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California's Gold:
Valentin Popov
Online at ideamuseum
By Lorette C. Luzajic

Valentin Popov had no intention of becoming an artist. But his father was a professor of art, and the building he lived in back in the Ukraine was filled with artists, too. "All of my friends in the building were children of artists," he explains. He started taking an easel and going outside to play around with landscapes. Then he was accepted into art school, where he studied printmaking and illustration. A coincidence changed his life forever, when in 1989 he was invited by some friends to visit the United States. While in California, he precociously sent some transparencies of his work to some galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art. His work interested the museum immediately and another gallery gave him a one man show, just like that. The rest is art history.

Valentin Popov comes across as a warm, bright man with a generous cheerfulness and zest for life. In his art, we see a playfulness mixed with technical mastery. While many experts are always recommending that artists "focus" to find their style, some artists find that focusing on a style or medium is limiting. Rather than confusing the public, a broad range of experiments should inspire and re-attract the public's attention over and over. "An artist I can easily relate to is Gerhardt Richter," he says. "An artist all over the map."

Relating to the artist whom Canadian Art Magazine describes as the most important artist since Picasso might raise a few eyebrows. The German master's enormous body of work and vast experiments of style has earned him star status in the art world. But Popov's own body of work and styles is perhaps even wider, and his respect and love for other creative thinkers is evident in the way enthusiasm bubbles from him. He is simply stating that like Richter, he sees no need to limit himself when there is a whole world of paths to discover and try.

Indeed, Popov's body of art ranges so broadly that he could open his own museum. Trained classically, he can paint realism or romanticism like the old masters. In fact, in his Rembrandt series he paints pieces of old Rembrandts into his collages, and honestly, one could be hard-pressed to determine the difference between his and the 'real thing'. He has done printmaking, illustration, and etchings. He etched the illustrations for an edition of Ivan Turgenev's Torrents of Spring. (These etchings were included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and won the USSR's Academy of Fine Art's silver medal.) He has worked with lithographs and monotypes. He has painted in oil, in both realism and abstract styles. He has endless collages of paper, paint, wood, and more. And then there was the Crucifixion of St. Batman, a performance piece. He is currently working on a collage installation for Swatch: here, he blurs even more boundaries as advertising meets art.

The sardonic and witty Batman series garnered a fair bit of attention. "I didn't grow up with Batman," Popov explains. "Here was a hero wearing a mask, taking care of things. He is acting like God. ..I don't necessarily like the situation of religion. The joke here was, let's believe in the religion of our childhood." In this place, where the heroes take care of the bad guys, faith in a faltering system can't harm our psyches. We believe in a fairy tale that always delivers in heroism and justice. The crucifixion installation was the icing on the cake- there are photos, paintings, and various artifacts in the Batman-themed series. St. Batman shows baby Batman on the knee of the Madonna, painted in the style of the old masters. Popov is showing us how the comforting world of childhood creates our faith for us.

The Not Rembrandt series is made up of many collages, where Popov has painted himself pieces of Rembrandt's works and collaged the copies into quilts of colour and textured papers. The collages are so full of texture that the imagination leaps in a playground saturated with corners to explore. After the more serious business of making saints from cartoon characters, Popov finds that the collaging is "all play and no work." He describes the works as layers of emotional process. Working with many mediums means a playful, exploratory approach for the artist as well as the audience. There are layers of transparent and opaque inks, plastics, metals, acrylics, handmade paper, and more.

In an article by Barnaby Conrad, which Popov has posted on his web site, the writer says he was impressed by the "ghostly miniatures' of Rembrandt, Brueghel, and more. He assumed immediately that the images were reproductions glued onto a canvas. Then he discovered that "each vignette was exquisitely painted in tromp l'oeil- an astonishing tour de force of rendering. This Ukrainian artist not only was playing with a full deck, he had painted every card himself."

Who knows where the artist finds the time to produce the prolific, never-ending body of work that streams from his own idea museum without ceasing. He handles publicity with warmth and authenticity as well. "I don't need any attention," Popov says. "But you do need to have an audience. As soon as I have privacy to do my art, I need an audience. It's all about balance." Popov says he feels very lucky and grateful for the critical and popular reception to his work. America has been good to him, and he is fortunate to have fans and a nice house in beautiful California. But many of his collectors are European, too. "Lots of French and Swedish buyers," he says. "In Europe, there is a very different attitude to beauty. It's a totally different planet."

Popov has private collectors worldwide, and he has works in the National Museum of Ukrainian Art, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the New York Public library, and more. He has had dozens of solo shows and even more group exhibits. Currently he is preparing for a Go Dutch! show in Holland, Michigan. Energy to put these shows together and prepare for them is necessary to good publicity. Popov is happy to keep busy. "As long as I have enough time to do my art, I'm very happy," he says. "If I don't have that, I slowly go crazy."

Let's hope Popov takes all the time he needs to produce everything that comes into his brain. I believe he stands as one of the creative genius's of our time; a philosopher, thinker, and artist.

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