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Realists of All Countries, Unite!

A Portrait of Alexander Kotchetow

In 1931 Vassily Kandinsky wrote the following in a French art journal: “The effect of the acute angle of a triangle encountering a circle is of no lesser importance than the finger of God and of Adam touching in Michelangelo’s painting.” However, not everyone who visits the Sistine Chapel is inclined to agree. 
The evolutionary history of abstract art is inextricably linked with Kandinsky and Russian culture as we know it from Dostoevski’s novel The Brothers Karamasov: Dimitri, the oldest, is a soldier and fighter. Ivan embodies the atheist intellectual and Aleksey, the pious one, is the novice. Delight in destruction, passion, doubt and cold intellectualism. Melancholy and deep piety are aspects that are still seen as key elements of what is generally described as the ”Russian soul“ and what has not been without consequence for the development of art in the 20th century. Kandinsky, an intellectual, painter and lawyer whose later work - with the greatest respect for his uniqueness - became more and more soulless, and who delivered the death blow to representational painting with missionary zeal, was particularly responsible for this. In this he is much like one of the brothers Karamasov. But: Kandinsky is dead and the 20th century is over.
Alexander Kotchetow, a painter who lives in Munich but received his education in Russia, has consciously turned away from his compatriot and devoted himself to representational painting. Since the October revolution, communism and the Cold War are now things of the past, figurative art can celebrate its comeback. However, this is not so easy to understand and one has to be prepared to leave the well-trodden paths of thinking in art history.

From Craft to Art

Alexander Kotchetow was born in Kiev in 1966 and initially attended a sports school until his parents decided to have his noticeable artistic talent schooled through systematic education. He was not even ten years old when they presented him to the director of the Kiev art school. The director looked at the child’s drawings and helped him switch to a high school with an emphasis on art education. From then on and until he graduated from the Kiev Academy of Arts, Alexander Kotchetow received a systematic, sound education in drawing and painting, the like of which is hard to find any more in the West, as well as an equally thorough education in art history. For fifteen years Kotchetow devoted himself almost every day to perfecting his drawing skills and developing his own palette and language of form. Art is, after all, also a craft, and it must be studied like a craft for a long time before it can be perfected.
Then perestroika came along and with it the opening up to the West. In the early Nineties Alexander Kotchetow received a scholarship in connection with an exchange programme and came to Munich, Kiev's twin city. He studied the city, its people and museums – and returned to Munich after graduating from the Kiev Academy of Art. Since the mid-Nineties Munich has become a second home to him, just like it was to Kandinsky in the past, bringing him closer to the great artists of German, Dutch, Italian and French painting in more than just a geographical sense. Kotchetow, who loves to travel, has always understood the old and new masters as partners in dialogue and as a challenge. Out of deep respect for their artistic mastery he has studied them thoroughly and learnt much from them. You can feel it in every single one of his paintings.

Alexander Kotchetow drafts his paintings with his eye. He respects a good drawing as being a “struggle for the aesthetics of the line“ much more than he does a copy of a photograph. In this he takes after Ingres, for whom a drawing expresses the “honesty of art“. Originally, Kotchetow not only wanted to become a painter, but an illustrator and a director of photography as well. But then he discovered that he could integrate the aspects that fascinated him in those two professions into painting and bring them to life in his paintings. He uses his drawing as the frame of his painting and, combined with his palette, creates a source of light in the background that illuminates his motifs the same way a director of photography illuminates a scene with spotlights.
Alexander Kotchetow’s language of colour has developed differently than, for example, that of van Gogh. During his Kiev years Kotchetow still used a lot of colour. Today he only uses three or four colours in each painting. His palette is reduced, but very powerful. Van Gogh developed in the opposite direction: His early works are dark with strongly prevailing brown hues. Kotchetow also attributes van Gogh and the other impressionists turning to more and more intense colours to the fact that they drank considerable amounts of absinth (vermouth wine), which was consumed in France especially by artists in the second half of the 19th century. The nerve poison thujone contained in absinth intensifies the reception of colour. It was the Dutch masters, though, that fascinated and shaped him even more than the Impressionists. Among them are the great storytellers Gerard ter Borch and Vermeer, who were masters in lending great eloquence to their quiet scenes.  From them Kotchetow adoped cinematic storytelling and the colour black as a background colour. This was completely out of fashion in Impressionism, although it can be used to create wonderful effects. In a certain way the painter Kotchetow is reminiscent of Don Quixote, and in this he is quite similar to Dostoevski’s Alexei: His economic success as an artist is less important to him than the “salvation of the world“ – at least with regard to the high art of painting. In this he is an individualist who, persistently, adamantly, imperturbably and very much against the zeitgeist, defends the achievements of a Titian, El Greco or Velázquez against art made from trash and abstraction. Of course this gives rise to the question: What’s new about this style of painting? What is avant-garde about it, what makes it contemporary? This question is really not that hard to answer. Of course, it’s not about his technique. The technique is old and has been developed by many masters. What is contemporary about Kotchetow is his imagery. At first glance you immediately recognize: This is our time, the turn of the millennium, the beginning of the 21st century. Kotchetow has a sharp eye for the typical. And for the human face. The way people view the world now is different from how they  saw it twenty years ago. Their faces have changed because their awareness has changed. Their expression and habitus have become more confident compared with the end of the 20th century. “I try to find the face of the contemporary human being“, says Alexander Kotchetow. Look at his paintings, you recognize immediately that he has succeeded. It becomes evident in works like A Cup of Coffee, Barmaid in Pink (cover picture) or in St. Annenstraat No. 66.

The October Revolution and Abstraction

If you discuss 20th century painting with a Russian, you will get a fresh look at art history. Kotchetow does not so much think in Western categories but rather in those of his own culture and history. For him abstract painting is the direct consequence of the political upheavals at the beginning of the 20th century and the October revolution, the “left movement“ of painting, so to speak. The Communists associated beauty and figurativism with the tastes of the rich and the bourgeois class. That is why they had to fight aesthetics and form just as much as capitalism itself. After all, it was two Russians, Kandinsky and the Communist Malevich, who helped abstract painting to achieve a breakthrough and put figurativism behind them for good. By becoming an abstract painter Kandinsky, who had been wealthy and a member of the Bourgeoisie, betrayed his own class. Another way of looking at things – from a Russian perspective.

Kotchetow is a self-confessed traditionalist. Consequently, his manner of painting is figurative and realistic. Being Russian he distinguishes between three different types of people: the true proletarian, the true bourgeois and the true nobleman. He deeply respects all three of them. What he is critical of, however, is the “proletarian bourgeois“, who is proletarian at heart, but who bears himself like a capitalist: a social climber who is not a true master of his craft and who just has money - and most likely also a significant inferiority complex. The proletarian bourgeois is dangerous, as he has the inclination to try to destroy the true master. The art scene is riddled with people like him, the type of person who has little instinct for content and whose primary concern is, after all, praise, personal vanity, business and profit. It still makes a difference whether someone behaves like an artist in order to make money and become famous – or whether someone is a true artist and knows that his economic success will be the consequence of the quality of his work.
Alexander Kotchetow, an anti-Kandinsky and a modern Velázquez, is an exceptional painter. He is obstinately conservative. That is what makes his works, which have been bought by collectors worldwide, so appealing. If van Dyck was still alive today, he would paint lingerie exactly the way Kotchetow does. He would paint women the way Kotchetow does: self-confident, demanding, aware of their effect on others, beautiful and unstoppably independent. That is contemporary art. And, when combined with painting technique on a par with the Old Masters, it is characterized most of all by one thing: class. These paintings set standards.

Lena Naumann
Mundus December/January/February 2009/2010

Storyteller and Artist with a Brilliant Technique

It is rare that paintings touch you at first sight like this happens with the paintings of the young Russian artist Alexander Kotchetov. They speak to you immediately, as they show a view of the world that permits uncoded recognition. The observer enters into a dialogue with the painting. The moments the painter has caught on canvas reveal the intensity of his paintings, in the embarrassed lowering of the eyes of the “Waitress in Red”, for example, or the shy glance of the barmaid in “Evening at the Bar”.

“Breathtakingly beautiful”, is what the officer of cultural affairs of the district of Rosenheim, Klaus J. Schönmetzler, called the exhibition of the Kunst- und Kulturverein Hohenaschau. He even topped this description in his laudatory speech at the vernissage: “Whoever enters this exhibition and is not stunned, thrilled and overwhelmed by such skill cannot be helped.”

Alexander Kotchetov, who was born in Kiev in 1966, acquired his perfect painting technique at the Kiev Art School and Art Academy as well as the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. Still, he is a master of something that cannot be learnt. His oil paintings, watercolours, pastel paintings, ink and pencil drawings portray moods, without which a perfect technique would remain meaningless. The magic realist finds his motifs in the moments of everyday life in a big city that seem inconspicuous at first glance, but which in his interpretation look enigmatically intense or slightly unreal. Realism is, after all, an expression of life in the form of life itself. “I want to change reality, I want to spiritualize it! But how to find the light, the lyricism, the energy? How to grab the observer without denying the truth? How to depict silence, mourning or cheerfulness, mental torment, how to show each breath, which is what man, nature and, in the end, our time is about?” (Alexander Kotchetov)

Following the airily drafted vaudeville and bar scenes of the French impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Edward Hopper's cool and reduced interiors Alexander Kotchetov's paintings use the individual in their environment, the juxtaposition of the inner and outer worlds, of intimacy and public attention, as their subject. The observer always sees familiar settings of everyday life, for example in the “Girl in Red” and “What is it you want to tell me”. Here the artist is a chronicler of his time, who makes visible the tensions between the sober, anonymous city life and the sensitive human characters. Alexander Kotchetov is a master of portraying his models with spontaneous, light brush strokes, of juxtaposing intensely brilliant shades and light-dark contrasts und playing with the effect of light and shadow with consummate ease. His paintings are elaborated in detail only in a few spots, they are mostly based on roughly sketched hints, with spaces and landscapes, individual figures and figure constellations still being precise. The tints and the economically applied brush strokes are complemented by the eyes of the observer to show a detailed scene with a lively, wonderfully warm and magic atmosphere.

Numerous collectors have been fascinated by this contemporary narrative works, and he can hardly keep up with painting the sought-after pictures. But good art needs time, says Kotchetov.

In the current exhibition of the Rotterdam Kunsthalle knots of people were gathered in front of his works, and in discussions he has been compared with the great Dutch masters. Kotchetov competes both with the (Soviet) impressionists and the Dutch painters: the storyteller Gerard ter Borch, who he finds more interesting than the more popular Rembrandt, the free brush strokes of Frans Hals and, of course, the radiance and freshness of Vermeer. Today all this may be forgotten, including the artistic techniques, says Kotchetov. The renaissance in art has to begin with technique, so that an artist will be able to depict milk flowing from a jug just like Vermeer…

Dagmar Gold
Performance May 2007

A brilliant painter tells stories of today

DO YOU KNOW THE FEELING: You are listening to a piece of music and you can't get the tune out of your head, you are reading the first paragraph of a book and you can't put it down. It is rare that paintings touch you at first sight like this happens with the paintings of the young Russian artist Alexander Kotchetow…

… In his opinion art has to deviate from reality, as without this deviation a painting is dead. A painting has to “talk” and convey the feeling, the beauty and the life of today. Not only is Kotchetow's technique brilliant, he also is a very acute observer of details and human relationships. His paintings reflect the moment – the “fruitful factor” – in which a story materialises. “Human beings are always interesting to me, their feelings, love, their scheming”, emphasises Kotchetow.

His mastery becomes evident first of all in his watercolours, a technique that requires technical skill and does not allow for corrections. In his special technique the artist is reminiscent of the great masters. “Every day I draw a thought, an occurrence, or I draw a picture from memory”. Watercolouring on such a high level requires daily practice. It is like regularly practising a musical instrument. “I want to make watercolours popular again as an art form”. As opposed to oil paintings watercolours create a feeling of airiness. A watercolour is noble. Realistic art of good quality requires a lot of time...

Dagmar Gold
Diners Club May 2007


Young Figuration at “Kunsthaus Wien”

After figuration comes abstraction, after abstraction figuration and then over and over again. The museum “Kunsthaus Wien” has once again arrived at representational painting. […]
The decisive factor for selecting the paintings was not the artists' age, but the date their work was created. Only paintings of the 21 st century were taken into consideration.
All in all, more than fifty paintings by around forty artists from all over the world are shown. Amongst them are stars of the international art scene, such as Peter Doig, Lucian Freud, Eberhard Havekost, Alex Katz, Neo Rauch or Xenia Hausner, but also more or less unknown, hopeful newcomers like Samuel Blaser, Sylvia Vandermeer, Richard Phillips, Regina Götz or Alexander Kotchetow. The exhibition was conceived in cooperation with the Münchner Kunsthalle of the Hypo-Kulturstiftung, the Museum Franz Gertsch in Burdorf, Switzerland, and the Kunsthal Rotterdam. […]

Kunsthaus Wien


AMD term projects „auf schmalem Grat“ (meaning “on a thin line“)

On 12 April the graduates of the Munich Academy of Fashion & Design (AMD) showed their term projects und diploma collections in the framework of a fashion show at the venue Zenith in Munich . The fashion show, with the meaningful name “Next”, took place for the sixth time in a row und has gained in popularity over the years. This year's show attracted 2,500 visitors to „Zenith“, next to the representatives of the fashion industry and businesspeople also a number of editors of fashion and lifestyle magazines and daily newspapers as well as delegations of the sponsors involved. Celebrities like Jutta Speidel and Julian Nida-Rümelin were also sighted there. Someone who caused a stir – apart from the young designers involved – was the Russian painter Alexander Kotchetov, who was busily drawing away during the whole event. The works he created during this event will be exhibited at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich , which is a nice side effect of this rather illustrious evening.

Magazin Europa, 15.04.2008


"... What remains is loneliness. Seeking refuge in each other, clinging together brings no relief. Two of Alexander Kotchetow's famous works express exactly this feeling. Most of his works are Gouache paintings. He only brought one water color from California. Even there - the street besides him and a skyscraper in the background – Kotchetow saw a girl walking as if she were lost, lonely in a bubbling city, the city's only landmark being a gray skyscraper.

Ingrid Zimmerman
Quotation from the article "What remains is loneliness"
Süddeutsche Zeitung. 19 September 2000

"His water colors are a unique play of colors and light that shows his figures as if they were almost real. Women are his favorite motif. Above all, waitresses." Kotchetow paints scenes from Munich's bars and coffee shops...
...Today, Alexander Kotchetow, born 1966 in Kiev, lives in Munich. "He is one of the most important representatives of the new realistic painting school in South-Germany", says art dealer Thomas Schneider. " His themes are full of technically brilliant and sensitive poetical impulses."

Report from Natascha Gottlieb in Bild Zeitung. Munich. 19 July 2008

...Alexander Kotchetow, of Kiev, Ukraine, where he was first trained in draughting and water color, is now a master of color, shape and form in splashes and daubs. He exhibited his watercolor at the International Art Expo...

"The Dynamic Duo", cont't p. 1."
New York Trade Show, Capital of the World
Liberty, News Online Sunday, March 14th, 2004

Today I had the opportunity to appreciate Alexander Kotchetow's works in Munich, a talented artist with solid academic formation. Both his paintings and hand drawings show that Mr Kotchetow is not only an artist with profound knowledge in terms of traft but also developed further Impulses based on traditional techniques and thus creates his own artistic point of view. From realism, to which Alexander Kotchetow's works still adhere, he developed his own critical expression of art. At the same time his academic formation is a tool that permits unlimited use of any of the creative media available. His drawings show the talented Illustrator.
His true themes are modern human beings in the urban environment. Here, he expresses with delicacy the emotional imbalance of modern industrial society without getting lost in ostensible stereotypes.
As any artist, he can not see his artistic development in his achievements. Kotchetow's aspiration can be described as a continuous altercation between a new social environment and his own talent. While exchanging ideas with colleagues from his home country he finds inspiring Impulses that translate into his artistic work. Kotchetow is considered as one of the many important Russian artists with international reputation that received and developed decisive impulses for their artistic work in the city of Munich. To mention but a few: Wassily Kandisky, Alexey von Jawlensky and Marianne von Wereffkin...

Klaus Dietz
Munich, 17 December 1996
Sworn Appraiser
Chamber of Industry and Commerce for Munich and Upper Bavaria
Graphic art of the 17th —20th century. Hand drawings, water colors and print graphic