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I’m Playing Paintings 


I have a favorite painting at the Met - The Card Players by Paul Cezanne. To me, this painting does represent an honest approach to communicating the idiosyncrasy of Cezanne’s own experience as a painter. People may say that card players are degenerates, they’re outrageous, and should probably get a job. But if you have an art background, that’s what you probably heard too at some point in your life. “Are you going to get a Painting degree?! How are you going to pay your bills?! Are you out of your mind?!” Does it sound familiar? Being a painter is like being a card player. 


From time to time, people walk to me and ask if I am a religious person. “Do you believe in God?” they proclaim. I simply say, “Not really,” and that is how these conversations end. But lately, for the sake of it, I say something like, “No, but I believe in Painting,” or “Painting is my religion.” Those individuals usually look at me like I am a wacko, or they start asking loony questions. But this is fun, it is why I joined the art club. So I can be that nutter. I can be that guy who is obsessively playing cards and having a blast.


That’s what I love about this painting. Because the whole idea of “standing alone” is cool in Cezanne’s realm. His entire life he was going against all odds for his dream - painting. The ongoing sensual gratification of the game, where everything ought to be alright. If you’re in the studio making work - you must be okay. Success is not in winning or losing. Success is to keep playing (or making work, in other words). 


That’s why I connected to that painting for many years. If you were a nobody like me and didn’t know anything about painting until twenty-four, you could still join the game and find things out. People would talk to me, explain things, and introduce me to other artists. Once you are in the game playing, you’re part of them, and it doesn’t matter how much money you have and what kind of painting style you prefer. The guy who is next to you and paints figuratively, I can assure you, wants to talk about painting. Even if you make abstract paintings, he still wants to talk to you about it. Painters are a clan. We play against the masochistic culture we undergo. 


The real heart of this painting, in fact, lies in “why?” When I look at this painting, I wonder why Cezanne painted the card players. I came up with an answer on a cool evening lying in bed at probably one of the cheapest motels around East Lansing, Michigan. We need love letters from painters to painters because of the imperative nature of the game. It is not an easy game to play. It’s hard to find something that you love. It’s even harder to know that the thing you love will never love you back. 


Well, at least, I don’t have a day job. I am playing paintings, thanks to Cezanne. And if God exists their name is Painting.

Alex Vlasov

September 2023

Paul Cezanne_The Card Players_1890-92.png

Paul Cezanne, The Card Players, Oil on canvas, 25 ¾” x 32 ¼”, 1890-92

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