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Vladimir Kush: In a world of pure imagination

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut 

At first, the paintings of artist Vladimir Kush beckon the viewer in, then a glance turns into a second look, and soon, mesmerized, the observer is seduced, unable to look away. Kush says that patrons often admit, “I’ve seen this in a dream, but it’s nebulous, just out of reach.”

“Collectors become addicted to that, the extraordinary angle of looking at things,” says Kush Fine Arts Gallery Manager Brian Stewart. “He has 45,000 collectors worldwide.”

Masterfully and mysteriously, Kush bridges the gap between imagination and reality in all of his creations – paintings, watercolors, sculptures, books, and jewelry. Kush Fine Art in downtown Laguna features only his work, so everywhere the eye falls is another magnificent example of what he says is his goal – to reflect the world in the mirror of metaphor. 

Metaphorical Realism 

In representing the universality of nature, Kush often uses moons, suns, clouds, flowers, animals, insects, and water, however, not in the tradition and expected way. In his works, a surfer rides the waves of a tree trunk, an elephant has a trumpet for a trunk, and humans climb a golden spiderweb overseen by a giant spider.

The connection between artist and viewer is on a microscopic level, invisible to the eye in the conventional sense – images aren’t static but have a jiggly dreamlike quality as if in a cosmic dance – out of focus, yet almost known.

Vladimir Kush outside

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Vladimir Kush in front of his gallery

Kush is the epitome of the American Dream. Born in Moscow, Russia during a time when imagination was suppressed, he flourished in Laguna, where creativity is revered, and opened his first gallery in 2005. Kush now owns two additional galleries – in Maui and Las Vegas (in Caesar’s Palace). 

On August 22, he returned to Kush Fine Arts downtown for a few days to unveil the 7th Human Compilation, in a series. Over that weekend, 240 people attended the unveiling and presentation event. Additionally, in an unprecedented occurrence, the transaction of the sale of one of his paintings was finalized in public. Human Way, an original oil on canvas, was sold to the Founder of Blockchain, Andrew Keys.

As Diana Pinck says in her article “Metaphorical Realism, The Art of Vladimir Kush” in Artist PROOF Magazine, “Kush’s paintings use metaphor to describe the joy of the world, the interconnectedness and dichotomy of all the powerful and driving forces of nature and the universe.” She adds that he was the first artist to use metaphor as his method. 

For Kush, the idea of metaphor as mirror of the world began a long time ago in Moscow. Although Kush’s father Oleg had artistic inclinations, he studied mathematics and physics and taught his son that the “visual metaphor” or idea should be transparent as a formula or equation. 

Kush says, “A ‘good metaphor’ is essentially a formula because it connects seemingly distant notions.” 

Vladimir Kush painting

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“Infinity Trail” painting and “Rose Awaiting” sculpture

Creativity blossoms at a young age

“At the time of my childhood, Russia was still behind an Iron Curtain, and the only way to see exotic and unusual places was by traveling in my own imagination.”

He was already sketching at the age of three and began attending art school at seven. “I was very lucky that my first art teacher did not suppress imagination and allowed certain freedom in the student’s creative flow.” At 12, he went to see an exhibit of 20 avant-garde artists, and his father encouraged him to start experimenting with surrealistic ideas. 

However, he is not a surrealist artist, but a metaphorical realist, and he explains the difference, “The possibility of truthful depiction of the material world combines with my own vision of cultural world tradition and mythology.”

After 10 years at the art school, Kush entered the Moscow School of Art and Design, but within a year, he was conscripted into the Russian Army and served a two-year term. For the most part during that time, he was assigned to produce large paintings for various purposes. 

Kush readily admits that attending art school in Moscow was not without criticism, pressure, and rigorous training, which he believes is lacking in some art classes in the U.S. “There is no progress without it,” he says. 

He also believes art has been replaced by a more digitalized industry, and as a result, the quality is changing. “It’s a skill and few want to take the time.”

Vladimir Kush outside

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Kush with “Route 66” sculpture

How his career began in Laguna

In the early 1990s, the Iron Curtain dropped, and Kush was able to emigrate. In 1991, he came to Los Angeles and soon after visited Laguna where he decided to stay. “I had a sublime connection to the town. I couldn’t let it go, I had to conquer it. I remember walking around taking photos and thinking it would be such a dream to exhibit here.” 

And he did – as an exhibitor at the Festival of Arts. In 2005, the first Kush Fine Arts Gallery opened on Coast Highway next to C’est La Vie restaurant, then it moved to 265 Forest in August of 2009, and in 2015, relocated to the current space at 210 Forest Ave. 

Prolific artist

“The American Dream is not an overnight success or a fairytale, it’s not achieved without effort,” Kush admits. “I don’t fit into any traditional category or belong to any art establishment or commercial art galleries. I have no public relations. I’ve had no outside investors. It’s been achieved by appeal. It’s all from the love of art work.”

Currently, Kush spends most of his time in Maui with his wife Oxana and two daughters, Veronica, who is seven months old, and Victoria, who is three.

Vladimir Kush books

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Kush’s books 

Stewart says, “I would say he is the most prolific artist of our time without a doubt. I’ve been in this business for 13 years and have never encountered an artist with his ability to create as much as he does.”

Adding to his already vast repertoire, Kush began producing sculptures 20 years ago, and has been designing jewelry for the last 10 years. 

Multi-faceted is an understatement when it comes to describing the diversity of his accomplishments. He has since added another endeavor – books. 

Kush’s watercolor of the sheep covered in seashells prompted his father Oleg to write the award-winning children’s book Aries and the Sheep and an Apple iPhone application in which kids can color the illustrations (more apps are in the works). Recently, Kush published Metaphorical Journey, a poetic catalogue of his major paintings and drawings through 2002. He also produces magazines and animated pieces.

7th Human Compilation

Kush explains how the Human Compilation series began. “It was a period beginning in 2000. I was trying to define the notion that all people have in common love, time, and sensation of space, and it was important to compare these things other than in metaphor. Basically, the Human Compilation series serves as a timeline that I considered a script – dividing time by each episode and by doing so – to communicate to all people the legacy of human spirit.”

Vladimir Kush jewelry

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Jewelry designed by Kush 

Now when he releases the sketches, even before the series piece is finished, collectors will quickly buy them up to add to their other series acquisitions. 

“I’m a classic painter,” Kush says when asked about his process. “I start with black and white drawings, or watercolors, and do multiple drawings with pencil and/or ink. It takes skill, there are no tricks. The concept is transparent, and I work to cleanse it. As written by William Blake, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.’ It’s intellectual. Sometimes the conception is unknown to the artist himself.”

Nature is a temple

Kush quotes Charles Baudelaire: “Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused works.”

It seems a fitting reference, since Kush’s imaginative works decode that confusion, making the invisible visible in a mystical way that bridges the gap connecting us all. Then he entices the observer to discover that relationship: “You only have to start noticing, and that miracle of connection is everywhere.” 

In his works of art, there is no choice but to notice.

For more information about Vladimir Kush, go to www.vladimirkush.com.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

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