Ted Vasin's Poison Bliss
by Joseph Williams
Volume 24, pages 86-96, July 2012
JW: How do you feel about people like me trying to dissect your life's work? How important is the discussion to you as an artist?
TV: Like you - OK. Reporter last week - not OK. "Boring questions," - I told him. He called me psychedelic, street-cred, fantasy-vibe, organic, Russian-fantastic. What the fuck? He should be fired.
-Excerpt from raw interview with Ted Vasin
There is a brand of psychedelic user that takes pride in his travels. It's not a matter of addiction or even fun, in the traditional sense of the word. It's about balls; closer to war correspondence than inebriation.
Ted Vasin is one of these. Like a punk rock Hunter Thompson, he reports back from the edges of the psyche, telling whoever will listen what things look like from certain chemically enhanced vistas.
And - whether it's in spite of, regardless of, or because of the drug use - he's also a damn good painter. Cynicism, violence, beauty, and a kind of deranged tenderness alternately collect behind his brush. The strength with which he applies realist technique to his Frankenstein worlds is only possible with a honed raw talent and boat loads of practice.
Despite the care in his craftsmanship, Vasin is often described as difficult to interpret. He acknowledges no heroes, and it's impossible to pry the psychedelic wanderings from his subject matter and judge art in any traditional sense.
His representational world is stitched together completely with his trips so that pulling one from the other would kill the living monster. Do the floating shapes that resemble sex organs, neurons and primordial organisms represent sex and life in the otherwise drab, static world? Or are they just something he saw when he was neck deep in lysergic acid diethylamide?
Not that you can't draw logical lines through art history to Vasin. It makes sense that he's doing his work after the past 100 years of art broke ground. He seems to be synthesizing the recent past as much as any contemporary artist, but he rejects these kinds of comparisons. "I don't carve it out of the dinosaur bone, you know. I generate my own signal," he said, before pointing out that most artists that populate the history books haven't even taken DMT. Damn dilettantes
Either way, you can see that best psychological portraiture in paintings like 2009 work "Poison Bliss", even if Vasin's are a bit acid singed, pop father Rosenquist would be proud, and the cubists and surrealists would probably pay attention as well.
But whatever art history he digested in Moscow Art College in the mid 80's, today Vasin looks inward, as deeply inward as science can allow. When asked what influences he brought back from native Russia and the Russian art scene, he said, "What art scene? These people never took acid."
"One cannot call himself an artist without having taken a powerful hallucinogen," he added later.
This kind of cynicism and egoism is consistent through much of Vasin's painting, and seemingly, his personal style. Interviewing him, most of the time, it's hard to tell if he's being hyperbolic or sincere, but his irreverence is usually at least funny. For example, when I asked him to describe himself, contemporary art and human condition each in three words, he said, "Work in progress," "I am sick", and "Rich in oxygen," respectively.
Whatever tongue-in-cheek weirdness might creep in at the edges, much of his work isn't for the uninitiated. It presents the real, world or the polite world at least, as deficient, not enough for an art-world outlier and mind cosmonaut of his caliber. FORD, the American manufacturing icon, becomes FUCK, and he splashes some jellyfish-like trip critters across the name just to drive home the point that there is an alternative to the consensus.
It's a matter of personal taste how attractive Vasin's alternative is. Sure the other side is populated by curious trip critters and colors that, like psychological deep-sea fish, generate their own light in the darkness of the mundane. But there's also random explosions of frustration and pain. He thrusts his canvases at the viewer like huge sheets of acid, daring them to follow, and by doing so, he devalues the world of common sense and experience.
I asked Vasin what the object of his disapproval is, and, alternatively, what does he value and protect. He answered simply, "Fuck all."
I'd say that Vasin embellishes his fuck-all sentiment. This long-haired scion of the surreal has an image to protect, after all. The "normal" world is one of boundaries, rules and systems of control and submission, and Vasin seems to loathe the "normal." Thus, for consistency's sake, for image's sake, you get Fuck All.
But Vasin does seem to care about at least one thing: His process and the product. The love affair he has with his paintings is undeniable. The man labors intensely on these massive canvases, reproducing his experiences and dreams with all the tenderness of the most esteemed Romantic sculptors. His wife, ominously named Julia McEvily, said he doesn't employ any workers or assistants. The hours and care that go into each creation betray a passion that bubbles as least as deep as his disregard of polite society.
These arguments and interpretations could spiral on into shapes as incomprehensible as the most impenetrable of Vasin's compositions.
And his painting is certainly worthy of examination. By juxtaposing his colorful vision and deranged epiphanies with the banality of the regular world, his reports from the edge of wherever illustrate the insignificance of our little constructions and expose artifice and vanity in our priorities, like seeing photographs from the Hubble.
For whatever purpose, Vasin squeezes all the the vitamin C out of this big, blue orange in the sky and shows us the husk left over in all its ugliness and wonder. The effect is as bewildering as it is fascinating. Like seeing something new. Like taking the blue pill.