PAINTING & DRAWING | BROOKLYN, NY
read our interview with Alexandra below
HOUSE OF THEODORA CHATS TO ALEXANDRA RUBINSTEIN
ALEXANDRA’s art is rich in social and political commentary but also glistens with a beautiful COATING of humour. having moved from russia to america at a young age, alexandra HAS USED HER ART TO REDEFINE WHAT IT IS TO BE A POWERFUL AND UNAPOLOGETIC WOMAN.
How did you begin your journey as an artist?
I’ve been taking various art classes (including religiously watching Bob Ross) since I was about 7 years old. I really honed in on it while I was in high school and in need of extracurriculars for my college applications. At the time, it was my only interest outside of boys, dieting, and binge drinking. I therefore applied mostly to art schools and to Carnegie Mellon University. While it wasn’t initially my first choice, CMU ended up being the most financially and logistically sound option, and came with a real college campus - an assimilation dream for any immigrant. I ended up loving CMU and really benefited from the program, which focused on conceptual development and new media, broadening my approach to art making. It also introduced me to mentors who saw my artistic potential and provided encouragement, and frat parties that enriched my understanding of rape culture - I mean American culture. It was in that environment that I really began finding my voice and my vision, which I would take with me when I moved to New York after graduating.
What words describe the style of your art?
I primarily view my work as conceptual and playful. I spend a lot of time painting and on other technical aspects. I want the images to be strong enough to grab the viewer off the bat, whether that’s through their quality, content, or humour. But for me, there needs to be more beyond the surface, and the deeper issues I’m addressing in my work are social and political.
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You spent your first 9 years growing up in Russia and then you moved to the US. What was that like for a little girl?
Pretty tough. When my family and I first arrived, we were optimistic and incredibly grateful to have access to basic necessities which were still limited in a recently post-Soviet Russia. But none of us spoke the language. We all felt like complete outsiders without a community. My parents gave up their professional and social standing in hope of more opportunities for me and my siblings, which we ultimately benefited from. However, at the time, it affected my parents’ sense of identity and limited the emotional support and guidance they could provide. And my family and I moved several times throughout my teen years. This made it especially challenging to go through puberty and understand my place in society as a woman, all while feeling the weight of both Russian and American cultures and trying to assimilate. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder and clinical depression by the time I was 13, followed by an eating disorder and excessive drinking through college. Along with a slew of other unhealthy behaviours and relationship patterns. All of the challenges that I had acclimating to my new environments throughout my adolescence made me want to understand their root causes more clearly. I found that art was a way to explore them. Migrating also gave me a more nuanced understanding and a greater sense of empathy toward marginalised groups, whose treatment by those in power is shaping a lot of the conflicts we’re experiencing today.
You speak of the expectations put on women from a young age. How has your art helped you to process that?
By the age of ten, I became aware of my appearance. Or, more precisely, the ‘flaws’ in my appearance. Shortly after, I was aware of my sexuality and what it meant to others, specifically men. I understood early on that as a girl, those two things seemed to trump any other quality I had (besides my disagreeable personality which often got me scolded, but was probably a response to the steady stream of said objectification). Art gave me a voice and an opportunity to regain power and control and eventually the language to understand and communicate my experiences (along with therapy and gender studies). Through my work, I want to portray a heterosexual female perspective that I rarely, if ever, got to see when I was younger; one that’s assertive, unabashed, unapologetic, and clear of internalised misogyny.
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What sparks the ideas for your creations?
I get a lot of inspiration from reading, from personal interactions or experiences, as well as pop culture and media. I often use found images and sometimes reference other art (quite literally), as a way to give context while making social commentary. Reading, however, helps me understand the context of my experiences as well as my response.
In your view, what does it mean for a woman to have power?
Right now, I’d say power means having equal rights, pay, opportunity, and access to healthcare. A woman having power means not being brought down by institutionalised and nuanced sexism. It’s hard not think in political terms as so many of our rights are being infringed upon at the moment, especially for women of colour and lower class women.
What does pleasure mean to you?
Pleasure means connecting to people, emotionally and/or physically, and many, many orgasms with several beer breaks. Possibly followed by a massage or deep slumber.
Your artwork is powerful and sends a strong message but it’s also humorous, in all the right ways (I laughed out loud looking at the “Fresh Dick Direct” series!). In what ways is that juxtaposition between commentary about society and humour important for you?
Thanks! Nothing makes me happier than making people laugh. Humour is a key element in my work and life. It’s the best way for me to connect to people and cope with adversity. And what’s art if not a way to reach people and process old trauma?
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Who or what has been the biggest influence on your work?
I’m not a fan of superlatives, but I think the biggest influences on my work have been the people around me who have supported and encouraged me along the way (Hi mom). I’m also inspired by other women, artists or not, who go against the grain in any way to get their voice heard, despite all of the pushback, the unpopularity of their opinions, the pure hatred, and the difficulty finding a solid male partner once they’re deemed too successful and threatening to most men. Hillary Clinton comes to mind.
What are you currently working on?
Painting dicks and taking names. I am currently interested in diving more into American masculinity through depiction of the often censored male genitalia. Its lack of visibility in all media and lack of representation by women in the arts is absurd to me, especially when you compare it to say, breasts. It speaks to the patriarchal lens through which we still view the world, which gives the phallus its power while dehumanising men by neglecting their vulnerabilities.