ALEXANDER KALETSKI: Forty Years in America

Anna Zorina
Sep 20, 2014 4:10PM

Forty years ago, Alexander Kaletski left Russia.  At that time in his homeland, creative dreams had boundaries or were otherwise censored. Thus his freedom of pure expression was relegated to the underground where he and his peers would defiantly sing uncensored songs and create forbidden abstract works.   A stifling danger pervaded his artistic community and change was necessary for Kaletski’s ambitions to be ardently pursued. An escape to America offered hope but at a cost, he had to leave his mother, sister and a successful acting career behind.

On July 26th, 2014, The Claryville Art Center opened in upstate New York, located in the Catskills amongst vast mountain ranges and babbling trout-filled brooks.  Dubbed the Kaletski Museum, the space was inaugurated with Alexander Kaletski’s retrospective exhibition, “Forty Years in America” On view are works that span the artist’s career to document his creative trajectory from the Moscow underground to international success. 

The exhibition features a selection of never before seen pieces, including works on paper created in Moscow prior to his departure.  These watercolors capture the balance of futility and hope that permeated daily life in Soviet Russia.  “Siberian Song” depicts a prisoner creating music with his ball and chain. Painted in 1975, the “76” emblazoned on his striped outfit refers to the artist’s fear of being arrested for his underground artistic activity within the year if he did not escape.  It was through his inventive and determined spirit that he was able to make it to the United States but first, he had to sell the winter coat off of his back to buy the rights to take these four watercolors with him. 

Alexander’s first years as an immigrant were a struggle.  He did not have money for canvas or paints but that did not prevent him from expressing himself.  He found that the cardboard boxes strewn around the city were an ideal substitute for his dream materials. The “Golden Opportunity” was created at this time with refuse cardboard and wrapping paper. The work indicates that Kaletski was finding his stride in the new world.

“Running in Place through the English Alphabet” is an oil on linen painting from 1987 that portrays with a thick flurry of strokes the personal challenge of learning a new alphabet and language. These paintings of the 1980’s often depict narratives with cubist and surrealist elements and a focus on surface quality.  A brick pattern often emerges from the impasto paint to endow the painting with a barrier that is robust but not impervious, scars cut through the pattern to add a level of vulnerability. 

The work from the 1990s show the artists penchant for experimentation with mixed media. “Woman in the Box” from 1992 introduces the viewer to Kaletski’s use of burlap woven into a mesh to add dimension to his bold palette.  A unique interaction of textures continues into the 2000’s. “Didn’t Make the Cut” from 2007 balances spontaneous drips with a more deliberate and refined filigree.  “A Politician” from 2013 features a figure with a dual profile representative of a double personality. He is acrobatically balanced upon a soapbox while enmeshed in a chaotic weave of color bands and “pebbles.” Both floors of the Claryville Art Center offer the viewer a glimpse into the artistic growth of the acclaimed Russian American artist, Alexander Kaletski, over the past four decades. 

Claryville Art Center is one more reason why Upstate New York is quickly becoming the new in vogue art destination. The Center was actualized by Frank and Irina Nicoletti who transformed a two-story barn into a gallery that will house the permanent collection of Kaletski works as well as function as a venue for special exhibitions and events curated by Anna Zorina Gallery.  It is conveniently located next to The Blue Hill Café that serves fresh Russian delicacies and Blue Hill Lodge for overnight accommodations. A brewery and an event center are soon to come.


Anna Zorina