don’t yet fully understand myself do I end up with work that not only satisfies and pleases me, but appeals to others as well. The only thing that I never get tired of expressing is my love of color. Just my color pallets mutate.
What do you dislike about your work?
It’s not enough. The sincerity, the depth of expression – it’s not enough. I need more. I’m going to keep trying.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Three dimensional work. I want to incorporate the fluidity of sculpture into my paintings, projecting color into space. One of the collaborations I mentioned earlier is actually all about that.
Are you involved with any organizations?
I’m actually working with a friend to form an art co-op here in Philly. Just a small community to create that support network that all artists need. Hell, if you’re reading this and you’re interested, hit me up.
Do you regularly collaborate with other artists?
Up until recently, No. Never thought I would, either. Buy I had to realize that collaboration is an amazing tool not only to produce great, different, better work, but a means to re-examine and gain more perspective on your own creative process. The trick is finding artists that you can flow with. Not necessarily agree, or even see eye to eye, but flow with. Not easy to do, but so worth it.
Favorite artists and why? People in your field whom you most admire:
One of the contemporary artists I most admire is Mark Khaisman – a Philadelphian also by way of the Soviet Union. Not only is he a master at what he does, but I very much identify with his theme of self-limiting in terms of technique in order to force himself to focus on the essentials of his vision and his work. I do this through using pouring medium (literally only have 3 hours to work, so not time for BS), he does it through using packaging tape. Yes. Packaging tape. Here, check it out: his website is khaismanstudio.com.
Favorite authors, fiction: Brothers Strugatskiy, Robert Heindlen, Henrich Senkievitch.
Favorite comic strips/ comic books/ graphic novels?
Deadly Class – dark and stomach-twisting kind of epic. The Saga – if you don’t know, you should. Artesia – I wish Mark Smylie would get back to work on this one, it is so worth it.
What was the last exhibit you attended?
A show by Jessica Gamble at the Kitchen Table gallery, a local Philly artist living in the Fishtown area. Her website is jesgamble.com. Small local shows is the only way to see the best of modern art.
Your website(s): dankiselevliquidart.com