Q+Art: Alexey Adonin’s Luminescent Works Illustrate Eerily Familiar Landscapes
“Somehow this isn’t at all how I envisioned it,” remarks a character from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1972 science fiction novel, Roadside Picnic. It’s a favorite of Belarusian artist Alexey Adonin. Now based in Jerusalem, Artist Alexey Adonin maps the strange, alien landscapes of classic science fiction onto canvas with a disorienting familiarity that’s typical of the genre.
Roadside Picnic tells the story of Earth after extraterrestrial contact. The aliens arrive without much fanfare, leaving behind toxic but useful refuse for human scavengers—called “stalkers”—to collect and sell on the black market. It’s a different sort of first-contact story, one that spoofs evil and benevolent alien tropes in equal measure; here, the aliens are merely indifferent. For those who grew up on the campy bravado of Independence Day and the paranoid terror of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s a shock—this isn’t at all how we envisioned it, either.
For Adonin, the ambiguity works. His luminescent works illustrate eerily familiar landscapes populated by futuristic societies with their own rules, customs, and rituals. Some works are entirely abstract, while others suggest clandestine ceremonies carried out by oracles or high priests. There’s an illusory quality to Adonin’s work, as if the transparent layers of paint could collapse in on themselves and dissolve into nothingness at any moment. Like the protagonists of Roadside Picnic, we’re left in the dark, unable to understand the alien landscape before our eyes.
After Andrei Tarkovsy adapted the novel for his 1979 film Stalker, the titular word became shorthand in the Soviet Union for a person who navigates forbidden or uncharted territories. In Adonin’s work, the viewer steps into the role of stalker, hopelessly puzzling over cryptic artifacts that belong to another world. It’s a riddle that can’t be solved, but Adonin doesn’t care much for answers, anyway. His works unlock knowledge not with logic, but by walking straight into the unknown with open eyes and a quick pace.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Alexey Adonin discusses how science fiction came to influence his work, the pleasures of ambient electronic music, and keeping cool in a crisis.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Alexey Adonin: Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers. Science fiction holds a special place in my heart. I remember being obsessed with it in childhood so much. Though I expanded my range of interests when I grew up, I still refer to it as the core of my inspiration—where it all started for me. So from time to time, I peek at some of my favorite pieces.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
AA: I would love to have dinner with Pavel Filonov or Max Ernst.
What are you trying to express with your art?
AA: I explore the point of convergence between abstraction and surrealism to create a channel of communication between my inner world and the viewers, not only to share my personal vision but also and especially to invite viewers to elaborate their personal interpretations and narratives, establishing deep involvement both in the emotional aspect and in the intellectual one. Moreover, I use a technique that layers oil paints to create a mystical, transparent look, reminding the viewer of the classical school of painting and highlighting the importance of the act of looking.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
AA: It depends. As long as I have a day job, I would allow myself such "pleasure," in some cases. However, in the long term, definitely not. Some galleries practice demanding exclusive rights for selling the artworks in exchange for exposure. Moreover, they often require to create artworks only for them without any commitments from their end. I stopped agreeing to that. They don't give you the chance to sell your own artwork in other places, which is unfair.
What person has most influenced your work?
AA: Everyone around me, one way or another, influenced my work but not directly. I don't have any idols or muses. It's my inner world that influences my direction, which I follow. We are witnessing how today's mass pop culture imposes dogmas that attempt to lead us away from personal achievements. I firmly think the artist should follow his unique path. He should develop his style through the prism of personal preferences, especially if he wants to devote his art research to those aspects of life that somehow reflect his inner world.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
AA: A piece of electronic, ambient music. I love listening to records while working on a painting, or I go for a walk. It's a soundtrack to my creative process and my life as a whole.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
AA: It's my unique style I developed and how it reflects my inner self. It's inspiring me to continue my work and gives my life a specific sense. The awards and recognition are just consequences of it.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
AA: This advice is a real story from my grandpa, who went through World War II and got awarded many times, and it's about a situation that bears all the hidden fears and shows how to resist them. There was great chaos in the first months of the war. While one of the heavy shelling, my grandpa was in his trench, the others soldiers in theirs too. As the bombardment lasted for quite a long time, accompanied by an earth-shaking and terrible noise, many soldiers panicked and often ran from trench to trench. They thought that it might save them, but in fact, it cost some of their lives. My grandpa stayed saved because of his ability to stay calm, whatever happens. He didn't panic, nor did he run anywhere from his trench. This is a lesson, something that we must cultivate in ourselves, not in this specific situation of war, but a life approach as a whole.
Is a formal art education worth the money?
AA: Well, my formal education was in the Soviet Union, and it didn't cost any money. Anyway, it was worth it! It helped me develop my artistic skills and gave me a large practical base that I appreciate much till today.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
AA: I want to create and try to make a living, and I want all these today, not in some historical terms. I don't care if I will be significant or not after I leave. I have no expectations for anything. I try to be as realistic as possible.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
AA: I always try to find pluses in anything. I must say, after a while, I began to enjoy the lockdown situation as long as I had a chance to go for a walk in nature. I love silence and breathing fresh air, especially when there is no traffic or any significant noisy human activity. Also, if you think of it more in terms of philosophy, the circumscribed world gives value to things generated out of time. There were moments of clarity that I implemented in my art practice.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
AA: I'm working on a commissioned piece. It's about a still point of the in-between, somewhere out of this world located a mysterious place of neither body nor spirit, what might have been and what has been. And I cannot say how long this place exists, but I can find a sense of stillness and peace there, even as this place beyond the mind's capability trying to define and comprehend it. The client chose one of my drawings to embody in color. She also chose which colors to apply. I have had many interesting ideas appear when creating it, whether on a notion or a technical level. It's in the final stage, so I may have a chance to surprise you with something new soon.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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