Alex Vlasov: I Promise to Make a Fabulous PTG Tomorrow
Especially for young artists, a solo exhibit often provides a window into what is going on in the artist’s life. Alex Vlasov’s I Promise to Make a Fabulous PTG Tomorrow—on view in the Massillon Museum’s Studio M Gallery—is one of those. Indeed, it is inescapably a student show, and not just because the artist describes himself in a biographical statement on the wall as a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art. That’s pretty impressive, by the way. If nothing else, it shows ambition: This is someone who hasn’t yet graduated college, but applied for a show at a regional museum, and was chosen. The result is a show that explores 20th century art history through the artist’s eyes, using different approaches or responses to conceptualism. Calling it a “student show” is not to say that it falls short in any way: quite the opposite, really, in this case. It is, unironically, a portrait of the artist as a young man.
There are two approaches to conceptualism here, both carried out in a traditional medium, paint or mixed media on canvas: one in abstract works that explore compositional structures – dividing the canvas into different fields using varied lines and colors; the other making often humorous statements, some about the artist’s own life, some about art and the art market generally, and some others about famous artists of the 20th century, all communicated literally in painted text. As Vlasov notes in a statement, the two approaches refer to the “strategies” of 20th century conceptual art, both of which in their own way asked how an artist creates meaning.
Some examples of the text-based work – like the title of the exhibition—allude to the pressure of being a student. The title, I Promise to Make a Fabulous PTG Tomorrow—refers to the abbreviation of Painting used in course catalogs, and also to the need to be productive in a circumstance wherein your work will be judged. Judgement of art is a running theme. One text says, “This PTG Could Be Even Worse.”
Some in that series are lists of tasks, ranging from banal to unlikely, illustrative of the varied tasks and hopes of an ambitious student, complete with check-boxes. In one case, “This Week: Meet the Mayor; Clean Brushes; Letter to Santa.” Letter to Santa is the only item checked. In another, “This Week: Fabulous PTG; See Therapist; Be Serious.” See Therapist is the only item checked.
Other texts judge famous artists as humans: “Go to Hell and meet Picasso,” says one; and another, “Gauguin was a creep.” Their titles extend the 21st century humor and perspective: “That’s where you’ll find him,” in the first case; and in the second, “Definitely.”
The theme of judgement goes both ways: in one of these canvases, Vlasov spells out something any artist trying to make a career of painting might learn, or at least believe: “The Art Market is Dumb and Corrupt.”
The other group of paintings are large, colorful abstractions that mark fields with different types of lines, and play with the figure / ground relationship. They are painted over grids, or incorporate them, just as often literally as in an implied way. They are not doing something new, and that doesn’t seem to be the point. There’s a sense in which they provide reference material for one of the text-based paintings that says “My kid could do that.” But what they show is the way composition happens, according to a set of well defined rules. The rule of thirds is applied. Layers of depth are created through the figure/ground relationship. The handling of the paint is intentionally not careful, and there is a lot of paint, which shows in heavy, smeared brush strokes, and some that intentionally are allowed to run.
Unlike the expressed concerns and pressures of some of the texts, these seem care free. The color and simplicity of their composition makes them fun to look at. Whatever else goes on in the art market and in the relationship of an artist to the world, that is probably one of the more important things.
I Promise to Make A Fabulous PTG Tomorrow
February 5 – April 6, 2022
Massillon Museum Studio M
121 Lincoln Way East
Massillon, Ohio 44646