Madisonville artist’s paintings were an eerie premonition of the war in Ukraine | Arts

Madisonville artist’s paintings were an eerie premonition of the war in Ukraine | Arts

Artist Alexander Stolin still has a fairly strong Eastern European accent, despite living on the North Shore for the past 30 years. Back in 1992, when he was 29, he emigrated from Ukraine, where he was born.

It would be easy to interpret his solo exhibition at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery as a response to the ongoing war in his former homeland. The black and white paintings are shadowy, claustrophobic and grim. Stolin said he based his current style on film noir detective movies and such. The sun never quite shines in the world he invented. The whole vibe is uniformly melancholic.

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

But it is not that simple. Most of the paintings were finished in 2020 and 2021, before the war started. They are not a reaction to the Russian invasion, they are a pessimistic premonition.

Stolin, 59, carved out a place for himself in the New Orleans art scene in the early 2000s. He was represented by a Julia Street gallery and gained a following of fans.

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

“I wrapped up in the real world,” he said.

Note the atomic bomb test house, in this detail of Alexander Stolin’s painting ‘Crystal Ball:Silence’, at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia Street

Just a question of when

But over the past few years, he has returned to his brushes. Middle Ages was a time for nostalgia and evaluation. It was time to reconcile his two selves, the Louisianan and the Ukrainian underneath. Being Ukrainian, Stolin said, can be complicated.

Stolin said his father was Jewish and his mother was Eastern Orthodox, but during the Soviet era it was not easy to express either faith. Stolin said his family endured the hardships of communism, World War II, the Cold War, and then the confusion and uncertainty after the fall of the Soviet Union. The recent Russian invasion, he said, was no surprise. No surprise at all. Russia has been a constant threat for years.

To be Ukrainian, he said, is to expect profound disruption. Stolin said he was raised with the credo: “It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when.”

And that’s what Stolin’s exhibit, “Memories Project,” is all about. In one painting, young boys build sand castles on the beach while aircraft carriers lurk in the sea behind them. In another, a family consults a crystal ball while sitting under a painting of a test house built to determine the power of an atomic bomb. The sun rises in one painting, but the sky remains smoky gray, as a squadron of silver fighter jets roar overhead. The only smiles seen in the entire exhibition are on the masks of the children dressed as goblins or clowns in Stolin’s painting “Halloween”.


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

Live the dream

If there is any escape from this joyless world, it may be represented by the 48-star flag of the United States in the background of Stolin’s painting of an elementary school class picture titled “Say Cheese.” Maybe escape is the answer?

Stolin said he was always aware that he had distant relatives living in the United States. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, as communist power faltered, he took the opportunity to join them. He traveled first to San Francisco, then almost immediately to Hattiesburg Mississippi, where long lost cousins ​​lived. These cousins ​​encouraged him to stay in the region. He met a woman. His American life had begun.

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

To understand his feelings, he asks us to imagine if the place where we grew up is constantly being destroyed before our eyes. Yet he also asks us not to view him as a victim. Having phone conversations with old friends in Ukraine who are holding out in bomb shelters made him acutely aware of his own safety and comfort in Madisonville.


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

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

A few months back, Stolin visited Jonathan Ferrara Gallery to see an exhibit by an old friend. Ferrara asked him if he still made art. Stolin said that he was in fact. But he told Ferrara “It’s really dark; I don’t know who wants it.”

But Ferrara gambled that we would. Take a break from the festivities during Saturday’s White Linen Night block party to visit Stolin’s bittersweet return to the fine art scene and let yourself be wrapped up in the real world for a moment.

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is located at 400A Julia Street. “Memories Project” continues until August 27. For more information, visit the gallery website.


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