Analyzing the Late Leonid Afremov
Impressionism was a medium pioneered in the Nineteenth Century, but some artists have kept it alive to the current day. One of those names includes Leonid Afremov, who passed away recently in 2019. He not only maintained the genre but also added to it his own personal style. While Impressionism is well known and been tried by many artists, his unique combination of aesthetic elements made him stand out and may yet prove to be a lasting contribution. Let us now examine the techniques and theory behind his work.
Impressionism is known for its vivid colors. Afremov was not an exception in this regard. What was different was the iridescence of his pieces and his apparent avoidance of neutral hues.
The piece above, known as Shabbat Evening Blessings, provides a good example. Plenty of natural color would be found in the petals and leaves of the roses depicted. The table surface, which would likely be some kind of brown, instead preserves red from the roses and slaps it together with some yellow. The result is a moderation of the hues but not a true mixture into any kind of brown or tan. Where gaps needs to be filled, unused portions of the color wheel are included, such as the blues seen in the background.
Paris of my Dreams provides another good example of this approach to color. While the subjects in the foreground are more straightforward, the night-sky above the city lacks that ambient, uniform glow. Instead, it’s almost as if Afremov holds a prism to the sky and splits the rays. The colors are not what we would actually see, but neither do they seem like they don’t belong. They are balanced and fit together.
Afremov liked to spell out Roy G. Biv’s name in the majority of his works. This means that he deviated somewhat from the Impressionist norms of commitment to realistic lighting. Where the Post-Impressionists stepped away from adherence to luminance and the angles of light, Afremov’s displays of brightness and darkness still followed the manner of actual rays. Instead, it was the many hues he saw in a beam of white light that showed through in his style.
Impressionism is known for its broad, bold brushstrokes. It avoids fine detail where possible and instead tries to capitalize on the strategic placement of it oversized marks. In this general approach, Afremov is like other Impressionists. Where he differed was in his primary use of the palette knife to apply the paint, rather than the brush. Where large brushstrokes tend to incorporate the bristles and fibers into the texture of the image, this is lost with the palette knife. The effect is more uniform strokes by the knife, which tend to be close to the same size. These scaly visuals, especially in Afremov’s skies and backgrounds, provoke interesting memories of The Rainbow Fish, the children’s book by Marcus Pfister.
Stockholm, the piece above, provides good examples of the palette knife at work. The sky shows those large, fiber-less knife-strokes. For the foreground, the straight edge of the blade is used to craft the fine polygons of the Swedish urban-scape. That fidelity to shapes is not often enjoyed by the brushman, but Afremov’s use of the knife makes it possible. Nevertheless, some brush-like effects can still be achieved, as seen in the water ripples of the same work.
In Fall White Umbrella, the straight edge of the knife also proves useful in maintaining the illusion of perspective. The bench to the left and the path to right illustrate this advantage clearly.
Afremov was not making statements with his work. The subjects of his art are things that he saw: public parks, romantic couples, sunsets, and the like. They were expressive and could even be full of emotion, but there was no deeper message. He wasn’t like Van Gogh, who cherished the work ethic of the Dutch peasantry. He simply painted life.
Beautiful Tango shows a man and a woman dancing in front of a vintage car. Their faces are ambiguous; they could be anyone. In this sense, the painting is a slice of human life. It’s not exactly a painting of two people with a story, who happen to be dancing. Rather, it’s a painting of the idea of dancing itself. It’s not so much capturing a moment as it is conveying a relatable idea, for viewers at large to enjoy.
Passion is a snapshot of carnal pleasure. The people have enough detail for us to distinguish them as male and female, but they do not have enough for their own identities. This is because the pair, which happens to be engaging in foreplay, is not the subject. The foreplay itself is the subject. It’s something most people have experienced, and the sight is immediately relatable. Like non-human visuals, such as wet sidewalks and national monuments, Afremov’s content is something that the majority of viewers will understand and does not demand a lot of additional thought from them.
A Successful Formula
Afremov was not untalented. He understood the genre in which he operated and was able to mimic the things that make Impressionism popular. At the same time, he was adventurous enough to add his own anomalies. Most people will find painting to be a challenge. Fewer still among those who take it up will naturally find much use of the palette knife as the primary tool. Afremov distinguished himself in his ability to command the blade as if it were a wand. Combined with the inclusion of the whole rainbow in an image, he produced a unique look that could immediately be associated with him.
His choice of simple topics for his work meant that his work was real enough for a large audience to understand, but the aesthetics were surreal enough for them to enjoy. His work was candy to the eye and did not ask its viewer to sit and digest the content. One could say that Afremov’s work was not particularly deep, and it seems likely that he had no interest in the element of depth. Whatever missed opportunities this creates for the analyst, this seems to have served him well. His works appear well liked. After all, many people themselves are not particularly deep.
Don’t get confused into thinking that he was a one-trick pony. He could go outside of his usual habits and into the mainstream, as seen in Mediterranean Noon above. Having said that, you wouldn’t have guessed he produced it. His other works may blend to together if placed too closely in a gallery, but on their own the name of the author becomes unmistakable.
Perhaps that is indeed the mark of a true artist. In any event, Afremov proved that more than a century later, even a classic genre can be explored for further novelty.
For the full array of his creations, visit https://afremov.com.