BORN: MAY 8, 1989
B.F.A. Drawing & Painting, OCADU University.
OCAD University off campus studies. Florence, Italy
THIS STORY IS FROM BOXY ISSUE 3 | CURIOSITY. TO READ THE FULL Q&A INTERVIEW, AVAILABLE HERE.
Words | Robert Pierosh
I recently sat down with Ivan Alifan, a Russian-born New York City artist whose work encompasses BOXY’s favorite things -- food and sensuality. Alifan paints beautiful people covered in milk, frosting, or whipped cream using cake-decorating tools to apply paint to his canvases.
THE COLORS, IMAGES, AND TEXTURES OF YOUR PAINTINGS ARE DREAMLIKE. WHEN I SAW YOUR FIRST PAINTING, I ASSUMED YOU WERE A PHOTOGRAPHER. DO YOU PAINT FROM PHOTOGRAPHS?
Yes, I start by having a photo shoot, working with real-life models that are usually friends or other artists who collaborate with me. During the shoot, I’m always reminded that photography can never capture my final vision, but what it does offer me is “happy accidents” that push my initial vision further along.
After the photo shoot, I collage and edit the images to use as source material to begin my paintings. The photographs also help me decide the scale of a painting, but most of the time the paintings are large scale.
The final painting is usually completely different from my initial idea.
HOW DID YOU GET TURNED ON TO PAINTING WITH CAKE DECORATING TIPS?
It started out as another way to create textures with paint. At first, I started using cake-decorating tips in photo shoots. I would fill the pastry bags with shaving cream, and then cover my model. Eventually, I began to fill the bags with oil paint and applied it to canvases.
THE PAINT LOOKS VERY THICK. IS THERE A LONG DRYING PROCESS?
Most of the time, the paint dries fast, but depending on the color, some paint colors take longer. Some paintings might take up to half a year to fully dry.
YOU SAY THAT YOUR PAINTINGS HAVE AN UNDERLYING SEXUAL CONTEXT AND THAT YOUR FIGURES ARE AMBIGUOUS, SO WHO IS YOUR BIGGEST AUDIENCE?
Surprisingly, my biggest audience, thanks to Instagram, is university students who are interested in the arts.
WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT YOUR STYLE AND SUBJECTS TO KEEP GOING?
I enjoy doing photo shoots, painting, having fun, and getting dirty. I get to be a kid, really. I play with paint, work with models, and am creative. I never see myself not doing this.
GROWING UP AS A CHILD IN RUSSIA, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INTRODUCTION TO ART?
My mother, who was also an artist, introduced me to art.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST PIECE OF ART YOU EVER CREATED?
I created a watercolor painting when I was in fourth grade as a class assignment. My artwork was considered exceptional for my age group. Then, later on, I was sent to a Russian art school to hone my skills.
IS YOUR WORK TOO RISQUÉ FOR TODAY’S RUSSIA?
Some of the work would be considered too risqué, and that’s partly what keeps me motivated. I have always wanted Russia to be more progressive, more opened minded to the possibilities of what art could be.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU, IVAN?
Some of my favorite contemporary artists are Cecily Brown, Jenny Saville, Damian Thompson, George Condo, Dana Schutz, John Currin and Peter Doig -- just to name a few.
But I also get bombarded by over 100 different artists I follow on Instagram. I follow photographers, sculptors, painters, and even memes.
IN YOUR HANDS SERIES, YOU USE CLOSE CROPPING TO MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS AMBIGUOUS.
I began this series thinking that I would desexualize the hands by cropping and removing any sexual parts and only paint the hands in their action. It surprised me how quickly the audience got the sexual nature of these hand studies.
BASED ON YOUR INSTAGRAM PHOTOS OF YOURSELF, YOU SEEM VERY COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR BODY, AND YOU PAINT SENSUAL NUDES. HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN THIS COMFORTABLE WITH NUDITY AND SEXUALITY?
I wouldn’t say I’m one hundred percent comfortable with my body, or with nudity and sexuality, but that’s part of the reason I post about it. I use my art to not only help the audience, but also to push myself, to a place of understanding and acceptance of one’s own body and sensuality.
ARE ANY OF YOUR IMAGES SELF-PORTRAITS?
No, I don’t have self-portraits, but I believe that every artist’s paintings are a reflection of them. Artists subconsciously project their own features and likeness onto any canvas they paint.
YOUR PAINTING TRANSITIONED BETWEEN LIQUIDS ON FACES INTO SOMETHING SWEETER. IT LOOKS LIKE A NATURAL EVOLUTION. DID IT FEEL THAT WAY?
At the start, I was inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky films and playing around with fog. It was darker and eerie. Later it evolved to pastel tones and the celebration of paint and textures.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM IVAN ALIFAN IN THE YEARS TO COME?
I have a museum group show in September called “Sweet Tooth” at the Shelburne Museum. I would love to do an MFA program in the future, as I believe it would push me as an artist. I also would love to be working and collaborating with photographers, and to keep challenging myself in terms of scale, colors, subject matter, and concepts.