View Artist Statement
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Gallery Direct Interview with LEON OKS|
Leon has exceptional vision, combining dynamic movement and multiple perspectives with
romanticism and emotion, to reveal joy and sadness in equal measures. With fluid brush strokes, he unites form and vivid color into a tapestry of unique inspiration that taps into a range of human experiences
I understand you were born in Russia. Could you tell us at what age you moved to the United States and what were the circumstances surrounding this move?
I was 40 years old when I came to this country. Like many immigrants, my family was seeking basic freedoms that were denied to us in the former Soviet Union. As an artist, I, of course, was particularly eager to have a chance to pursue my work in whatever creative direction I chose. This was not possible at all under the communist regime. Of course, that has somewhat changed now.
Did you receive most of your education in the United States and when did you decide to pursue the arts as a career?
I was formally educated in the USSR and graduated from the local art university in my hometown. I knew I wanted to be an artist from early childhood and can remember being age 6, drawing and painting whenever I could.
What formal or informal education have you found to be most useful?
I can say that the most useful education for me came from pure work on my own - the constant practice of painting whenever I had the chance. Additionally, I have to give credit to one specific artist who gave me lessons in his studio and passed down to me an understanding of what I call "real art". He molded my tastes and perceptions of art and opened my eyes to a lot of contemporary work, therefore freeing me creatively to go in all sorts of modern directions on my canvas.
During your career, who or what would you say has given you the most inspiration?
Apart from the artist I mention above, I am inspired by the Impressionists, and a group of 19th century Russian artists that centered around figures such as Serov and Repin. Also, there is reality itself in the forms that nature reveals to us and the people that I have encountered. I am greatly inspired when working with live models. Painting from nature, for example, was a vital experience for me in gaining my color sense.
Your work is all about the human experience. Could you tell us how your life experiences have influenced your work?
My childhood was bittersweet as I was growing up at a very difficult time and place. My family suffered greatly during WWII and the sadness of those times is most likely reflected in many of the faces of the figures on my canvas. However, almost all of my paintings have a positive energy and a pleasing palette, for it is important for me to convey that kindness and beauty can triumph over all.
Your work is very recognizable. Could you tell us a how you developed this style and how your work has changed from the beginning of your career?
European art training at the time of my university days emphasized the draftsmanship and virtuosity of the Old Masters and I enjoyed that learning experience. However, I always wanted to try something new that looked unlike anyone else's work. As a teenager, my style was that of the Impressionists and right around age 23, it took a totally different turn as I began to experiment with more 20th century approaches. Even in my early work, you can see the "Imaginative Expressionism" that my paintings display today. My color palette was what kept changing and improving, reflecting the mood that I was experiencing at that time. Still today, however, when I am moved by the beauty of nature, I return to my Impressionist "youth"!
Could you tell us about your latest series of paintings and what inspired you to do them?
My most recent paintings have taken on a tinge of worldly reflection. I have been painting fantastical interpretations of current day concerns, but always with a glimmer of hope and optimism. I am experimenting with different color palettes and am also focusing more and more on sketching and working with live models.
What are your favorite pieces of work that you have done and why are they your favorites?
My favorites are "Dream", "Party Girls" and 'Easter Island" just to name a few off the top of my head. "Dream" is simple in palette and composition yet still expresses a lot of emotion. "Party Girls" I like for the almost opposite reason in that it has a fairly intricate and specific structure with the figures weaving in and out of each other but also creating a pleasing unity. "Easter Island" was literally inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island. I have a strong response to those stony faces that are filled with such great symbolism and solemnity. I feel like my version does too.
You have had many hi-lights in your career. Could you tell us what you feel has been your greatest success and most memorable experience during your career as an artist?
This is a difficult question to answer. I felt extremely honored to receive a first place award in the international competition "Just Painting 2005" that took place in Rome. Another highlight has to be my first solo show in downtown Chicago in 1998. My 2003 exhibit at the Divine Word Missionary in Techny, IL was a superb success and played a huge role in disseminating my name in the art world. In 2007, Art World Press published a monograph on my work that I am very proud of. It is available through Amazon.com.
What role do you feel your emotions play in the creative process?
My emotions are the protagonist, the antogonists, the chorus, the setting, the costumes, the lighting...everything! I depend on them for all my paintings and they rarely miss a performance.
As an artist, do you think you perceive the world differently from other people? Please explain.
I think so. I perceive things more fully. When I look at the trees, I don't just see the trees. I try to figure out what they express. I often humanize elements. I also pickup on details that most people don't find as important, and these details are significant in knowing how to create a successful canvas - one that can express harmony through color, composition, etc.
Because of your great success as an artist what advice would you give an aspiring artist just starting out in their career?
Firstly, know your fundamentals. Every craft or professional career has to be built on basic skills and knowledge. Master the technical, know your art history and gain confidence in your philosophy. It is your philosophy that will then give vision to your work - delineating you from your peers and making your work highly distinct.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for young artists today to NOT jump into the latest trend, fad, or commercial success. It is very easy to be seduced by an art world that regards sensationalism, shock, controversy as the artist's normal domain. Learn how to remain sincere to your own artistry so that you could rise above that kind of fray.
If I had to sum it up in three words: practice, practice and practice! I don't mean stay in art school until you are going gray, but WORK as much as you can. Surround yourself with the topics and images that inspire you. Put yourself in those situations as much as possible. For me, being out in the world of theater, music, nature, other countries, imparts something that I inevitably leave upon my canvas.
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