Thoughts behind the Surreal Artworks of Vladimir Kush

Russian born Hawaii-based artist Vladimir Kush defines his goal as: To reflect the world in the mirror of the metaphor. According to him, “Metaphor does not only belong to linguistic communication but can also be found in our daily life. Metaphor is the means of communication that we live by.” Hence in his paintings, the metaphor is aimed at the viewer's feelings and subconscious. It gives full rein to imagination, as it is the imagination that creates the connections between two seemingly different things. On being asked to describe his work in an interview Vladimir quoted William Blake:

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite..."

This line will seem apt in the light of this set of 18 paintings featured in this article.


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The painter draws a clear analogy between current lines and growth rings of a tree. A man is drawn into the stream of life. Though, knowing the past, he tries to direct the movement of his boat, the flow of time inexorably carries him away to new shores. Even though the cut mark on the chopped tree trunk indicates that some marks may not fade with time, by shooting off its branch in the currents of time, this tree inspires us to get back in life despite the harshest setbacks.


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This painting is an allusion of the expression "not to see the forest behind the trees". Amidst the excitement of the search, the hunter does not notice anything around him. There is only an image of the Deer, the future trophy in his head. He is not capable of enjoying the beauty of the world around him. However in the hunter’s defense it can be said that in life there are times when the Call of Duty is greater than the Call of Beauty, i.e., the hunter might be a Nature enthusiast but circumstances are such that if he doesn’t return with the kill he won’t have anything to sell in the market.


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It seems that the thoughts of the two lovers concentrated and materialized into the shape of an aggregation of plasma, uplifting the two to the top of the hill. They can now fully enjoy all of the magical colors of dawn. It is this transformation in the form of concentration and materialization that is the idea behind the title of the painting. On a different aspect ‘The Metamorphosis’ was also one of Franz Kafka’s greatest works. Like in Kafka’s story Gregor Samsa had metamorphosed into a giant bug which led to his alienation from society, here too the lovers’ metamorphosis has led to their alienation from society (as suggested by the absence of habitation in the background) albeit in a more positive sense. For it is evident that they are so deeply in love that they no longer care what people think about them.

SEE ALSO: 14 Love Paintings in 14 different styles


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Based on Sigmund Freud's ‘iceberg’ model of the mind this painting reconstructs the human brain where the border between consciousness and unconsciousness floats at sea level. Above the sea, glowing with lights, is the smaller but brighter part of our conscious mind - the visible portion of our brain "iceberg." The larger section of the "iceberg" is sunk in the depths of subliminal and instinctive feelings. Interestingly though instead of painting a real human brain, Vladimir uses a conch-shell imagery to put his point forward in that when we blow the shell the sound comes out from the top (here referring to the conscious mind) while the pathway of the sound inside the shell (here referring to the subconscious mind) remains hidden from our view.


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An arrow piercing the hourglass is a vivid symbol of rapid acceleration of history in the last hundred years. Time is no longer trickling away like sand through the neck of an hourglass, but is swiftly flying forward. Because of its ability to fly, its metamorphosis and its weightless quality, the Butterfly is a symbol of the soul. The depiction of the fisherman’s net as a butterfly becomes significant in this sense for it symbolizes that his life and soul is dependent on it.


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Remaining alone with the indifferent cold Cosmos, man looks for a foothold in the world. Attention should be paid to the symbolism of geometrical figures used in the picture: a circle, a spiral, and a triangle. The circle and the spiral are symbols of perfection, symbols of the Cosmos, while a triangle is a symbol meaning "Heaven — Sky — Lower World", or "Body — Mind — Soul.” The artist’s brilliance is once again in full display via his use of forced perspective to give depth through near-far objects, i.e. the shell, the caravan, the pyramid and the moon.


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The Theater of Dionysius was the main
Athenian theater under the open sky. Here, we can invoke the metaphor of the growth rings (which brings to mind ‘Current’) by saying that the dramatic works of ARISTOPHANES, EURIPIDES, AND SOPHOCLES came to us through the layers of time.


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The ridding of trees of wood boring insects has given the woodpecker its title of ‘doctor of the forest’. Meanwhile in this case while going about doing its daily job it’s astonished in suddenly finding a human embryo in the depths of the tree. Obviously, the picture has the symbolic meaning: it could be called the stern prosaic side of life in contrast to rosy dreams of a man.


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Love has long been associated with the private garden, protected from view by trees or mountains. It is the concept of the Garden of Eden, connected with the images of Adam-and-Eve in the Christian culture and Shiva-and-Parvati in India. While the Eden reference is clearly visible, keeping in mind that Shiv-Parvati’s love story takes place on Mount Kailash (in the Himalayas) and not in any garden the artist might have added the cloud passing across the mountain top as an imagery of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks.


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To put it literally the trumpets are the elephant(s) in the room… er picture! The trumpeting of the elephants is a sound of rejoicing that erupts with the appearance of their king, their master. The elephants call other animals and birds to celebrate, with the occasion being life itself! As the title of this painting reads ‘African Sonata’ one can infer that the mountain behind is most certainly Mt. Kilimanjaro. The deft displaying of musical notes in the sky and horns, trumpets and cymbals amidst the bushes in creating the proper atmosphere is commendable. Note that the lyre in between the antelope horns is a reference to the Greek God Apollo who used to play one.


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Moving apart and coming together, two blades of a pair of scissors are the symbol of the union of a man and a woman, now meeting in love, now parting in quarrel. This pendulum of feelings can develop into a furious dance of a steel pair leaving behind them stacks of cut love letters. On a different perspective, the union of man-and-woman in a V-shape is reminiscent of Dan Brown’s controversial novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Surely conspiracy theorists and mystery lovers would be delighted!


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In the "Lost world" of Brazilian rainforests with 40 meter tall trees there resides a butterfly with a blue sparkle – morpho menelaus. These are the real cosmic butterflies! This is the source of inspiration behind the satellite’s unusual shape. Meanwhile the geographical conditions on the Earth below seem prehistoric perhaps indicating indirectly our ancestors’ yearning to reach for the cosmos. But then like the artist says: The intentions of our soul are not always accessible to our consciousness.


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Rose is a symbol of love, beauty, and spring, which in fine art is associated with the feminine element. Meanwhile the ship rushing ahead indicates resolution, persistence, and symbolizes the masculine element. The curtain that sways in the wind, as though it were caressing and supporting the rose, her look through the open windows indicates that the picture might be an ode from a woman waiting for her sailor lover’s return from sea in keeping with the Spanish title of the painting which literally translates to ‘Love (you) Sailor’.


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The Amaryllis bulb is a symbol of Paradise, the enclosed space. Away from strangers’ eyes, the love of a Man and a Woman bulges and eventually turns into a magnificent red flower, spreading its petals toward the sky. The butterfly’s drawing of nectar from the flower is indicative of the soul’s drawing of nutrition from love.


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The home is something constant and stable. Conversely, the wind embodied in the form of a waving shirt is associated with anxiety, with powerful chaotic forces and the removal from one's home. The placing of the men with ladders on the building’s outside is much in contrast to the fact that people tend to get inside houses in the event of a storm. Here however it seems as if they have come to rescue the wind-shirt anxious painter. Meanwhile the swan-head shaped cloud at the top of the painting is indicative of the artist’s eventual yearning for peace amidst the wind-shirt anxiety.


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The powerful breath of wind brings us freedom from the heavy burden of the past. We experience a dreamlike sensation of flying to the new horizons. But a swarm of people sailing into uncertainty against the crimson sky background is also a bright metaphor of the dramatic nature of our life. The title is a direct reference to Margaret Mitchell’s timeless classic ‘Gone with the Wind’.


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Even though this painting is reminiscent of ‘Wizard’s Chess’ as depicted in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ Vladimir credits his inspiration to Alice from Lewis Carroll's classic tale, wherein upon viewing straight streams running across the land and living fences separating the space between the streams into equal squares she exclaims, "In my opinion, Wonderland strikingly resembles a chessboard. This whole world is chess! This is one huge match!" Note that the background is indicative of the space-time fabric, a popular theme of the artist’s. It seems as if chess is symbolic of the power struggles that mankind has engaged in throughout history.


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The trunk of the tree symbolizes the unity of the family, while its branches represent the diversity of life. On a different level, the darkened base of the tree is consistent with the notion of our unknown past generations. Further in this respect, the marked increase in the complexities of the inter and intra-branched top refers to the well documented family lineage of the recent past (i.e. going back a few generations).


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