Picture Perfect

Award winning image artist Alex Kisilevich opens up for a chat on a blanket in Trinity Bellwoods park.

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Title Page: Sasquatch, from Kallima, Digital Chromogenic Print, 2011, 40\" x 40\"

Upon my first perusal of his website, I pinned Alex as an installation artist slash sculptor of sorts, and this is probably what a lot of people assume. But after rummaging through other pages and interviews, I came to realize that he is in fact, technically, a photographer. The installations I imagined were actually scenes he created and posed to a tee, then photographed. Immediately, he became much more interesting.

Photography isn’t something he’s had a blazing fire for since birth; in fact, on first attempt, he failed his high school course in the subject. His formal education began in music at York University where he enrolled in a Colour Photo course as an elective. “This random course in photography changed everything. The more time I spent in the darkroom, the less I showed up to my music classes,” he tells me. Alex did, however, complete his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music and went on to study photography at OCAD.

His latest educational stint was a Master’s in Fine Art, which he recently completed at York.

“It’s almost expected of you if you’re working in the fine arts. It’s becoming the new undergrad. But there can be some great things about it too; if you get a good funding package they throw lots of money at you, you get a studio and in my case I was able to teach two classes as well.”

Throughout his years of study, Alex has refined his process, or perhaps relaxed it. When he first began staging photos, he had a detailed plan, which he stuck to. Now he works loosely, more in touch with his surroundings. “It could start from something as simple as a mop or a piece of hairy-looking fabric and then I just start building from it. I don’t draw things anymore, I just go with the flow, and if there’s something that draws my attention, maybe different from what I thought of, I run with it.”

I spot a music staff tattoo sweeping across his calf and wonder if his relationship with music influences his art at all, “I wish I had something poetic to say, like they inform each other [laughs], but I like to keep them very much separate.”

Although his pieces don’t hammer a meaning on the head, he tends to focus on human interaction and connection. His most recent series was about illusion and camouflage, which he spent two years creating. “Photography was perfect because it has a lot of baggage with that sort of idea, about truth and falsity – like an accurate illusion.” This thought-provoking and engaging series was shown at Angell Gallery.

Alex has an upcoming solo next show in February 2012 at Toronto Image Works Gallery, which he nervously awaits.

Outside of his art (which is apparently a very small window), Alex enjoys spending time with his dog and making music, “I’ve sort of been getting back into playing music here and there, even just for myself, it’s really pleasurable.”

Ever since he started doing photo art, Alex has participated in many group shows around the city, as well as in the States. I ask if he has advice for young artists hoping for the same success.

“Art is hard; working in the arts is one of the hardest possible things you can do. But if you’re really into what you’re doing and if you’re showing something that is unique from other people, you just have to keep going with it.”