Basset Hound, Paintings 5 x 5

Aelita Andre: A Young Artist Begins

There are situations which not only can but should give any self-respecting critic pause. One of them is a phenomenon such as Aelita Andre, a four-year-old girl of Russian heritage who lives with her parents in Melbourne, Australia, and is presently being celebrated in major media –– including by Germaine Greer in The Guardian and on 60 Minutes –– as “the youngest professional painter in the world.” Let it be understood from the onset that although it is hardly the most important word in any serious discussion of art the use of the term “professional” in this context is no joke; strictly on a bottom-line level, this is a designation with which nobody, critic or otherwise, can quibble, since Aelita already has ardent collectors throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. That said, one’s initial reaction on hearing of her was to remember Picasso’s famous statement that “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” (which, coincidentally, is being used in Aelita’s promotional materials). At the same time, one also had to remind oneself that a significant distinction between adult artists and children who paint is that the former are guided by conscious intent, while the latter are simply sailing along on the natural freshness of vision that makes every child, to some extent or another, something of a prodigy anyway. One was forced, however, to reconsider this rather pat theory on encountering the paintings in Aelita Andre’s current solo exhibition in Chelsea. For not only do her paintings show a remarkably sophisticated grasp of nonobjective form and color; they also appear to uncannily “channel” elements of Abstract Expressionism - the buoyant floating forms of Miro, the spattering techniques of Norman Bluhm, and any number of other specific stylistic facets of the entire contemporary painterly dialogue. As for conscious intent, it was everywhere evident in a recent video of Aelita at work, totally absorbed in the act of painting (as well as immersed in the pigment itself, which streaked across her chubby Shirley Temple cheeks) as she crouched over a large canvas spread out on the floor, deliberating carefully before pouring brilliant acrylic colors from jars, then stroking them decisively with a large brush. One thought of Mozart, already displaying virtuosity on the harpsichord when he was three years old; of Chopin composing “Polonaises in G minor and B flat major 9” at seven; of Lang Lang, already a piano prodigy at three; of Yo-Yo Ma bent intent over his cello at four. Abstract painting, after all, can be likened to a form of visual music. Granted, it seems more than a bit premature to burden Aelita Andre, as one unnamed Russian publication was reported to have done, with the honorific “mini-Malevitch.” And it would it would be just plain silly –– and even a bit unfair to the young artist herself –– to follow the lead of Panorama, the German magazine that called her “Jackson Pollock reborn.” However, it would hardly be going too far to agree with Germaine Greer, the famous feminist, critic and author of “The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work,” who is on record describing Aelita Andre’s paintings as “vivid abstracts full of life, movement and dazzling color.” And it is pleasurable to consider this mighty mite casting her pearls before the jaded cynics of the New York art world. Is Aelita Andre a budding genius? Only time will tell. In the meantime, she is certainly a phenomenon. –– Marie R. Pagano

Read more reviews