Whitehot Magazine

Arslan in Conversation with Roman Kalinovski at The Bee in the Lion

 Arslan, October, 2018, Mixed media, 47 x 29 ½ x 29 ½ inches 

Arslan: Tremor—Installation III
The Bee in the Lion
310 East 23rd Street, 2H, New York NY 11010
On view through July 27, 2018


Recently, I received an invitation to attend a reception and talk for Russian-American artist Arslan’s show at art dealer Bee Tham’s recently-opened East 23rd street space, The Bee in the Lion. The reception packed the space to the limits of comfort, and while I had a chance to listen to Arslan’s conversation with Katy Hamer as well as briefly chat with him about his work, the heat and noise generated by the mass of bodies in the room precluded any prolonged engagement. I returned to The Bee in the Lion the following weekend to talk with Arslan one-on-one about the current show, his larger artistic practice, and what it means to be a “realist” artist in an increasingly unrealistic world.

Roman Kalinovski: This is the last in a series of three installations you’ve exhibited in this space. This iteration is based around the individual seated female figure; what motifs and themes did you use for the other two?

Arslan: The first one was an overview of painting, sculpture, and drawing. The second one was focused on sculpture. There was one drawing in it, and the rest was sculpture.

Kalinovski: And the current show consists of mainly paintings alongside a few sculptures. Do you see these practices as running parallel to each other, or do they have separate purposes for you?

Arslan: I think they support each other. My painting Seated Girl, with the luminous head in the void, would be hard to replicate as a sculpture unless you built an entire apparatus around it.

Arslan, Reminiscence, 2018, Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 ¼ inches

Kalinovski: It would have to be something like Bernini’s Saint Teresa in Ecstasy.

Arslan: Exactly. And my wooden sculpture, Window, has the figure embedded inside it.

Kalinovski: I think Window is a very painterly sculpture. The figure is framed by wood and the viewer is locked into seeing it from one vantage point, like the picture plane of a canvas, while a sculpture like October can be seen from different perspectives.

Arslan: So can the figure itself: October’s paper gown could make her a princess being dressed up for some royal ceremony, or she could just as easily be a refugee.

Kalinovski: The paper gown looks like the physical version of the white robes worn by the figures in Seated Girl and Reminiscence.

Arslan: I want the image of the figure to have a physical presence, whether sculpted or painted, and the robe gives her that physicality. She has a calm and meditative look, but there is some inner emotional turmoil conveyed through the robes and their abstraction. It’s not really about what she’s wearing, but about confronting the human soul.

Arslan, Window, 2017, Mixed media, 40 x 11 x 9 inches

Kalinovski: That’s something I find interesting about your work. You said the sitter could be royalty or a refugee, but there’s one thing she isn’t, and that’s an artist’s model sitting in a studio. That potential narrativity is part of what, I think, separates your work from more “academic” realism.

Arslan: You’re an artist, right? When you write about the conversation we’re having you could describe every detail of what we’re doing right now—where we’re sitting, what we’re drinking, what color the gallery’s floor is—but would that be realism, or would it just be pointless? Especially in today’s world, for art to be realistic it needs to engage with our reality and not simply resemble it. I wouldn’t say that my work actually does anything useful, but at least I don’t remove myself entirely from what’s happening.

Kalinovski: Last week, during your talk with Katy Hamer here at the gallery, you mentioned that the subject of some of these paintings is your sister.

Arslan: I’d say that it started with my sister. She was the kernel of the painting, but over time it became a composite image, something made up, like how the Mona Lisa is a composite of La Gioconda and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Kalinovski: I suppose every work of art could be seen that way, as a superimposition of what the artist sees and what the artist actually makes.

Arslan: There you go, exactly. I’d say that it’s about experiencing the preciousness of another human being, someone who I’m looking at, very closely, from the inside. It’s not just about the model sitting on my couch in my studio. I think it’s a way to get closer to what reality is, what realism is. WM


Roman Kalinovski

Roman Kalinovski is an artist, editor and freelance writer based in New York City, 

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