Art in Paradise

I just returned last month from a week long vacation in Hawaii. If you are thinking about getting away from it all then a trip to a small group of islands thousands of miles from mainland is a good place to start. I spent the majority of the week on the island of Maui. It’s quite a diverse landscape for such a small island. Within a 30 minute drive you can explore beaches, rainforest, desert, valleys, and mountain tops. It’s an inspiring place to be for anyone, but especially an artist.

What surprised me most about the island was the plethora of art galleries and shows that took place on a daily basis there. I walked through about a dozen galleries and public showings which introduced me to local and international artists. The great part about seeing that much art is you learn to appreciate the many styles and approaches that other painters employ. I also learned to really get into a new subject matter: surrealism. You know surrealism, it’s the only genre where raining cats and dogs could literally translate to cats and dogs falling from the sky – just don’t step in a poodle. I really developed an appreciation for Vladimir Kush. A Russian-born artist, his art has a lot to say and glancing at one of his pieces simply doesn’t do it justice. You don’t look at his art; you study it. Personally I really enjoy art that tells stories and what’s great about his art is that the stories are open-ended. You can see multiple story lines looking at his works and you may never see the story he intended because we all see the same thing from a different perspective. It’s great art from a brilliant mind.

On the same level as Kush is Victor Bregeda, another Russian-born surrealist who tells his stories in similar fashion. While strolling through a gallery in the town of Lahiana, the gallery owner informed us that Bregeda would be at the gallery that night to display and demonstrate his works. This was a fabulous opportunity to ask a few questions and get into the mind of an internationally successful artist. So after dinner that night we came back to the gallery and sure enough, there was Bregeda working on a new painting.

Victor Bregeda
Victor Bregeda – An artist who knows no sketches, but simply improvises his work.

He speaks no English, but his manager was there and he happily doubles as a translator. We were told that we were free to ask questions as he painted. So I asked a question about how long he had been working on this piece, which appeared to be nearly complete, and his response made me chuckle a bit. He said this painting was started a couple of years ago, but was put away to work on other projects. He simply lost his interest in the work and was inspired to render other ideas. This made me chuckle because I could relate, as I’m sure most artists can, that sometimes a painting just isn’t working anymore and you just want to throw it in the closet and start something else. I have that now with my unfinished Disneyland painting. That painting gets a little work every now and then but it has been on and off the easel since 2005. In my case I’m trying to overcome some technical problems that I have with it. Seeing Victor nearly complete a long delayed work motivated me to go back to my artistic skeleton in the closet and get my painting completed as well. Perhaps one day I will be able to show a completed Disneyland painting, but let’s get back to Victor.

I enjoyed watching his technical style and learned a pretty amazing fact about his approach. He revealed that he has no sketch books, performs zero sketches on canvas, and simply paints straight from imagination. He comes from a family of artists so it’s in his DNA to be a great artist, but to have that kind of visual memory is truly awesome. To even render something simple like an orange, you and I would still look at it to get the shades of orange, yellow, and red just right to suggest shape and volume. For Victor it’s just seems to stick in his mind and he plays around on canvas until he gets the effect he is after. I’m not an expert on human intelligence, but there has got to be some form of genius involved to have that kind of mental visual-spatial skill set.

He loves to blend colors on canvas and I noticed he doesn’t spend much time mixing on the palette. There was a feeling of spontaneity when I watched him paint. He was matching the color he saw in his mind to what his gifted hand was rendering on canvas. I guess you could say this was a hand to mental-eye coordinated effort.

As for Victor’s subjects, he said that he loves to hear what people THINK they see. He generally doesn’t like to reveal what his paintings actually mean. Instead he wants to keep the story open-ended because he wants to hear how other people see his work and interpret the symbolical elements. I gave him my interpretation of his latest project and he just smiled and nodded his head; to which it was then that I realized my interpretation was no where near his vision. However that is what really excited him: to hear the creation of a new story from the same painting. What a great feature of art – many stories from a single image. After spending about an hour and a half talking, Victor was pulled away by his manager to discuss one of his paintings to a potential buyer in the gallery. That painting was selling for over $20,000 so I think Victor is doing just fine as an artist.

Victor Bregeda
A painting by Victor Bregeda. The gallery owner think this painting is about a previous wife. What do you see?

What I gained from all of this was a greater appreciation for surrealism – it’s really a mind-bended exercise to create a cohesive story from surreal elements. There is so much planning that goes into telling a story in that manner and unless you’re a bit of an artistic savant, as I suspect Victor Bregeda is, then you will probably spend many hours just working on a compositional sketch before you even think of pulling out a new canvas.

I also picked up a couple of techniques for canvas mixing and for brush work. I was impressed to see that he paints with relatively cheap brushes. Tools are no substitute for talent. Victor also displays a mastery of patience and determination for which I hope to someday master.

It was a great vacation in Hawaii – when is Hawaii not a great trip? Meeting a professional artist was just a huge bonus for me. I truly value the Q&A time that I had with Victor Bregeda. If you’re down on surrealism then I encourage you to look at his work and keep an open mind, then come back to the same paintings a few days later and see if you don’t find a new story in the same scene. Even if the elements in the painting don’t interest you, you certainly have to appreciate the careful planning that went into that work. Genius takes many forms – sometimes it surreal.

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