Almost 8,000 miles separates Philadelphia from Ahmedabad, India. It is a distance that spans one-third of the Earth at the equator, and serves as a retaining wall between two countries that are on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.
Nevertheless, as an artist who has made female identity the focus of her work for over a decade, Anastasia Alexandrin is driven to explore the origins of that distinctive “inner voice” all women possess.
“I’m inspired by expressions of female identity and how they take hold within different settings and cultures,” she says. So, when she was awarded an artist residency position in India, she saw it as a unique opportunity to further her understanding of the universal female experience.
Having spent most of her formative years as an artist in the Northeast, Anastasia sees the diversity of the area as being a great influence in the direction of her work.
“Philadelphia has a deep energy that provides me with a wellspring of ideas for my work,” she says. “I am inspired by the people I meet and places I visit. The surroundings influence my choice of palette.”
Alexandrin points to her cultural identity as a Ukrainian immigrant as being instrumental in shaping her worldview as a woman and artist from an early age.
“In general, artists tend to empathize with ‘the other’ in society,” she proclaims. “When you combine that with the experience of being raised in two cultures, it makes it easy to identify with just about everyone.”
She was just 5 years old when her family fled the Soviet Union and settled in nearby Allentown, Pa. It wasn’t long after their arrival that her parents placed her in Barnstone Studios, a nearby academy of drawing and design.
“Even at that early age, I was drawing,” she said. “My parents fed that passion because they discovered that, when I had a piece of paper and pencils, I was satisfied for hours.”
As a student at Barnstone, Alexandrin was classically trained to draw and paint. Upon her graduation from High School, she left Allentown and found her way to Philadelphia, where she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art (PAFA). There, she grew as an artist under the tutelage of Peter Paone.
“Peter (Paone) has always pushed me to try new things, new mediums,” she said. “He taught me that art is a process of evolving; and that I must experience life around me, and share those experiences through my art.”
It was a lesson she adheres to in her life and career. After all, as an artist who focuses on female identity, it is imperative that she connect with her subjects through shared experiences and empathy. Today, her art is hanging in many of the same galleries as her mentor, Paone. Her art has been shown in solo exhibitions throughout New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, and in group exhibitions all over the United States.
The Verve Artist Residency in Ahmedabad, India is now Anastasia’s third artist residency in as many years. Her approach to the immersive process is very ethnographic in nature. According to Alexandrin, it is necessary to foster authentic perspectives in her artwork.
“Nothing that I have ever experienced in my lifetime comes as close to what I see, hear, smell, and taste in India on a regular basis,” she explains. “Every day, I see and experience something that I never would have thought imaginable. Some is good, some is bad, and some is just wild.”
Alexandrin is widely recognized for her signature charcoal images, which advocate female transcendence through their transformative perspectives. She exercises command of the narrative in a variety of ways; from her elegant framing techniques to the surreal symbolism that hints at the inner struggles gripping its female subject.
Nevertheless, it is Alexandrin’s mastery of line that infuses her charcoal art with such an unusual gritty appearance. Her hyperactive line strokes emit an ethereal quality that is heightened by her command of tone. “I begin each of my drawings with an emotion, and then I clothe the emotion with pictures,” she says. “With each line I am creating a statement.”
That statement is inevitably an expression of her deep self-reflection. Consequently, the lines she draws from her home in Philadelphia to Ahmedabad, India, run parallel as much as they diverge.
Alexandrin hints toward new artistic avenues that she’s been exploring in India.
“When I arrived in India, Peter (Paone) told me ‘find your Carnaby Street’,” she said. “What he meant was that, when he moved to London in the 60’s, Carnaby Street was the fountainhead of the counterculture. The Beatles hung out there, as well as Sonny and Cher. It is also where his art took a huge step forward. So, Peter has been telling me to find my ‘Carnaby Street’! And I found it! My ‘Carnaby Street’ is called Loha Bajar. I am starting to work with metal here. I am finally able to implement so much of my sketchbook images that I had no place for, for a long time. I am in a good place and I am open to learning. India has been so enriching! I came here with no expectations and I am walking away as a rich artist. I am rich in all the things that matter!”
For more information about Anastasia Alexandrin and images of her work, visit http://aalexandrin.com/
Marc 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 the unique expressions that touch his imagination, it is his ambition to serve as a bridge between global networks. Presently, he is working toward completing his doctoral dissertation at Temple University.