A native of the Ukraine, artist Alexander Stolin maintains a home and studio in Madisonville, Louisiana.
Alexander Stolin, born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine (under the former Soviet Socialist Republic), where he received intensive training and a master of fine arts degree in his homeland’s traditional art academies. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1992, met his future wife in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, then married and settled in New Orleans. He maintains a home and studio in Madisonville, Louisiana, and is a significant but understated figure in the New Orleans art community. As art critic D. Eric Bookhardt suggested in 2002, “Stolin is more accomplished than he is famous.” His art, often exhibited in thematic series that incorporate a variety of media, ranges from intimate portraits to large-scale murals (one measuring twelve feet by seventy-two feet). He has worked on a progressively larger scale, most recently designing and painting projects for the Louisiana film industry. Stolin’s technically proficient and complexly layered art reflects a unique fusion of the academic training he received in Kiev and his evolving response to the very different culture, lifestyle, and subject matter he has discovered in New Orleans, Madisonville, and the Gulf South.
Stolin was born on August 30, 1963. His art abilities were quickly recognized when in fourth grade he qualified for admission to the State School of Art in Kiev, which he attended from 1975 to 1981. He decided to concentrate on book illustration and graphic arts, and after graduating he was accepted into the Ivan Fedorov Polygraphic Institute in Moscow, where he studied from 1982 to 1988, graduating with a master of fine arts degree in 1988. He trained as a printmaker, creating etchings and lithographs, and as a graphic designer, and worked as a designer in Kiev. “I illustrated mysteries, science fiction, and different magazines,” he said. In 1988, after his family visited relatives in San Francisco, California, the Stolins decided to immigrate to the United States, a process that took four years. In 1992, Stolin and his parents immigrated to San Francisco, and he worked for graphic design and print businesses in nearby Emeryville, California. During a trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he was visiting cousins, Stolin met Mary Kay Holmes. The couple soon married and moved to New Orleans, where Stolin established himself as a working artist and began to exhibit in local galleries and group exhibitions.
The art Stolin began to create in New Orleans demonstrated his technical skills, knowledge of art history, and the evolving range of his subject matter, reflected from one series and exhibition to the next, yet it was challenging for critics to classify his work. This was evident in the series Stolin exhibited during his first decade in the city, beginning with Byzantium on the Bayou (1993–1994), which combined historical Byzantine art references with New Orleans and Mardi Gras subjects, such as Mardi Gras Madonna and Adoration of St. Gator. In his Midnight Dessert series (1995–1997), he created works such as Tea in Manhattan and Rembrandt and Nathan, a large painting that Bookhardt described as “a vision of Rembrandt and various Dutch masters promenading down the sidewalk past Nathan’s Deli in New York.” Following that, he completed The Water Series (1998–1999), featuring reflective and heavily worked surfaces in paintings such as Reflections #2 and Study of Fish and Swimmers.
Stolin’s Face to Face series of portraits, completed from 2000 to 2002, featured New Orleans artists including Douglas Bourgeois, Jeffrey Cook, and Margaret Witherspoon and the architect Jimmy Lamantia, as well as his Madisonville neighbors, including Bud Goldate, Hascal Agee, and Willie Lee Marshall. These were important works, exhibited at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art when it opened in 2003. “There are portraits—and there are portraits,” said Bookhardt, referring to the series. “The best tell us something essential about the subject. The rest are just pictures.” Observing that Stolin’s work “offers insights into the processes of perception,” Bookhardt concluded that “his images distill something of the subject’s life essence filtered through the eye and hand of an unusually skilled, sensitive, and increasingly accomplished painter.”
A diversified range of works followed, including an exploration of his childhood memories of Kiev, enhanced by family photographs and a series of letters from Kiev to relatives in America. Stolin juxtaposed the historic and vernacular architecture of Kiev with New Orleans buildings of the same period, as is evident in a painting such as Waiting II. Another series explored the marshes and landscapes of the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Stolin also painted genre scenes of small-town life in Madisonville, becoming, in his own way, a southern regional painter. Works in this series included Bayou Lacombe, Breakfast at Badeaux’s, and Jr. High at Madisonville, which featured a painted image of the school’s retired bus and metal from the actual bus, fusing art, history, memory, and reality.
After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the north shore, Stolin’s painting and teaching activities slowed, and he focused on recovery and rebuilding efforts, using his building skills to aid friends, neighbors, and his fellow artists. As local rebuilding advanced, he was commissioned by a north shore bank to paint murals in its new facilities. Then he received a major mural commission, for the lobby of the 270 Peachtree building in Atlanta, Georgia, to paint a large, three-panel composition (measuring twelve feet by seventy-two feet) depicting Atlanta’s downtown and midtown skyline at sunrise. These mural projects reflected his earlier interest and training in theater and stage design during his studies in Kiev, and evolved into work for movies and television series filmed in Louisiana, including the HBO series Treme.
Stolin exhibited for years with the Marguerite Oestricher Gallery in New Orleans. After its closing he became associated with the Taylor-Bercier Gallery in New Orleans and continues to exhibit his art across Louisiana. His works are included in the collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans as well as in numerous corporate and private collections.