Four Questions with Alexandra Rozenman, Visual Artist
Alexandra Rozenman with her artwork (photo by Irina Danilova)

Newbury College is hosting a solo exhibit of visual artist Alexandra Rozenman’s work from Feb. 17 through March 31. The show will launch with a reception and gallery talk on Thursday, March 12, from 5-8 p.m. I had a chance to visit Alexandra at her studio and art school, Art School 99, in Lower Allston last week. We chatted about the new exhibit and what it was like being an artist in the Soviet Union, where she grew up.

What can we expect at your upcoming exhibit?

The show is called “Tales on Paper” and is my watercolor work. This is a bit different for me, as I’m known for my oils and drawings. My goal of the past 10 years was to combine these two types of work—it’s both a solution and part of the question.

A lot of my drawings are narratives with text, so when I look at my body of work, I think the next step is animation. Growing up in the Soviet Union, there was a famous animation called “Hedgehog in the Fog,” which was an influential and important piece of art. I should be clear and say that this sort of animation isn’t your typical Saturday morning cartoon; animation is a layered process, with layers of work. Imagine a background and foreground. It’s like theater; the space in between is where the action is. I have lots of ideas and tons of materials.

What is Art School 99? Can anyone take lessons?

Absolutely! I went to art graduate school in Boston, and once upon a time taught at Solomon Schechter Day School, among other schools. I loved creating syllabi. I moved to the Midwest and taught art there as well. When I moved back to the East Coast, I couldn’t find the right job. My old students asked me to teach them art, but it wasn’t going to be enough. A friend of my parents suggested I advertise classes through Groupon, and my business took off. Now I offer one class a day for adults. I started working on a syllabus for adults with life experience, who don’t have an art background but want to learn.

I’ve also taught children, and I’ve learned the best age to teach is 5 and 6. It’s a magic age—the kids are partially who they are going to be. They have a passion that unfolds in the class. My experience is that all kids have talent, but one out of every four can come up with an abstract piece. At age 5, kids want to paint what they see; if they can look beyond that, then that’s what makes an artist.

You grew up in the Soviet Union. How is being an artist there different from being an artist in the United States?

The Soviet Union is a very structured country. There are rules if you want to be an artist. Step one really starts in childhood when you get sent to a kindergarten for artists. My parents took it very seriously—they were young, so they had so much hope in me. My mother was extremely supportive. And then from ages 5 to 10, it’s art school, and then at 11 you apply for an afternoon art program three times a week. But I rebelled and said I wouldn’t go. My parents wanted me to have options, and they happened to have friends who were Jewish dissident artists. These artists needed to eat, and my parents wanted me to have art lessons, so they taught me. It was a great time. Then came art school after high school. That’s when I really studied—different disciplines, artists, the process and meaning. But then we left the Soviet Union.

It’s really hard to compare the two. As a professional artist, it’s just what you do. Whatever I was doing, it was part of growing up there. I didn’t want to leave. You don’t want to leave anything at 19. I feel I lost a lot and didn’t have aim. My friends were in Russia. I liked being underground and illegal. The art scene of Russia in the late 1980s was like the art scene in New York City in the 1950s. We were a part of history; here I had to reinvent myself. And I didn’t speak English. I studied German in school growing up, so that was my fault. I like language—much of my work has a narrative and is full of language, but English is still an obstacle for me.

What’s your favorite piece of art in Boston?

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the most magical place to me. Even with its new building, it has the Boston spirit. It captures a time. How art is captured and shared is very special. And at the newly redesigned Fogg Museum, check out Rothko’s Harvard Murals. It’s history, what they did.

Four Questions with Alexandra Rozenman, Visual ArtistFour questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!

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