Artists’ paintings in Madisonville were a chilling obsession with the war in Ukraine | Arts

Artist Alexander Stolin still has a very strong Eastern European accent, even though he has spent the past 30 years living on the North Shore. In 1992, when he was 29 years old, he emigrated from Ukraine, where he was born.

It would be easy to interpret his solo exhibition at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery as a reaction to the ongoing war in his former homeland. The black and white paintings are shaded, stifling and gloomy. Stolen said he based his current style on detective noir films and the like. The sun never shines in the world it invented. The whole atmosphere is uniformly sad.

Stolin’s paintings certainly reflect the helplessness and sadness he feels as he watches events in Ukraine unfold on CNN.

But it’s not that simple. Most of the paintings were completed in 2020 and 2021, before the war began. It’s not a reaction to the Russian invasion, it’s a pessimistic obsession.

Stolen, 59, was already carving out a place for himself in the New Orleans art scene in the early 2000s. He was represented by the Julia Street Gallery and gained a number of fans.

Then it seemed to disappear. Nothing dramatic happened, it was just fatherhood and his day job as a landscape artist in the film industry kept him busy – too busy for a second career as a painter.

“It’s wrapped up in the real world,” he said.


Note the home of the atomic bomb test, in this detail from Alexander Stolen’s painting “Crystal Ball: Silence”, at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia Street

Just a question about when?

But over the past few years, he’s been back in his brushes. Middle age was a time of nostalgia and evaluation. It is time to reconcile himself, the Louisiana and the Ukrainian beneath him. Stolin said being Ukrainian can be complicated.

Stolin said that his father was Jewish and his mother was Eastern Orthodox, but during the Soviet era, it was not easy to express any of the beliefs. Stolin said his family suffered privations from communism, World War II, the Cold War, and then confusion and insecurity after the fall of the Soviet Union. He said the recent Russian invasion was no surprise. No wonder at all. Russia has been a constant threat for years.

He said that being Ukrainian means expecting deep turmoil. Stolen said he grew up with the dogma: “It’s not a question of whether it’s just a question of when.”

And that’s what Stolin’s exhibition, “The Memories Project” is all about. In one painting, young boys build sandcastles on the beach while aircraft carriers lie in the ocean behind them. In another case, a family consults a crystal ball, while sitting under a board of a test house built to determine the strength of an atomic bomb. The sun is shining in one of the panels, but the sky is still gray, like a swarm of silver combat drones. The only smiles seen in the entire exhibition were on the masks of children dressed as goblins or clowns in Stolen’s painting “Halloween”.


The only smiles in the entire gallery are on the faces of the elf/clown masks in Alexander Stolen’s painting “Halloween” (detail).

live the dream

If there was any escape from this fun-free world, it might be represented by the 48-star US flag in the background of Stolen’s painting of an elementary school class photo titled Say Cheese. Maybe escape is the answer?

Stolen said he always knew he had a distant family living in the United States. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, with communist power waning, he seized the opportunity to join them. He traveled first to San Francisco, and then almost immediately to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where his long-lost cousins ​​lived. His cousins ​​encouraged him to stay in the area. met a woman. His American life began.

Of course, Stolen said, he was full of anger, regret, and disbelief about the war on the other side of the world. “I live and breathe,” he said.

To understand his feelings, he asks us to imagine whether the place we grew up in is steadily being devastated before our eyes. Yet he also asks us not to consider him a victim. Having phone conversations with old friends in Ukraine who reside in shelters made him fully aware of his safety and comfort in Madisonville.


The American flag in Alexander Stolin’s painting Say Cheese (in detail) may indicate the possibility of escape.

“I’m living the dream,” he said without sarcasm.

A few months ago, Stolen visited the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery to see an exhibition of an old friend. Ferrara asked him if he still made art. Indeed, Stolen said, it was. But he told Ferrara, “It’s really dark. I don’t know who wants that.”

But Ferrara bet on it. Take a break from the festivities on Saturdays white linen night Bar the party to visit Stolin A bittersweet return to the fine arts scene and allow yourself to momentarily immerse yourself in the real world.

The Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is located at 400A Julia Street. The Memories Project runs until August 27. for further information , Visit the exhibition website.


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