“The human mind works in a peculiar way: we tend to cling to the past and be overcritical about the present. That’s why modern art often comes under attack. We compare new creations with classic masterpieces and seek out the smallest flaws. Perhaps the grass used to be greener a few centuries but it doesn’t mean that talented people stopped being born in our lifetime! Here is a living illustration.” – Leonid Afremov.
I might have mentioned the name Leonid Afremov before in several of my earlier posts. Not only is he my all time favorite artist, but also my source of inspiration. I more or less idealize him when it comes to art several of my works are influenced by his style and technique. In today’s post, I will talk about what it is that got me hooked on to his work and how I have attempted to incorporate his iconic style in my own art.
Leonid Afremov was a Russian–Israeli modern impressionistic artist who worked with palette knives and oils to produce some bright and cheerful art. Over the last 25 years, he developed his own personal style and technique which differentiated him from other artists. He mainly painted landscapes, city scenes, vintage cars, seascapes, cats playing jazz and flowers. He formed distinctive pieces with bold knife cuts and color contrasts that conveyed a wide range of jubilant emotions.
Afremov generally worked with photographs taken from his world travels, which he used as a reference point for most of his paintings. His work reflected a personal memory or emotion, focusing on a feeling rather than a story. He skillfully combined the palette knife with bright colors to produce a positive reflection of his surroundings, thus making each artwork as attractive as the next. This unusual yet unique technique of painting where he uses only oils, canvas, and the palette-knife appealed to anyone and everyone, regardless of their age, social or ethnic background. The elegant play of the vibrant colors in Afremov’s paintings gives art lovers a nostalgic feel of luxurious autumnal cities. His pictures seem to slow down time, letting us enjoy the precious details of these brisk and luminous landscapes.
Leonid Afremov was one of the greatest and best-known modern art impressionists of our time. He was and still is highly respected among art critics and collectors. His beautiful paintings have made their way to private houses and galleries in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, France, Spain, and many other countries. This is even more admirable knowing that the artist was self-representing and all of his promoting and selling processes were only held on the Internet with very few exhibitions and very little involvement of dealers and galleries. His self-developed technique and style is unmistakable and cannot be confused with other artists. Most of his work is considered very politically neutral.
Afremov was born on 12 July 1955 in Vitebsk, Belarus and passed away on 19 August 2019 at Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico due to cardiac arrest. Before the advancement of online sales and eBay, Afremov was a struggling artist. He lived in Vitebsk, Belarus until 1990. Between 1990 and 2002 he lived in Israel and from 2002 to 2010 in Boca Raton, Florida.
Afremov was born to Jewish parents Bella Afremova and Arkadiy Afremov. His father was a shoe designer and shoemaker. His mother worked in a metal factory in Vitebsk. He was born in the same town as Marc Chagall, who later became a significant role model to Afremov.
In 1973 Leonid Afremov graduated with honors from his high school in Vitebsk and was admitted to the Vitebsk Education Institute where he studied in the arts and graphics department. During his years in college, Afremov was introduced to the work of Marc Chagall, Picasso, Dali, Modigliani and the 19th century French Impressionism. His early artistic work was greatly influenced by Chagall and Modigliani. During his years in college, Afremov participated in various school exhibitions and even sold some paintings. In 1978 Afremov graduated from the Vitebsk Art School as one of their elite members. After that he took private lessons from local famous artist Barowski who was teaching art when Marc Chagall was still living in Vitebsk.
Life and career in Soviet Russia from 1976 to 1990
After graduating from college, Afremov worked as a label designer in a local beer and liquor factory. Then he briefly worked in a local theater as a set designer.
In the early 1980’s he started doing freelance work for communal farms and schools, designing and making various propaganda posters, themed rooms and walls for certain communist events and holidays. He was also doing template sculptures of Lenin from plaster. He had a very good reputation in that field and was invited back by many farms and schools. This type of work was available only during the summer and spring.
During the cold Russian winter, Afremov stayed at home painting. He was not allowed to participate in government exhibitions because of his Jewish roots and was not allowed to be a member of the local art associations. His early work was sold privately via family and friends and was not seen by many people. A lot of his work in the 1980’s was just given away for free. He did not keep records of his work then and not much of it survived.
In 1986 the Chernobyl disaster happened. Vitebsk was only a few hundred kilometers from Chernobyl, close enough for radiation to travel with the wind and rain. The ecological situation in the area worsened, with the local crops and water becoming contaminated with radioactive fallout. Small children were affected severely, including Afremov’s two year old son. At the same time Leonid Afremov was experiencing serious discrimination for his Jewish heritage. The liberal politics of Mikhail Gorbachev allowed Jewish soviet citizens to migrate to Israel in the late 1980s. Fed up with anti-semitism and problems caused by radiation, Leonid decided to move to Israel without hesitation as soon as the doors were opened.
Life and career in Israel from 1990 to 2002
A few weeks after moving to Israel, Leonid Afremov found a job in an advertisement agency making signs and posters. After working in an advertisement agency, he worked in a gallery shop where he learned to make frames, being introduced to the palette knife for the first time.
Being a recent Russian immigrant, his work was not considered to be of great value by the locals. Galleries took paintings for 50 shekels (15USD) and were reselling them for 500 to 5000 shekels. The galleries refused to sell his work for percentage commissions just because he was a Russian immigrant. He was only given the option of a pittance for each painting which took a day to make. Afremov felt exploited and discriminated by the galleries and the Israeli society just like he was by the Soviet Government. He attempted to sell his art at street fairs and exhibitions in local social clubs. However, it was difficult because of the social stigma of Russian immigrants.
During the early 1990s, Leonid Afremov was mainly working with watercolors and acrylic. He was experimenting very little with usage of the palette knife. He painted what people were buying, with very little artistic freedom. In 1994, out of extreme desperation, his 16-year-old son Dmitry tried to sell Leonid’s paintings door to door around the neighborhood, This practice proved itself very effective, and Afremov suddenly started selling many pieces he painted and was getting slightly better prices than from selling directly to galleries. Dmitry proved himself to be a good door-to-door salesman. He was selling Leonid’s paintings in the new neighborhoods where recent Russian Immigrants were living.
In 1995, Leonid acquired enough funds to open his own gallery and frame shop in Ashdod. The gallery was not popular among local Israelis; it was mainly visited by fellow Russian immigrants. The gallery was vandalized and broken into on several occasions. The local Israeli newspapers were refusing to publish advertisements for Afremov’s Gallery, and he was mainly advertising via Russian immigrant press and radio station. However, artistic freedom could not be achieved completely.
Around 1999, Leonid became friends with Russian-speaking Israeli jazz musician Leonid Ptashka, who inspired Afremov to paint a collection of portraits of popular jazz musicians and helped him secure a successful exhibition in the International Jazz Festival in Ashdod. Since then, Leonid Afremov has painted dozens of his favorite musicians.
In March 2001, Afremov’s gallery was completely vandalized. Dozens of paintings were destroyed, the artistic equipment stolen and the facility turned into rubble. Then Leonid decided it was time to move somewhere else where he would be treated with respect, eventually moving to the USA in January 2002.
Life and career in USA from 2002 to 2010
Leonid Afremov prepared for his move to USA very carefully. For several months he did not sell any paintings and sent everything he painted to his sister in Brooklyn. When he arrived in the US in January 2002, he had more than one hundred paintings at his disposal. Along with his son, he visited several galleries in New York. Some of these liked and purchased his paintings, however they only picked up Judaic themes and musician portraits. This forced Afremov to paint only limited themes and subjects in order to make a living.
Leonid had good opportunities in New York but the cold climate affected his health. He was constantly struggling with arthritis and muscular pain caused by drastic temperature changes. Thus he moved to Fort Lauderdale in April 2002. In Florida, Afremov faced the same changeless like in New York, selling only certain themes and subjects that the galleries wanted and were able to sell.
In 2004, after graduating from high school, Leonid’s son Boris was introduced to eBay by his friends. They tried to auction some of Leonid’s paintings with positive results. Paintings were sold for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars and everything sold without exception. For the first time Afremov was given the opportunity to paint what he really wanted. This was when his real artistic journey began. He started painting what he really wanted from his personal inspirations and was finally able to explore his artistic vision and abilities all the way.
The exposure on eBay gave him opportunities for commission orders and access to different galleries. However, because of past bitter experiences with galleries, Leonid preferred to sell directly to the collector. Thanks to the internet exposure, Afremov participated in various local TV shows around the USA.
In 2007 with the help of his sons Leonid launched his own personal site where he began selling giclees, prints and original painting, eventually moving all the business and attention to his personal site. Two years later Leonid underwent heart bypass procedures. The doctors recommended Leonid to stay away from managing a business, keep a calm lifestyle and ultimately retire. It was then that his sons Boris and Dmitry started handling his sales, customer service and shipping.
Recent life and career in Mexico
In 2005 Leonid Afremov vacationed in Playa del Carmen and Cancun for the first time. Thereafter he visited the Mexican Caribbean 2 to 3 times in a year and completely fell in love with the place. Eventually in March 2010 Leonid decided to take on early retirement recommended by his doctors and moved to Playa del Carmen, a popular resort town near Cancun. By now his children were so involved in his business that they had to move to Mexico as well and managed his virtual gallery and shipping office in Playa del Carmen. The Afremovs also have locations in Cancun and Cozumel where they sell art during the busy tourist season in the winter. Leonid found Caribbean Mexico very relaxing and stress free. In 2011 Leonid sponsored the construction of his own personal ranch near Puerto Morelos where he spent much of his time.
Afremov’s Artistic Philosophy
Leonid Afremov kept majority of his art politically neutral. His paintings are not offensive to anyone nor send any hidden messages. They usually reflect certain personal memories and emotions. Afremov tried to draw the viewer’s attention towards a certain feeling rather than tell a story through his painting. He wanted his viewers to see the world through his eyes. The neutral attributes of Afremov’s art make the paintings appealing to almost all strata of society. He travelled quite extensively and took many photographs of different scenes that he later painted. Almost every painting he painted has a very personal inspiration. His art can be reflected as very positive through the bright colors he used. In fact, it was declared very relaxing and calming by notable psychologists and psychiatrists who make use of his painting in various psychological and psychiatric therapy procedures. Afremov’s paintings were published not only in art magazines but also in various medical and health magazines as examples of stress reducing paintings.
Afremov loved cats and other animals, hence painted many with cats, dogs, horses, tigers and even giraffes. The only political paintings he did were of bull-fighting, where he tried to show the viewer the cruel nature of the sport and discourage people from liking it.
After reading Leonid Afremov’s bio, one can understand how he attained success. Struggling for his individuality and artistic freedom, he managed to create his own style based on the experiences of the most outstanding artists. While Afremov’s early works were influenced by the masterpieces of older painters, his later artworks are very unique and recognizable.
According to Mr. Afremov, art is not something elite, understandable for a small circle of intellectuals only. He didn’t want to put any complicated hidden messages into his work – on the contrary, he wants his paintings to be intuitively close to everyone. When one looks at those autumn parks, lantern-lit alleys and vibrant cityscapes, the idea is rather clear. The artist invites his viewers to the world of simple beauty all around, but we are all too busy to stop for a moment and enjoy it. If an artist can open his viewers’ eyes to that, then his creations are not in vain.
Afremov proved that elegance and delicacy are elements of art that are still alive. While many artists try to shock the public with something slangy, this painter respected traditions. He didn’t follow them automatically but took the best from every style. Modern art need not be incomprehensible. It can be meaningful and clear – that’s the idea behind his paintings.
Here’s a collection of his paintings that are my personal favorites:
Using his unique knife painting technique and unmistakable style, Afremov created paintings that seem to explode in millions of bright colors. Focusing primarily on land and seascapes, he formed distinctive pieces with bold knife cuts and colour contrasts that conveyed a range of jubilant emotions. His artistic philosophy rests on the idea that art is not only for elite, but rather something that everyone should have the opportunity to appreciate. His pieces maintain a characteristic ebb and flow, with colours and textures woven together to form an emotive gradient that captures one’s attention, first with bright colours and then with the technique.
Joyful and radiant, Afremov’s animated artwork achieve an emotional connection that personally touches those who respond to his talent. Afremov had the ability to touch a wide audience by focusing on keeping his artwork simple and politically neutral. The artist’s work doesn’t aim to offend anyone or reveal any deeper messages, but seeks to speak for itself by reflecting memories and emotions that are universally relateable.
My Art Inspired by Afremov
Besides being greatly influenced by the distinct and trademark style of Afremov, I was also drawn towards the vibrant color palette that he uses for his paintings. I believe it is these two features about his art that appeal to me the most. It is my constant endeavor to incorporate his technique as well as his exuberant colors and textures into my work. Having said that, I try to cautious not to mimic or clone his style and produce identical replicas of his work. My objective is only to apply the best of his skills to further enhance mine.
Keeping this in mind, I have attempted to add my own little twist to his palette knife technique. Instead of applying paint in thick daubs with a palette knife, I tried doing so with a paint brush, while keeping the thickness of the paint intact. Even though the effects were not the same as those achieved by Afremov with his method, what I got was pretty close, yet different enough. In order to polish up my technique, I first experimented with a couple of Afremov’s paintings themselves as part of a process of their recreation, but in my own unique way.
Quite often I mix my paints with modeling paste or a similar thickening agent in order to attain specific textural effects in my artworks. This is another special touch that I have added to further enhance my version of Afremov’s style of painting, thereby aiming to acquire similar results. It was a learning experience that has paved the path towards developing my individualistic signature style which I applied to several of my paintings later on.
Here are some visuals of the works I did with my favorite artist’s paintings in order to fine tune my process followed by artworks that were inspired by his technique. Hope you all enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed painting them!
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Sources and Photo Credits –