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Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,
Whoever enters this exhibition and is not stunned, thrilled and overwhelmed by such skill cannot be helped. When you first look around, you feel like there is a surplus of everything. You see an artist who is free to do anything and does almost anything. You see an artist who acts so naturally in the present, in our everyday world, as if the big issues were simply and literally "lying in the street". Someone who just finds things instead of looking for them. But someone who sees the present as a playground in order to play the game of styles in it.
On the one hand the subjects are very clear and simple: Copenhagen, Venezuela and Venice, Munich, the underground, and time and again cafes and bars. On the other hand it is a glorious juggling with motives of art history, especially with those found in classic impressionism. After all, those paintings of bars go back to the famous painting "A Bar in the Folies Bergeres" by Edouard Manet (his famous reflections have been quoted in big quotation marks time and again). However, there are, of course, also the interieurs of Tolouse Lautrec. It is the worn out tristesse of American bars by Edward Hopper. It is the contrasts between the world of goods and reality at Richard Estes and the New York photorealists. Then in the middle you discover the classical light and dark of Caravaggio, a deeply warm light as found in Rembrandt's paintings or a masterful use of light like in the paintings of Vermeer van Delft only that the young lady at the table at the window is not immersed in a letter, but in an e mail from the printer of her PC.
You may, if you want, find this art of quoting the history of painting, its realization, in almost every painting. Only that it is not its object. It is, as I have already mentioned, a surplus, something coming from a source of richness that never seems to dry up.
Alexander Kotchetov wants to do something completely different. He is a painter, a reporter, a seismograph. He creates pictures that photographers dream of taking once in their lifetimes. And they are real. They can be found in the street in the true sense of the word.
Just think of the famous underwear ad for Hennes & Mauritz with Claudia Schiffer in it. A few years ago, this campaign moved all of Germany; just because Schiffer looked so gorgeous in the billboards (I still remember a sour article in the German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in which the author even suspected that the picture was modified on the computer, because nobody, not even Claudia Schiffer could have legs that perfect; and incidentally, such outfits – made of "dental floss" were an insult to normal sized women anyway).
The "Underground Series" of Alexander Kotchetov also tells the story of this dilemma, into which the legendary billboards of Hennes & Mauritz are meticulously interwoven. But Kotchetov is not a moralist. He just shows the absurd tension of two temperatures of life: between the bodily warmth of the billboards and the cold of a real life platform. Between the nakedness on paper and the covering up in real life. Between the super sized intimacy, presented in public places, and the intimate moments of a seemingly haphazard flood of an anonymous mass. Between a "cleanness" set into scene and the inevitable muck in everyday life, which turns into a notorious nightmare in the surrounding of German underground stations.
The mere description of this realization would be absolutely trite. But in a painting it becomes the reflection of the present. And in fifty or one hundred years' time it will be possible to read in them the inner "climate" of our turn of the century just as this can be done in the paintings of Menzel in the last third of the 19th century.
Especially the image that he draws of the bars in Munich is uniquely consistent. There was a cheerful James Joyce exegete who praised "Ulysees" for describing Dublin in a way that it could be rebuilt after the book should it disappear at some point in the future. Another exegete's more sober comment was that this was not quite true, but at least the pubs of Dublin could be easily reconstructed based on "Ulysses".
This is how I feel (and you probably do as well) about Kotchetov's paintings of bars. They reproduce a truth that exceeds mere painting by far. We feel the draughty and yet hot air. We smell the alcohol, the cigarettes and the old frying oil from the kitchen. We get a whiff of the slightly disgusting smell of deodorant after eight hours on the skin. We breathe the burnt stearine of the candles on the tables. We can even guess the beer brand. And we recognize the waitress and the barman as if we knew them by their first names.
This usually only reality can do. And that only in rare cases as a matter of fact. Even the cinema that is much more powerful does not achieve this as a rule. Or can you spontaneously remember a scene where you actually smelled more than the popcorn?
Kotchetov conjures up this fantastic atmosphere not only by what he actually portrays. It is rather created by the things he leaves out. After all, his paintings also are an exceptional deception of perception. We look at them and think we see a breathtaking amount of details. In reality though, we only see gossamer like light hints. Only a few areas are executed in a precise and even super precise manner. The rest is only "valeurs", an atmospheric, indefinite shimmer, but still precise enough so that our eye complements the rest perfectly.
If you want to see what art can do in these border zones, I recommend taking a look at the lights in the bottles in Kotchetov's watercolours. I will not have to remind you that "lights" in watercolours means white paper, i.e. a spot without any colour. Now, please try to imagine how precisely a painter has to plan in order to know before the first brush stroke where there should be a reflex on a bottle in a peripheral area of a painting. Or look at the shadow on the. waitresses' skins. Do you think that shadows are just a bit darker than the brighter areas, but still of the same colour? Completely wrong. In a reddish yellowish light, for example, shadows become greenish blue. So Kotchetov sometimes uses simple green lines. Our eye, however, perceives it as a rosy grey twilight.
You can, of course, learn such techniques. Not necessarily any longer at our academies, for which other criteria have become more important now. This does not seem to apply to the Academy in Kiev, where Kotchetov acquired his academic skills. It is, however, the way the artist sees things that makes such techniques meaningful. It is this' feeling for moods that makes the colours vibrate: this is something you cannot learn (even though skilled painters have always been able to do that). And what you cannot learn and what Kotchetov is especially skilled at, which sometimes makes you shudder, is the finest of all essences of art: the atmosphere between people.
Body language is a stupid, but popular expression. It is actually a very quiet melody of gestures and postures that you hardly ever consciously perceive, but that a resonating tune in our soul and in these paintings. Take, for example, the waiter and the young lady in an otherwise empty Venezuelan street cafe. Basically, this scene is absolutely logical, quite conventional and harmless. What is more, Kotchetov shows us both characters only from behind at the margin of the picture, like they were in the picture by mistake. But what their mere postures tell us is breathtaking: his hands, placed on the back of the chair in a little too provocatively casual way and on his hip, the corresponding lop sided shoulders; her turning away defensively, her posture like a hedgehog rolled up in her baggy white coat; but still, her head is turned back and her hair thrown back, with a sceptical, yet interested look in the corner of her eye. Only this interactive play of postures and gestures is enough to make a novel out of this moment and to turn us all into voyeurs.
Sometimes Kotchetov cannot resist his talent for situations, if everything tends to point to one thing. But even those paintings are irresistible. When, for example, a young man is busily talking into his mobile phone in a palace park, completely ignorant of the beauty of his surroundings the dignified expression of the baroque garden nymph above taking on a look of utter boredom and disgust.
I am also a bit sceptical concerning those scenes that give themselves away too much to the sports genre, such as the horse races or the bullfight. There the typical atmosphere becomes too dominant. Little room is left there for those nuances that only he can create as he does.
But where he admits them, they are unique. This siesta moment in a bar, where the looks between the landlord and the waitress no longer meet out of tiredness and emptiness, everyone for themselves and still close to each other in their burnt out feeling. While the girl with the breathtakingly low backed top, with her big belt with the wallet and the apron, is another painful contrast that, however, only we, the viewers are aware of, no longer the two main characters.
Paintings can be that beautiful, that truthful and exact. Now go and have a look! Enjoy! Because so much life in art and so much art in life you only get to see on very special days.
Officer of cultural affairs of the district of Rosenheim