“I’m inspired by gender, sex, drag queens; it’s more about appreciation and celebration of the genders. I was inspired by other artists and their stories. But I wondered, is this my story to tell?” – Ivan Alifan
Ivan Alifan is a Russian artist based in New York City, who has brought out a unique side of sexuality through his art. It is important to understand that an artist like Alifan deals with a more complicated thought process of creation than one can encounter on a regular day. The representation of sexuality and bodies in his art varies a lot in form and expression. It is a complicated process for an artist to understand what he can or cannot represent and Alifan admits that sometimes he feels like an “imposter”. There is a depth in Alifan that is rare. He is like a tangled garden vine trying to understand his own agendas and meanings because his art is not merely about what is on the canvas but also deeply connected with his inner reality. Alifan has a bloom of honesty about him, a beautiful introspective gaze that wanders within him and scrutinizes his own doings. His mind resides in a little cave while he finds his way out of the forest of thoughtful complexities. For him, it does not end with finishing a piece of art, but also reflecting on it.
When it comes to understanding what Alifan means it can be a bit chaotic but also surreally natural. A series of paintings called ‘Hands’ which showcases BDSM, choking, masturbation which Alifan calls “self-love” is beautifully interesting in the most thought-provoking manner. Alifan’s hands come off as androgynous in most of his paintings. He wishes to give a certain agency to the viewer to interpret the hands and their sexuality in their own way. He says that hands that started off as male turned out to be more feminine as it is only a matter of “a few inches of a nail for a hand to go from male to female”. He believes that as an artist he cannot help but paint himself in his work. Thus, the process of painting or creating an artwork becomes an extension of his persona. It becomes a process of reflecting and speculating oneself as well. Alifan unapologetically uses a lot of sweet foods like cakes, whipped cream, and desserts which also helped him become more open and comfortable with his skin. Sweet foods and sexuality have been villainized in world history and Alifan explores this relationship and re-imagines it. Sexuality can be tricky to bring out on canvas, but Alifan involves himself and explores his own sexuality in doing so. He says “I see myself in every piece, self-satisfaction, penetration, realizing things about myself as a gay man”. Such engagement of an artist with his work adds a great amount of personality that is evident in his paintings. Alifan refuses to use warm colors to depict sexuality. He does not believe in the conventional idea of associating darker and warmer colors with sexual acts. Instead, he views sexuality from the colder side of the spectrum – a cold, blue, misty world of sexuality. He says “blue is something we associate with coldness and death. I meant to tone it down and to bring back snow, winter, and Russia”. Alifan’s paintings tend to confide a haunting and eerie feeling of not only sex and desire but transcend the canvas and open the garden of his mind to the viewer.
All Artwork by Ivan Alifan.
Text by Mariyam Fatima.
Curated by Romina Bertetti.