Time warp with humor

Painter Alexander Kanchik works by himself in his South San Francisco studio. But he is never alone. Keeping him company are the many clowns, peddlers and musicians that people his outsized canvases. They are the wry tricksters who convey Kanchik’s vision of life, a vision awash in color, humor and wonderment.

It’s not hard to fall in love with his work. It was certainly good enough to pass muster with the hard-to-please Sausalito Art Festival committee. Kanchik will be one of the participating artists in the annual art fair on Labor Day weekend.

His priority now: figuring out which paintings to display at the festival. Kanchik considers taking some works from his Luxembourg Garden series, made of fantastical cityscapes in which anyone from Mozart and Napoleon to John Lennon or Noah and the Ark might pop up.

He also thinks about taking a couple of his Jewish peddler paintings. The peddler character, a stout Chassid hauling an overstuffed pack, turns up in many of Kanchik’s paintings, carrying anything from fish to clocks to planets.

“He is a peddler from my imagination,” says the Jewish painter, in his heavily Russian-accented English. “But I don’t make special Jewish art. I’m not a ‘Jewish’ artist. I paint the town of my childhood, but it is not concrete.”

That’s for sure. Anyone who ever took a basic Western Civilization course will perceive the whole sweep of history in Kanchik’s work. Flashes of the Renaissance, commedia dell’ arte, rococo and other styles clash deliriously, his technical mastery utterly at the service of a wild imagination.

The Russian-born artist has lived in America for three years, after residing in Israel for more than a decade. He is proudly Jewish, but like so many Jews from the former Soviet Union, his religion played an insignificant role during his youth in Moldavia and the Crimea.

For much of the 1980s, Kanchik studied at the Academy of Theatre and Cinematography in St. Petersburg. He then launched a career as a scenic artist in the theater before moving to Israel in 1990.

He established his reputation as a painter there, traveling to Europe and America, absorbing the sights for appropriation in his work. Demand from galleries and private collectors increased, and critics similarly took notice. Canadian critic Dov Liber said of him, “Kanchik offers a technique that is unique and refreshing in an often stagnant art world.”

Kanchik loves Israel, but says he had to move because of the oppressively warm climate. The fog of San Francisco sounded much more appealing and so he arrived in the Bay Area with his family in the summer of 2001, hoping to find a wide-open art market.

The horrors of Sept. 11 quashed those hopes temporarily, but Kanchik looks forward to better days, for the world and for his business.

His wife now works for a Jewish day school, his two younger daughters attend a Jewish day school, and he spends his time in the studio busy with the act of creation. He’s convinced art lovers will take to his knack for storytelling.

Says Kanchik of his work: “These are novels in paint.”

The Sausalito Art Festival takes place Labor Day weekend, Friday-Monday, Sept. 3-6, at Marinship Park, Sausalito. Tickets: $5-$20. Information: (415) 331-3757.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.