Meet the Artist: Alexej von Jawlensky

We woke the very-much-dead artist for a quick q&a.

Self-portrait, 1905

Let's face it, no one knew how to capture an expression like the expressionist painter Alexej von Jawlensky. He blended the real with the abstract to create colorful portraits that he saw as deeply spiritual—and more than 80 years later, we turned them into puzzles (and sweet wall art). Jawlensky's pretty hard to get a hold of since he's been dead for almost a century, so we held a totally real séance and contacted his spirit to find out more about his life... and what he's up to now. 🔮
How did you get into painting?
The military. Training was deplorable—I had to get out. So, I cleverly arranged to get posted to St. Petersburg since they had an art academy there, and I not-so-politely excused myself from service. I was in my early twenties. All of that structure and discipline just made me want to break free and pursue a life of joy, expression, and color!
Was your life joyful?
As much as it could be. WWI was no picnic.

Spring, 1912

Who or what inspired you?
Wassily [Kandinsky] was a great friend of mine, and I really respected his work. Also Henri [Matisse]. They were a big part of the reason I started incorporating more color in my paintings, and exploring the abstract. I was also extremely influenced by Russian folk art and the Byzantine icons I remember from childhood.
Who were your biggest mentors or supporters?
I met Marianne von Werefkin through [realist painter] Ilya Repin. Marianne, who was a student of Ilya’s and quite talented herself, took me under her wing and helped me get my work out there. I admit I was a little selfish back then. She set her career aside to further mine. And then there was Emmy Scheyer, who founded the Blue Four with me. Wassily and Paul Klee were in the group too. Emmy spent a great deal of time promoting our work in the U.S., and clearly it paid off. I can't recall if I thanked her.
What drew you to portraits? Faces, specifically?
An expression is not just an expression. It is LIFE. The whole universe is revealed in a face. You know, I was a very spiritual person. We all were, in [the artist collectives] the Blue Rider, and later the Blue Four. Art was our meditation, and we used colors to evoke all kinds of feelings. Colors and, in my case, faces. I always saw humans as a direct connection to the spirit world. Now that I'm here, I realize how naive I was.

Woman with a green fan, 1912

Really? What's the spirit world like?
If I told you, they'd probably make you join me.
No thanks. How do you feel about the creation of the “Jawlensky Award” in 1991?
It’s certainly nice to be remembered, and great artists deserve to be celebrated. As long as they don’t overshadow my work, of course. You know, I saw that my painting Schokko sold for more than $9 million back in 2008. $9 MILLION! Of course, money is no object to me now, but that hurt.
Seeing as how you’re dead, what is your favorite place to haunt? 👻
The Museum Wiesbaden in Wiesbaden, Germany. They own most of my paintings. I like to keep an eye on where they're hanging them. If it’s in a drafty corner towards the back, I mess with the lighting, so they get confused and move the pieces to the front. It's very effective.
How does it feel to see your work turned into a jigsaw puzzle?
Honestly, the thought of someone ruining my art with their greasy fingers is horrifying, but I’m very pleased that people are still interested in me.
Want to get your hands on a Jawlensky puzzle? Try RUMOR HAS IT or NO BULLS#!T.