J U L Y 1, 2013

1 Alexander Livanov. Plastic Games of the Brain

Attempt at a Book Review

The professional community and “advanced” lovers of graphic art know Alexander Livanov well. The artist himself actively helped form a circle of his admirers and followers not only with his works, but also with years-long teaching at the Institute of Graphic Arts and Publishing (now the Academy of Printing). Most of Livanov’s students of various years keep warm memories of their Teacher and are grateful to him for “artistic” lessons. Others have for several years been consistently promoting their teacher and his ideas among the public at large. The latest stage of “Livanov’s philosophy” penetrating the public mind will, beyond doubt, be the third book Alexander Livanov. Spam of Karabas prepared and published by Livanov’s disciples, Olga Jordan and Ivan Velichko. My entry Alexander Livanov. Fighting the Obvious tells of the two earlier publications, which have in fact become a bibliographic rarity.

The new book is a logical extension. Structurally the book, as before, gives thoughts of art and artists, drawing and plastics, advice to students at drawing classes, aphorisms and humor. An integral and truthful image of Livanov unexpectedly transpires through the interaction of texts, quotes, phrases and bon mots mixed with Livanov’s graphic works. Although I’ve known Livanov and his work for long, much in the artist became clearer, brighter and somehow more important to me precisely after I had read this book. The conclusions I had made earlier on the basis of Livanov’s drawings found confirmation in Livanov’s thoughts and statements. I wish I studied under him – I understand Livanov’s attitude to drawing perfectly well. Over the past few years the artist Livanov has gained in importance: he is being spoken and argued about, and myths and tales are being told about him. The new book is bound to dispel some of the myths and to breed more. Such is the lot of big artists – their names should be cloaked in mystery and understatement.


6 Alexander Livanov. Plastic Games of the Brain

7 Alexander Livanov. Plastic Games of the Brain


Works of the past few years have been used as illustrations. They are Drawings from the TV-set, collages of “nobody’s” photographs that the artist used to make in profusion, and drawings on cigarette box foil lining. Examining these small (and sometimes downright tiny) drawings one cannot but admire the unending search for new plastic schemes, untiring reworking of sheet organization and crazy youthly vigor which enables Livanov to stay in touch with the time. With his plastic ideas Livanov could teach a thing or two his far younger colleagues.


3 Alexander Livanov. Plastic Games of the Brain

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2 Alexander Livanov. Plastic Games of the Brain

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Livanov is often compared with Mitrokhin and sometimes with Vrubel. Without going into details, I want to note that Livanov has a style of his own. He does not deny significant influence on him of the above artists. Furthermore, he is ready to add to them a number of figures of Russian (and not only Russian) culture who largely influenced his development and creative maturity. What matters is that Livanov managed to learn the lessons of his artist parents, their milieu and his teachers and to find his own pictorial rhythm, nerve, structure and plastics. It is also important that the recognizability of Livanov’s drawings is not the artist’s way of staking out his territory, but rather his natural development, sort of “plastic games of the brain” that led to the formation of Livanov’s inimitable pictorial idiom, recognizable and loved by many people.