LEV KHESIN

 

To begin, could you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

I was born in Penza, Russia. 1999 in the age of 18, I moved to Berlin, Germany, to study at the UdK (University of Arts). 20 years later I still live and work here.

Describe your journey to becoming an artist. Has it been easy? Natural? What has been difficult?

I grew up in an artistic family, my parents are both artists. Less obvious, but probably not less important influence was my grandfather, who was a chief engineer of the huge factory in Penza that was building diesel motors for ships and locomotives. For a long time in my youth I was more into reading about tech stuff rather than art. As a teenager I even dreamed of becoming an aircraft construction engineer. When I think about it now, I see why my current creative process is a mixture of painter’s traditional approach and engineer’s technical approach. I use a lot of materials and tools that are rather “industrial”. I cannot even remember when was the last time I bought something from an artist supply store for my work.

As for the question if it was easy or difficult, I don’t have an answer. I mean, in relation to what? Anyway I couldn’t say that the decision and the process of becoming an artist was some kind of rebellion in my case, so yes, probably it was rather natural.

How would you describe your work to someone?

It’s about light, it’s about matter, and it’s also about patience.

What is important for viewers to note when viewing your work?

I wouldn’t want to prescribe anything to anyone. Though probably every viewer’s first question is – “May I touch the painting?”

What is your process like? How important is process in understanding your work?

The process of applying the silicone layers on top of each other, this interaction of my intention and processes that don’t go according to my plan is primary to me. As Robert Ryman, who unfortunately died just recently, once said, "The basic problem is what to do with paint".

I'm interested to know how you arrived at your choice of process, materials, and 'style?'  How did this develop? 

My first Art School in Russia was a very traditional one. Not much have changed there since the 19th century – everyone was studying the traditional techniques, painting portraits, landscapes and still lives and things like that. You definitely could learn technical skills, but no one talked about contemporary art there.  When I came to Berlin I’ve decided to begin from scratch. My focus was on abstract Minimal Art for a while. I tried to get rid of traditional painting materials. I guess what I do now has its roots in both Abstract Minimalism and also in the Art of classical figurative land- or seascape as William Turner might understood it.

What does your work aim to say?

I guess a good painting (as well as a good movie) doesn’t say or tell anything, it rather shows  you something. You can try to verbalize it of course, but in the process of translation just too much gets lost.

Can you highlight some of your influences and discuss how they have impacted your work?

I could name Fischli & Weiss or Vic Muniz, although it is more their way of thinking rather than the optic of their works that inspires me. Their way of looking at common things and banalities, and their clever irony. But also surely J.M.W. Turner, whom I’ve already mentioned.

Where do you find inspiration?

When your typical artwork consist of dozens to hundreds of layers each one of them needs quite a long time dry, patience and mental stamina is more important than the inspiration which never last long.

In your experience, what is the best thing about being an artist? What is the hardest thing about being an artist?

To both questions: having no schedule.

If you were not an artist, what would you be? 

I’d still want to play with different tools and materials. So I guess, I also could become an engineer, like my grandfather was, but unfortunately, or luckily, physics and math are not my strongest point despite of my interest in them.

What piece of advice would you give to a young artist?

Make an intentionally “bad artwork” based on techniques, motifs and choices that are opposed to your usual ones once every once in a while.

 
Adam Reid Fox