Stealing the Greats: Alex Kamaroff is a Master “Copycat”
Alex Kamaroff at workPhoto credit: Glendale Brook Studio
Shape of Things to Come
When Alex Kamaroff asks, “Do you want to hear a story?” you are almost compelled to say yes. He is the kind of man — he has that NYC-native charm — who tells great stories. But just remember, he’ll even say this himself as a caveat:
“I embellish a little. You have to.”
Kamaroff, a near 30-year veteran talent scout for his wife Irene Goodman's literary agency, is actually an artist. In May he opened the Glendale Brook Studio in Lenox, Mass. “right next to the Wit [gallery], because you have to be next to the Wit.” Kamaroff’s work is in its full glory, along with fellow abstract expressionist Matt Pidgeon’s, a New Hampshire-based artist whom Kamaroff is convinced will be famous someday.
“Look at this, just look at it,” Kamaroff says, pointing to a large canvas, mostly covered in muted yellow. The black lines and triangles indicate a person walking a dog. The eye finds one red square amidst all the lines. Pidgeon’s “Red Purse” is, as Kamaroff says, brilliant. And the studio holds the piece well, along with many other works by both artists. It's a long bright space with endless visual appeal. And endless abstraction. Yet all of the work is familiar and Kamaroff makes no bones about saying he copies all the greats.
“It’s an honor when someone comes in and points to my work and says, ‘Kandinsky, Mondrian,’” he says. “I copied it, which means I stole it.”
Without question, many of the elements of Kamaroff’s work have been “taken” from somewhere, yet to actually watch him work… it is a laborious process involving thousands of rolls of tape — “I have gone to the moon and back with all this tape,” he says — each piece painstakingly placed and replaced to create patterns and shapes that will then be colored in with multiple bright hues and fine lines. At first, seemingly random, but as the tape is pulled away from the Masonite canvas, crisp lines and vibrant colors are revealed.
“Oh, it’s a lot of work. A lot of work,” Kamaroff says. “But I love it. How could I not. I get lost in it.”
Kamaroff has only been painting for five years — in a “former life” he was a prolific author, and an art history student at Columbia — but the volume of his work could fill dumpsters. Actually, it has filled dumpsters, or it did at first, when he was a new artist. He remembers a time when his neighbors would pick his work out of the garbage and put it in their homes and/or businesses. Some of those early “dive” pieces hang on the walls of area businesses — car dealerships, restaurants, offices — and that’s fine with him. He flips through the photos on his phone to reveal that one of his works has been hung incorrectly in a fairly prominent spot at a local car dealership.
“I should tell him that that’s supposed to be hung on the diagonal,” Kamaroff says. He is laughing and shaking his head a little, the antithesis to the stereotypical struggling Picassos and Pollacks of their day. But the great attitude and working-class approach to art, and to life in general, do not diminish what is inherently the secret to Kamaroff’s success: hard work. Consistent hard work and optimism. He spends hours in his Middlefield studio/home — he and his wife commute, not often, to the city where her agency is located — and has never once wondered what to paint. (He says he’s never had writer’s block either, which explains the some 50 novels he’s published over the last three decades.) But the artist is adamant that he is “not obsessed” with painting.
“No, no, it’s not an obsession. Anyone can have an obsession,” he says. “It’s a passion. If there is no passion in your life, then you have no life.”
Kamaroff has, then, a lot of passion. He is completely self-taught. The entire process of becoming an artist is one giant learning curve (or line, or wave) and he still often looks to his abstract forbearers for inspiration, as he did, or was encouraged to do, even as a little kid growing up in the 1950s.
“When Jackson Pollack first showed in the city, I was right there with my grandmother to see it,” he says. “I loved it. Most kids love abstract art actually. Kandinsky still amazes me. His background color is mesmerizing. Right down to the little pin holes in this canvas from the compass he used.”
Kamaroff has created nearly 50 paintings in the half-decade of his newfound passion. His retail base is diverse; couples looking for a nice piece for their office, businesses looking for a thoughtful statement piece. The studio’s website unashamedly appeals to the yachtless masses, stating “Maybe you would love to own a Matisse, but you either can’t afford an original Matisse or don’t feel like spending 17 million dollars.” But Kamaroff does not dismiss the idea that he will one day be famous.
“That’ll take some time. And I’ve got all the time in the world,” he says. “As soon as I’m dead… they’ll make a fortune on my paintings. Probably put their grandkids through college.”
Glendale Brook Studio
27 Church St., Lenox, MA
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