Александр  Захаров

Alexander Zakharov’s Puppet Theater.

On February 25th the Museum of Contemporary Russian Art in Jersey City opens Alexander Zakharov’s exhibition “Reflections of Reality”. The New York public is familiar with Alex’s work. Just a few years ago his exhibitions were held regularly at Mimi Firtz and other galleries in the City. However, it’s become more difficult to see his works since the artist moved to Germany. Alex’s paintings must be viewed “live”. Much like well-written novels, which are best read unhurriedly, his works must be thoroughly examined. Reproductions and compressed-for-the-Internet electronic pictures are unable to convey the level of detail and rare in our day meticulousness of execution. At one of past exhibits, where miniature drawings were presented, a magnifying glass was supplied next to each of the works. That particular exhibit happened to be the last of the artist’s “sinister” period. In the 90’s Zakharov’s characters were righteous-looking Hasidic Jews, ferocious cannibals, and lizards of all types, who were devouring or tormenting each other. Naturally, the buyers of this Breigelesque cocktail were mostly German collectors. However, five years ago Alex changed the themes of his paintings as well as the style of execution. His new characters are teddy bears and other cute things. It may seem that such a shift was driven by commercial considerations. But in my opinion only the “packaging” changed, while the essence remained unaltered – the same bewilderment of characters, the fluidity of meanings, and the isolated detachment of landscapes. However, now the relationship between the artist and his characters is more heartfelt. And the viewer cannot but empathize with the image. Only a coarse individual will be left unmoved by a scene, where the forces of nature are faced by a teddy bear, with its silly pink fur, feeble body, and bead eyes. Predictably, public’s interest in the artist became more widespread, perhaps even too widespread. In January Zakharov’s painting was shown at the Museum’s exhibit at Manezh, in Moscow. This piece was to the liking of one of Moscow’s criminal bosses. So much, in fact, that he offered to purchase it for half the price. After being told that it was impossible to meet his demand, this art lover left the exhibit, while dispensing threats. Subsequently, the painting was stolen twice en route from Manezh to JFK International Airport in New York. It was recovered only by the joint efforts of the Museum’s administration and Moscow’s powerbrokers.

In addition to Alexander Zakharov’s skills, he is also distinguished by such personal qualities as deep sense of honor, fine taste, and sharp mind. Here is what the artist himself says about his work:

“A child lives in each of us. When we cry, it is this child’s tears. When we laugh, it’s his laughter. Everything sincere in us is from childhood. With age the ability to be amazed, and to be delighted by amazement weakens, but does not disappear completely. This child inside us, open to everything new, is our soul.

“Until the age of twenty, I was building a world, making it ready for its first inhabitants, setting a stage, choosing the scenery. At that time I created a great deal of drawings depicting the characters. But it turned out that my stage-set and my characters were of two different worlds. The landscape was idyllic, and the characters – aggressive and ugly. And this is not surprising. The landscape is the direct continuation of my idealistic and pure image of the world and of the art, which came from childhood. But from the beginning of the 1980’s in our society, most prominent and active people of my generation were those who made a bet on destruction. Uncertain times were approaching, and in my graphical works I depicted that, which in my mind reflected the times most vividly and fully. As it seemed at the time, there was no choice. I populated my “heavenly garden” of innocent and romantic notions with the demons of my unconsciousness and my societal fears. We tend to believe, that by playing with evil we control the process. This is a gross misjudgment. Art formulates and defines the artist’s reality and existence. I had to start from “zero”, even from “negative one”, as my artistic reality laid in ruins. I came back to my “theater”, and once more became its director. Its structure and stage were rebuilt, the set reworked, but, most importantly, there were new actors. Today I only write the plot, and the play develops at the will and by the rules of my characters. All of my paintings are the result of collaborative work – my toy heroes and mine. The critics of my former, dark plays-paintings are in the past. These days my judges are the viewers of different kind. Only their opinions matter to me, and only their advice is significant. I look at my audience and see more and more children. Of course, they are with adults – mothers, sisters, grandmothers. Women have always been the keenest and the most receptive appreciators of the arts. My little puppet theater is open to all. I invite you to visit my little land. I hope that the trip will bring you many happy and sad discoveries. May it help you to revisit the years when the colors around you were brighter, the sky was higher, the sorrows were fleeting, and joy and amazement – boundless.” 

Radik Shvarts