There's a certain stigma that comes with showing art at outdoor festivals like ArtWalk San Diego, which, for the 30th year, will take over the streets of Little Italy from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27. While it's easy for art snobs to dismiss most of the work at fine-art fairs as too commercial or the type of art casual collectors buy to complement their couches, several artists who show annually at ArtWalk defy those generalizations.
Printmaker and painter Igor Koutsenko is one (Booths 538 and 540). He started training in his craft at age 6 and has made a living as an artist. His work is technically adept and, while some of his pieces are easy on the eye, his subject matter is often dark, challenging and filled with complex narratives.
"Selling art is a business," says Koutsenko, who's been showing at ArtWalk San Diego for 14 years. "At one point, you realize you have to do something that sells, and, yes, because of that, many artists make certain changes and eventually they may limit their work... But there's a space for everything. Yes, work can be commercial—designed to sell—but, still, there's a niche for doing things the way I'm trying to do things."
Born on the Crimean Peninsula and raised in Ukraine and Russia, the Fallbrook artist's work features imagery that reflects his multicultural background. While the elongated faces of his subjects reference the Russian icon paintings he studied in art school, the Southern California landscape—especially mission-style architecture—can be spotted, too.
Koutsenko was in Moscow in the late '80s and early '90s, when the Soviet Union was dissolving. The recent Russian takeover of Crimea is "disappointing" to Koutsenko, and he says his feelings about the politics in his native country will eventually find their way into his detailed woodcuts, linocuts and etchings.
At this year's ArtWalk, though, expect to see more single-subject paintings than the narrative prints that were more prevalent in years past. As a young artist working in Russia, Koutsenko didn't have easy access to printmaking equipment, which is why he focused on it for so many years after reaching the United States. In the last year-and-a-half, he felt compelled to pick up his paintbrushes more often.
"I've satisfied some hunger in me for printmaking," he says. "Painting is a totally different means of expression."