Fresh art uncovers hidden treasures

Andrey Kozakov sees the world through a constructivist lens. Where you see an empty carton, he sees a face. Where you see a cabinet, he sees a magical box with secret compartments for treasures. 

The 35-year-old Ukraine native moved to Cincinnati three years ago, bringing with him an evolving talent and an appreciation for his adopted city's architecture and affordability. He grew up behind the Iron Curtain, and whiffs of that oppression still linger around the edges of his work--a distorted feature in a face here; a trick door there. 

But most of all, what Kozakov sees his art as an expression of his freedom—from the bonds of the past and the constraints of convention.

"You train your mind," Kozakov says of the process that leads to his creations. He likens it to when children look in a cloudy sky and see the familiar shapes of animals and cars, faces and furniture. 

Kozakov, who has three pieces currently for sale at Bromwell's downtown and a studio in Northside, grew up surrounded by traditional art. Both his father and grandfather were classical painters. 

When he was 16, Perestroika allowed him and his mother and sister to leave his hometown of Kiev and move to Miami to live with his grandmother. There, he met an art teacher at his public high school and began to learn about a whole new world of art.

"I got really inspired by Salvador Dali and Chagall," he says. The appeal of surrealism led him to explore modern art. That interest, blended with work on Florida construction sites and at the side of a seasoned carpenter, made his transition to constructivism a natural step.

"What amazes me with constructivism is you are not just an artist, you are a creator," he says. 

The tattooed artist who speaks three languages visited a friend who lived in Cincinnati and liked what he saw. It had the perfect mix of historic architecture and cheap studio space.

He got a studio at the Pendleton Art Center. He put images of his work online. That's where Constella Music Festival Founder Tatiana Berman happened upon him. She became an instant fan.

One of his first commissions, a "cabinet" for her young daughters, holds a place of honor in her living room, where it serves as both sculpture and puzzle of a treasure chest. At every angle, a new door with a new lock and a new key awaits. The twists and turns in the wood construction would seem impossible if not for every perfectly matched corner and perfectly shutting door.

Karzakov calls these "simple things," basic shapes that only transform into new creations under his careful guidance. 

"I'm getting more into sculptures and installations," he says. "Most of it is very architectural. It's not just a style, it's a philosophy. It's like a never-ending journey."

While he plans to work this winter on a gallery show that re-imagines wooden bicycles, the jack-of-all-arts relishes commissions that allow him to blend his fascination with sculpture and furniture and create "functional furniture--art furniture," he says.

Objects that, at first glance, seem like sculpture, but upon investigation transform into practical pieces of furniture.

"It's so hard to explain to people," Karzakov says. "It's something you have to see to understand."

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.

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