interview: alexsey’s art

November 22, 2012 |

I came across Alexsey Kashtelyan, a local artist and illustrator, as he was working on a t-shirt design for local band Young Hunter at Café Passé. I was intrigued by the piece he was working on, which combined the graphic impact of hyper-stylized text (a note: Alexsey does some work in Hebrew, and/but, interestingly enough, the style of his “Young Hunter” text reminded me a lot of classic Arabic script) with the nuance of detailed illustration. I took a few photos of him as he worked, then followed up on the meeting by emailing him with a few questions about his work and the sources of his inspiration. Check out the photos and interview below, and take a look at more of his work here.

 (Click image above for detail.)

Zócalo Hannah: What has your art education—formal and informal—consisted of?

Alexsey Kashtelyan: My art education isn’t too different from that of other artists around the world. I started doodling since I could, and didn’t stop! Otherwise, formally, I have a minor in Studio Art from the University of Arizona, with a Marketing Bachelors. I still wish it were the other way, but… Cold feet got me.

ZH: There seems to be a macabre element and/or fantastical element to much of your work. Where does that impulse derive from?

AK: You know… I really can’t say! I’ve just always been drawn to the horrific and fantastical  Maybe it’s because my brother forced me to watch horror movies when I was a child, an Frey and Jason somehow burrowed their ways into my psyche. I’m also a fan of metal, especially the doomier side of things, and the art that follows along has always fascinated me. But – ironically, I was terrified of evil, satanism, etc. all throughout my early youth because of irrational fears stemming from an overactive imagination, or something. I once didn’t even let myself listen to a single KISS song because I thought they really were knights of Satan! Anywho…these days, it’s mostly just a side of the imagination that really inspires me. And if nothing else: it looks cool. Skulls will never go out of style.

ZH: A lot of your text is in Hebrew. Also, you’re originally from Russia. What international, multicultural, or religio-cultural influences does your art contain? How does your life as an American but also as a multicultural citizen inform your art?

AK: Well, I suppose I should tell the story about that. So, every Jewish person has default citizenship in the state of Israel should you decide to move there. Along with that, to promote American-Jewish relations, as well as subtly try and boost the Jewish population, there’s the “Birthright” program that allows any Jew from the ages of 18-26 to get a free ten day trip to Israel. I went on that trip as a pilgrimage to the Uganda Bar in Jerusalem, where the band Om performed a five-hour long set released as a double vinyl called, simply enough, “Live In Jerusalem.” Anywho: I get to the bar, an there’s this band setting up called “Lili Franko.” They had a great set, I rocked out, and they invite me for falafel. Sadly, I had to get back on the tour bus to get to our hotel. Some facebooking later, I proposed that I do some art for them, and a few months later… Here we are! Great folks. And writing in Hebrew is a great artistic challenge as well; I’m a huge fan of the style of writing used in Torahs. And then, of course, there’s the old Russian fairy tales and the artwork that goes with them — I’m a huge fan of Bilibin and Repin. Those two are pure magic. But enough ramblin’ — in sum: Being multicultural has had a huge effect on my art, from the way I view it in an international and historical perspective, to the influences that physically manifest themselves in my work.

ZH: Who commissions art from you? What sort of art do you like to do?

AK: Most of my commissions come from bands in Tucson, though as I noted before, I’ve had some commissions from Israel, and from some friends in Portland, including illustrating a short story or two. But mostly: Tucson bands. I’ve always been interested in the psychedelic artwork that came from the 60s/70s San Francisco scene. All the illustrations for the Fillmore are gorgeous. But more importantly, I love the way that the style brought an outward sense of unity and closeness among the city’s culture. My goal is to help catalyze Tucson’s art & music scene in a similar way, if I can. Which is why most of the work I do so far is pro bono. I just want to collaborate and help people grow, and if my art brings the kids in to watch the show, that’s great. One day I hope to be selling prints, shirts, etc. an making a tidy profit… But I’m patient.

ZH: How long have you lived in Tucson? What do you think of the art scene here?

AK: I’ve lived in Tucson for the past 18 or 19 years, since I was five years old or so. I used to hate this town when I was younger because I couldn’t really do much downtown, couldn’t really participate, or simply just didn’t know how. But as of late, I’ve grown to love it. First of all, it’s just simply pleasant to sit around a patio, and always meeting up with someone you know, randomly walking down the street. That same “smallness” is great in that every band seems to knows every other band and plays within every other band, and so on. Just feels good. The “art” scene, however, I’m not too sure of. There’s some unity, but I think just because “art” (as in drawing, painting, etc.) is more of a personal thing, it’s harder to collaborate or even simply meet up over the sake of art. It’s still there, of course. The Art School at the UA really helped me to meet other artists, and get that same sense of community I’m sure musicians here feel. As well as the Art Phag meet up at the Surly Wench, and other art happenings around town. It could also be that the type of art I do primarily deals with musicians, rather than galleries. So… overall… not sure! I still have yet to fully discover it, and that’s amazing.

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Category: Zocalo Hannah