Getting to know Anastasia Alexandrin, by Marc Londo

Lehigh Valley product taking part in Philadelphia Open Studio Tours 2013

Anastasia Alexandrin standing in front of her work (titled “Monarch”)

Anastasia Alexandrin standing in front of her work (titled “Monarch”)

She speaks fondly of her formative years in the Lehigh Valley. Calling it a rich life of watching the colors change with the seasons, and sitting under the stars at night, Anastasia Alexandrin describes her hometown, Allentown, as a magical place that nurtured her dream of becoming a professional fine artist. Today, that magic resides within the ornate frames she constructs that illuminate, and give focus, to her narratives. Through the lens of these frames, Alexandrin conducts an aesthetic concerto of past, present, and future, worlds. These world views encompass her ideal of what is, what was, and what can be. As a young woman striving to chart a path, within an art world that has historically relegated female artists to the periphery, she goes against the grain. Alexandrin makes art that celebrates the beauty of femininity, while aiming her social critique at issues of female growth and empowerment.

To get to the roots of her art, one must be familiar with the pastoral settings of the Lehigh Valley. With its flowing hills and bucolic scenery, Allentown inspired a plethora of reflection for the young artist. Its lengthy periods of grey skies and cold weather figured prominently in her preference for the black and white aesthetic. Additionally, much of her earthly symbolism stems from growing up surrounded by all the trappings of nature. At age 14, she enrolled full-time as an art student at Barnstone Studios, and was classically trained to draw and paint. While she studied alongside college students, her art stood out, and culminated in her first one-woman show. It was the first one-person show in 30 years, and the very first one-person show for a woman.

Wind up Dolls (2011), charcoal on paper, 30in x 40in

Wind up Dolls (2011), charcoal on paper, 30in x 40in

These days, Alexandrin makes art out of her studio in the art district of Philadelphia. While the lush surroundings of the Lehigh Valley are still present within the frames of her art, city life and a deep love for travel have further added a diversity, and complexity, to her stories that reflect the maturation of a young ‘woman of the world’. Earlier this year, she worked for six months in Ahmedabad, India, as a resident artist.  Prior to India, she served as a resident artist in Beijing, China. Her exploration of other cultures and worldviews reflects an intellectual mind that is fascinated with the universal struggle that women face all over the world.  Society is quick to value a woman for her beauty but that judgment is often at the expense of her capacity as an individual. Alexandrin strongly believes that female beauty has many layers that extend to the metaphysical.

It wasn’t until Anastasia was already established in Philadelphia that I became familiar with her work. After attending a showing of Alexandrin’s at Muhlenberg College, I really got a sense of how the Lehigh Valley area inspired her art. After a spirited conversation about art and life, I conducted my first interview with her.  I’ve always been fascinated by artist biographies and Anastasia’s didn’t disappoint. As an immigrant from Kharkov, in the Ukraine, Alexandrin’s rise in the art world is a uniquely American success story. Her distinctive linear drawing style, in which she crosses lines of charcoal, combined with her surreal narratives of beauty, Mother Nature, female empowerment, and hegemonic control, create a vision of new wave femininity that bridges classical and modern conceptions.

Philadelphia bus hut on the corner of Market and 7th

Philadelphia bus hut on the corner of Market and 7th

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see Anastasia Alexandrin’s work displayed at a corner bus hut on Market and 7th. It is on exhibit to promote the upcoming studio tours from October 19-20, in which Anastasia will be opening her studio doors to the public. Afterward, I was privileged to have a brief chat with Anastasia about the studio tours, India, and life as a young, female artist in the Lehigh Valley. This conversation yielded some good insight for Lehigh Valley Women’s Journal readers.

ML: Could you tell me the story behind the six canvas series with the hat, which is currently on display at the Philly bus stop.

AA: The title is girl with a hat.

It’s about a girl with a hat. But, what’s under her hat? Her character? Her soul? Identity? So we take the hat off and we find a black crow screaming into the sky. Maybe she is in anguish or she’s screaming out of frustration. So we look closer and we see an arrow through the crow, and now we know there is pain in there. There is real hurt. And, we take yet another look, and the onion has been peeled completely back, and we find a very broken carcass that a woman has torn to bits, trying to hold it all together. So, we start to put the hat back on because maybe it will be all better if we didn’t see and we call it a day!

Girl with a Hat (2013), Series of 6, charcoal on paper

Girl with a Hat (2013), Series of 6, charcoal on paper

I was in India when I made this piece. I was full of many emotions as I learned about my surroundings. India has a way to test your character and make you look at what is within. I saw many woman there and what was within them.

3 Black Crows (2013), charcoal on paper, 27in x 34.5in

3 Black Crows (2013), charcoal on paper, 27in x 34.5in

ML: How did your life in India impact your work?

AA: Nothing is the same after India. I think very differently about everything. It brought a lot of things into perspective, such as, what is family and hardship? What is real suffering? And what is real joy?

ML: Perspective is everything for an artist, and is so unique to each artist’s own personal journey. What was it like as a young artist learning your craft in the Lehigh Valley area?

AA: Under the guidance of Myron Barnstone, at the Barnstone studios, seeing and looking closely at life became an adventure I am still on. A never ending journey of exploration and practice to communicate what you see and feel onto paper for others to share in your wonder. It was hard and challenging, at times, but it was never work. I never wanted to do anything else. I just wanted to draw.

Ohitika (2011), charcoal on paper, 22in x 30in

Ohitika (2011), charcoal on paper, 22in x 30in

ML: Being a young woman who primarily explores issues of female identity in your work, what advice would you give to the young ladies that live in the Lehigh Valley area today, and may aspire to pursue a career as a fine artist?

AA: I learned that you never have to agree with people or things that you don’t like. You can disagree and do what you like.

ML: Finally, tell me about the Studio tours, and what to expect when I visit your studio!

AA: There will be a lot of work that no one has seen before. Things are changing and evolving. My symbolism is becoming more natural and fluid. I hope you enjoy!

To visit the website of Anastasia Alexandrin, go to: http://aalexandrin.com/home.html

For further information on Philadelphia Open Studio Tours 2013, visit: http://philaopenstudios.org/

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Marc LondoMarc Londo is a media scholar and popular culture critic. When he is not writing about the arts, his creative energy is spent researching the effects of mass communication on our global culture. Marc has always been fascinated by culture. An avid traveler, he is intrigued by the celebrations of humanity that bond societies and transcend differences across cultures. Through writing about those unique expressions that touch his imagination, it is his ambition to serve as a bridge between global networks. Presently, he is completing his doctoral dissertation at Temple University.