Vera Falenko, Contributing Editor
Interview: Featured Artist
Gene Kreyd is an American artist who lives and works in California. He was born in 1964 in St. Petersburg Russia. His parents’ close circle of friends numbered among them some of the leading Russian underground nonconformist artists, poets and writers, including other creative free thinkers such as Vladlen Gavrilchik. In 1973, Kreyd’s family emigrated to USA. While living in California, Kreyd discovered surfing, which became a major source of inspiration for his artistic expression. “From a very young age I loved nature, but surfing became the axis of my life. I am an explorer. I am a graduate of the university of reality.”
Falenko for O:JA&L: We are speaking today with Gene Kreyd, an American abstract artist from California. Please, Gene, as a starting point for this session, tell our audience: Who is Gene Kreyd, the artist?
Kreyd: As an artist, I am an “observer.” I experience the art that flows through me. It is for me a true, honest, and passionate reflection of my personal history and my understanding of reality.
Seeing the sublime in the mundane, I record the duality of creation and the kaleidoscopic nature of existence as reflected light. I act as a conduit for the universal energy that is made manifest in my paintings. My intention is to inspire others and awaken them.
Falenko for O:JA&L: What should we know of your “personal history” to more fully appreciate your work as an artist? What can you share with us about your background as it informs your work?
Kreyd: I was born in 1964 in St. Petersburg Russia. I was exposed to art from a very young age. My parents took me to museums, galleries, and exhibitions from my infancy. My father worked as an art editor for Hermitage museum’s publications. He is very educated in art and philosophy. My mother was a specialist in ancient Greek and Latin. She would read the Greek myths, Herodotus, Iliad and Odyssey and other books to me and acquainted me with ancient cultures. I remember that while she was studying at St. Petersburg University, she had a practicum at an excavation of ancient Greek city in Crimea, Chersonesos. She took me along with her. That was a big highlight for me. I explored the ruins and looked at artifacts as they were unearthed. That was the environment I was raised in. Also being born and growing up in St. Petersburg, which is the cultural capital of Russia laid my foundation as an artist.
Falenko for O:JA&L: When did your journey as an artist actually begin? Is there a particular moment that you can identify as that epiphany?
Kreyd: Not really. My art career began when I could first hold a pencil. My parents recognized that I was artistically inclined very early on and always supported me. They enrolled me in an art class for children held at the Hermitage museum. While studying there, I entered a competition where I won first place for a self-portrait. The story and photo were published in one of the city’s main newspapers. That was an influential moment. But there were others, early on. Many of my parents’ close friends in those days were nonconformist artists, poets and other creative free thinkers such as Vladlen Gavrilchik
. He painted a portrait of me of me as a child which I still have along with two other of his works. He was an early influence on my art. And when we left Russia, we first lived in Rome and spent time in Florence. I got to experience a phenomenal amount of art while there.
Falenko for O:JA&L: You say Vladlen Gavrilchik was an early influence. Can you say who else has been important in shaping your method or practice or aesthetic value system?
Kreyd: My father. I show him my art, and he honestly and brutally critiques it. He is very knowledgeable in art, has very refined taste and deep perception and understanding. I greatly value his feedback, and I feel it helped me tremendously.
Falenko for O:JA&L: In 1973 your family emigrated to the USA. What was that like for you?
Kreyd: After being granted political asylum to the U.S. we came to New York City where my parents took me to more museums and art galleries. Later we moved to California where I discovered surfing. This would be great influence on my life. I kept drawing and painting and my art was more of a graphic nature at that time.
Falenko for O:JA&L: What was your art experience during your school years here in the US?
Kreyd: I did well in school art classes but did not enjoy the art courses in college. Although I took many classes, not many of them captured my interest. I studied traditional fine art and art history, but I found they restricted my creative process. I was never fully satisfied with only the classroom approach, so I chose to put my main focus into learning by exploration and experimentation. I did not complete a formal art education.
Falenko for O:JA&L: That’s a surprising revelation. What did you do?
Kreyd: I dropped out and started traveling the world in search of inspiration for art.
I went to Bali to surf. Surfing is also one of my artistic expressions. I was very impressed with Balinese art and culture, so much so that I started a small clothing label which I named Sun and Moon. Incidentally, the name came to me on a flight and at the same time I created the logo. I had no previous experience or any money to speak of, but I had a burning desire to try a new art form. It was a hit. People loved my work. I was truly “living the life I love.” Soon that saying became my slogan. I was designing prints for batiking fabrics, art for tee shirts, and other garments. (The “Devil Dog” print was particularly popular and was based on a wild story that happened to me). It was a special time in my life.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Sort of life as a “wonderfully satisfactory free idea” in the words of Jack Kerouac. Then what happened?
Kreyd: As that cycle came to an end I heard about the first consumer digital cameras and a new dream was born. I wanted to make a film about my experiences in Indonesia. I got a hold of a camera and around six months later I came out of the studio with a master copy of The Year of the Tiger. I nearly had tears in my eyes. I achieved my dream. It seemed like I made 20 mistakes for one successful shot. I thought that was quite hard until I started editing. But the message “one who endures to the end wins” was constantly in my mind. For the next 10 years I focused on video. My next film was The Indo Experience. I made several others and shot commercially. I hardly put the camera down. I was intent on capturing the beauty I observed all around me. I got a computer, taught myself editing. I wrote electronic music and created art videos to go with them. It became apparent to me that a lot of the images would make amazing and very unusual paintings. I researched how it could be done for several years. As result, I started creating new media based on my photography and video work. I developed my own style and technique. This was 2007. In 2012 in collaboration with Quiksilver clothing brand, we produced a line of tee shirts featuring my art and design. I called the collection and the campaign “Live the Life You Love.” The launch of the collection, the party and exhibition were held at the W Hotel in Bali.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Is that when painting reemerged as the primary form of your artistic expression?
Kreyd: In 2007 my main focus once again became painting. In 2010 I had two personal exhibitions at Moscow’s best clubs at the time Krysha Mira and Shanti. The name of the exhibitions was “Electric Buddha” and featured my new media art in light boxes and my music played by their guest and house djs’. Two years later, I came back to Moscow to show my paintings, oils and acrylics at the biggest movie theater in Russia. It was coordinated with the premier of the first Russian documentary about surfing On the Wave and I was one of the heroes of the movie.
Falenko for O:JA&L: That’s another surprising revelation.
Kreyd: Here’s another. I am the first Russian surfer, so the film and the exhibition were big successes. Approximately 1700 people attended. Russian and International television interviewed me. The film was also premiered at 35mm Movie Theater where I had another personal exhibition.
Falenko for O:JA&L: It sounds like you have a healthy and passionate following among the Russian cognoscenti.
Kreyd: A year later I came back to my home city St. Petersburg with my art.
My private exhibition was at the prestigious Erarta museum/gallery. There was a big crowd waiting for me. I did not get see most of my show because I was autographing catalogs the whole time. Definitely one of the greatest highlights of my career!
Falenko for O:JA&L: Certainly an encouraging reception and heartwarming, too, in your own hometown. Not many artists can claim so enthusiastic a following. I know this interview finds you in Kyoto, Japan. Where else has your art taken you recently.
Kreyd: My latest exhibition was in Hong Kong. I collaborated with scientist in Novosibirsk, Russia, to conduct an experiment at the exhibition with audience members and one of my paintings. It went very well,and we will be doing more research and conducting further experiments with my art to see how it effects the viewer.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Are you working now exclusively as a painter?
Kreyd: I have never put limits to my artistic expressions. Photography, drone shooting, video work, music – all of them interact and influence each other and my painting. They are mutually supportive. So is the surfing, yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and other traditional Chinese internal arts and healing practices that I have been practicing for a greater part of my life.
The painting process is a kind of meditation for me. I do my best tuning in and guiding and conducting pure healing energy when I work.
Experiencing stillness in motion practicing Tai Chi or inner peace meditating, the adrenaline rush of riding a big wave over shallow reef or being clear and focused while giving a Cranio Sacral Therapy treatment, these are the energy I work with when I paint. This (and more) is what my art is about.
The intention always is that my paintings uplift the viewer, bring about a healthy vibration and leave them with a good feeling.
One more thing that is worth mentioning. From youth I had a strong desire to learn alternative healing practices so I could help people. Growing up I watched close ones suffer and was myself afflicted by a very serious debilitating illness. I started at age twenty and over the years learned many modalities and helped many people. I put that same intention and energy into my art.
Falenko for O:JA&L: What can you tell us about your process of creation, about how you discover the form and content of your work?
Kreyd: I feel our whole life is a process of discovery on many levels. I once heard from a mystic that acceptance is the first law of spirit, and a big breakthrough for me was when I started being more accepting of what I painted, not comparing myself to others, but exploring, developing and perfecting my unique expression. For me, my art is sacred, and I never compromised my values trying to please someone to make money. I was never particularly interested in being a commercial artist. When I illustrated a book, designed clothing lines for myself and others, and made videos and other projects, my heart was always in it. My motto is “live the life you love” and I loved my work when I did those commercial projects. I once read the title of Nisargadatta’s book “I Am That” and right then and there decided that was good enough for me.
I live a life rich in experiences. All those experiences shape my style. I am constantly experimenting with new mediums, subjects and directions; however, my main focus is that my art uplifts and awakens and brings about a frequency of health to the viewer. It’s definitely about feeling and not thought. I am not interested in concepts but in experience. Looking for harmony, I want the colors and their arrangements, their energy to flow so that there is “feng shui” in the painting for it to bring a positive effect. The act of painting for me is quite similar to surfing. I catch the wave of creativity. I strive for balance, beautiful execution and completion. And like in surfing where I might throw in a radical maneuver to spice up the ride, I do the same on canvas using a particular color detail or a brush stroke. Most of my life I surfed, practiced yoga, meditation, alternative healing modalities and Chinese internal arts like Tai Chi, Chi Gung and others. I chose what I found to be the “coolest” things on the planet that naturally felt close to my heart. This, traveling and exploring is what influences my paintings.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Are there other artists to whom you look for models of form or style or content?
Kreyd: There are many but not one that stands out because it frequently changes. I make it goal to find something good or at least useful at everything I look at. As an example, I like abstract expressionism for the freedom of expression. I resonate with Picasso because of his energy, being so prolific and his range of styles and mediums. However, the Russian Avant Guard movement holds the strongest affinity for me. It is as if I was one of them in my past life. I am particularly moved by Kandinsky.
Falenko for O:JA&L: You say you are an experimenter and explorer of content and forms. Are you also an explorer and experimenter with techniques and methods?
Kreyd: I invented a technique that I used often between 2008 and 2010. I would shoot photos of various subjects. Then I would process and collage them. The next step was to print on canvas or banner then finally painting over the image. (One of those paintings was published in FRV magazine in an article they did about me). Perhaps someone has done this before, but for me it was a new invention. I am an explorer. I want to find out things for myself. Now when I travel to the states, I go to libraries and bookshops to look through as many art books as possible. When I see the techniques in books I find that I discovered most of them on my own just through doing my own art– by being in the zone so to sapeak. Maybe I could have saved myself some time by learning those techniques in classes, but I would not have experienced the magic of discovery or the serendipity. It is very enjoyable and satisfying for me.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Are you a disciplined workman? Do you have a regular studio schedule?
Kreyd: I typically work on several paintings simultaneously. There is no set schedule. I work in my studio in Bali, typically after spending the day at one of the beaches surfing, shooting photos or video, or flying my drone to get aerial perspectives. I get back to the studio and take all the energy of those experiences and funnel it into my paintings.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Watercolors, pastels, oils, acrylics—do you have a preferred medium?
Kreyd: My favorite is oil. I like acrylics and enamel. I am naturally drawn to one of them before I start working and then I go with the flow. Color fields, energy movements, play of colors, music expressed as color, waves and some figurative (when that floats through the studio-I am true to what I am experiencing in the moment!).
Falenko for O:JA&L: Whom do you feel is the ideal audience for your work? What is the main characteristic of the ideal viewer? Is she sensitive, emotional, technically or artistically discerning?
Kreyd: Breathing. Anyone who is alive. I say that because I truly feel that by looking at my art and especially having it hung in their homes, the audience will experience something positive. Perhaps an spiritually uplifting moment, a moment of energy, of inspiration, vibrancy, health, inner peace and hopefully all of the above. In the past, many of my collectors were drawn in particular to my waves paintings because they associated themselves to surfing or the power of the ocean in some way. However, the way to understand my art is not through a mental process. In fact, I have a series that is called “Don’t Think Too Much.” My art is to be experienced and I like to share the essence of my experience with the whole planet.
Falenko for O:JA&L: What can our audience take away from this interview? What should they know for sure when they think back on what we’ve explored here?
Kreyd: The artist brings beauty to this world. It’s that simple. What would life be without art!? Life is art, and art is life. However, art as it is practiced in the contemporary mainstream is nuts! Lots of glittery shells with no kernel inside. My Tai Chi teacher once said: “old on the outside – gold on the inside.” Amazing technique or brilliant concept does not necessarily constitute a bright essence or a great painting. For me true art has to have a “sattvic” frequency.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Where can our audience find you next? What can you share with us about your public appearances, exhibitions, or workshops?
Kreyd: I’ll be in Japan during the spring of 2019. I am constantly and consistently working and producing. Anyone interested in my work or my schedule may contact me directly.
About the interviewer:
Vera Falenko is a 2017 graduate of the Moscow Aviation Institute, a State University. She is a native Russian speaker and a language specialist with fluency in English (English level C2, according to the European frame) and Spanish (Spanish level C1). She is a senior teacher of foreign languages at Alibra School, a private institution in Moscow. Falenko is an O:JA&L Contributing Editor for Arts & Letters of Moscow. She also provides selected Russian and Spanish translations for our readers in the Eurozone and in eastern Europe. She maintains an independent book review site, offering book reviews in three languages.