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In 1989, at nearly 40 years of age, Vladimir Kanevsky set out for a new life and career in the U.S.
“When I came here, I wanted to become a figurative sculptor, and I started it immediately,” says the native of Ukraine, who had previously worked as an architect in the former Soviet Union. “But I needed to pay rent. You cannot pay rent with sculpture. If you’re number one in the world, you probably can. But if you’re the second? No.”
Kanevsky figured out how he could make rent — and make a name for himself in the world of design in the process. “Just by chance, someone asked me if I can make porcelain,” he says. “I never worked with porcelain, but I said I could. I started to teach myself, and eventually it led me to flowers, tableware, and other decorative objects.”
In the decades since, many of the biggest names in fashion and design have become fans of Kanevsky’s remarkable and intricate porcelain creations — everyone from Martha Stewart to Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta to Tori Burch. Charlotte Moss, the Virginia-reared interior designer and bestselling author who has bought many pieces by Kanevsky, has referred to the artist’s painstakingly detailed, incredibly lifelike flowers as “wonderful trompe l’oeil.”
Several of Kanevsky’s floral creations are currently on exhibit at Hillwood. Curators at the late Marjorie Merriweather Post’s grand estate and museum in upper Northwest decided to display a collection of his works as accent pieces, as if they were real flowers and bouquets spread out among several rooms — even swapping out arrangements of fresh-cut flowers from the garden that might normally grace the dining room table. Because his creations are so realistic looking, viewers can easily mistake them for the real thing, or overlook their finer details. Those paying attention, however, might appreciate them even more in the overall setting, especially at this time of year, with all manner of flowers growing and blooming across the carefully cultivated 25-acre estate.
“I consider what I do sculpture — sometimes it has even more architectural skill to it,” Kanevsky, who currently lives in New Jersey, says. He notes that he sometimes takes artistic liberties. “I feel kind of free manipulating the anatomy of a flower. For example, when I started, I didn’t know anything about botany — I remember I didn’t even know the name of the flower, but it was morning glory — and for some reason, I thought that morning glory had peapods on it. So I just made them with peapods, very far from anatomically correct. Since then, everyone who commissions me to make morning glories all ask for peapods.”
The Porcelain Flowers of Vladimir Kanevsky runs through Sept. 5 at Hillwood, 4155 Linnean Ave. NW. Tickets are $18, with advanced reservations required. Call 202-686-5807 or visit www.hillwoodmuseum.org.
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