The Art, Masonic Aprons, and Magic of
Elena Llamas, Director of Public Relations for the
Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library
Phoenixmasonry is thrilled to have had the
opportunity to interview the multi-talented artist, Ari Roussimoff. His Masonic
themed paintings are phenomenal, as are his painted Masonic Aprons through which
he hopes to revive an interest in the largely lost art form. It is our hope that
Masons and non-Masons alike will take an interest in his work, if they haven’t
done so already, as it is well worth the time!
Ari Roussimoff’s art has been shown in places such as The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Nicholas Roerich Museum, and the Chancellor
Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library and Museum. Ari’s paintings are colorful,
daring, culturally rich, spiritually rounded, geometrically stunning, and a
clear reflection of a profound character.
Elena: Thank you, Ari, for this interview. Please tell us about
Photograph January 2016
By Vivian Forlander
Ari: Thank you, Elena, for inviting me. I have been impressed for
years with the Phoenixmasonry site and what it is doing to promote the culture
and history of Freemasonry.
As to my background, I am one
of those people who cannot be pinned down to one specific place. My family and
ancestors have lived in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and even Moldavia among other
countries. Although I was born in Germany, the Russian and other East European
cultures have always been close to my heart, as much of my artwork reflects
The Magical Troika
Literature, music and art were on the daily menu in my home. Over
the years I have been privileged to live and work in both Europe and America.
Elena: Where do you feel most at home?
Ari: For the most part, I am at home inside my head” and also in
my heart. But certain places are quite special to me. In Europe, Zürich,
Switzerland where Mother Nature is at its finest, Amsterdam, Holland with its
great collections of Old Master paintings. Any place Rembrandt lived is great.
In the United States, Miami Beach, Florida with its vivid, tropical color is
fabulous. I painted its festive carnivals, cafes and crowds. Sometimes I’d even
add a little nod to Freemasonry.
MIAMI BEACH CAFÉ LIFE
For example, in my panoramic Beach Café painting, I included a
merry group of Shriners crossing the street while nearby stands a bearded lady
holding her little son’s hand.
Elena: That is great!
favorite place is Southern California. When based in San Diego, I’d visit
Hollywood and fantasize about the great historic film world of days gone by. A
painting I did of Hollywood Boulevard features many of the classic movie stars
congregating in front of the old Masonic Temple (now a television studio where
they film the Jimmy Kimmel show).
in the very front of my picture is silent movie legend Harold Lloyd wearing his
Imperial Potentate’s Al Malaikah Shriner Fez. There are other masons in there as
well: Harpo Marx, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Oliver Hardy.
Elena: When and how did you first become interested in art?
father was a writer. So I grew up in a cultural European household. The first
artist that spoke to me was Van Gogh. I discovered him at age seven when
watching a television documentary devoted to his life and work. Van Gogh became
an early passion. Since then, I’ve collected many books on him and have hunted
down his paintings in museums throughout the world.
HOMAGE TO VAN
Van Gogh in his studio with Van Gogh’s paintings on the wall.
Ari: At fourteen I discovered Rembrandt. My second passion in
art. By the way, I started drawing at age three and did my first oil at seven.
Also started to exhibit as a child. Luckily, I had parents who supported my love
Elena: How wonderful!
The Boardwalk of Atlantic City
Did any current or artist in particular inspire or influence your
an artist, you become a sponge of sorts, soaking up influences from many
sources. My breath is taken away by the Old Masters. Rembrandt, Leonardo da
Vinci, Rubens, the list is endless. Leonardo was the ultimate artistic genius.
Each of his paintings are hypnotic. Some of my other loves include Byzantine
art, Russian and other folk arts, Van Gogh and numerous of the moderns. Too many
photograph of me was taken around 1990. Salvador Dali once said that an artist
should look like his work. Sounds fine to me. In this photo, I am holding a 19th
century Italian Paper Mache Commedia dell'arte mask. The coat I am wearing was
once worn by the great Russian Opera singer Feodor Chaliapin. He wore the coat
while performing as Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Opera, “The Maid of
Pskov” in Paris. I cherish this coat with its unique theatrical history." Ari
Elena: And as a teenager, you were invited to lunch with Salvador
Dali and his wife Gala. What was that like?
Ari: At the age
of fourteen I was being managed by Theodore Karr, a representative of the
Shorewood Art publishing company, a noted publisher of lithographs by some of
the greatest artists in Europe.
Elena: Fourteen! Go on…
Ari: A meeting was arranged for me to meet the great master Dail for
lunch at a restaurant in the Hotel St. Regis in New York, where he lived for
half the year. Our small group consisted of Dali, his wife Gala, Mr. Karr, my
father and myself. Naturally I was very nervous when introduced to Dali. My
knees were trembling. Surprisingly, Dali’s personality was completely different
from the “crazed” image he promoted. Handsomely dressed in a three piece suit,
holding a beautiful cane, Dali was polite, soft spoken and to me, he seemed a
Ari: Then there was Gala. There was a quiet, but hostile dynamic
going on between Dali and his wife. Dali’s command of English was far better
than how he presented himself during filmed interviews. Oddly enough, he talked
mostly about movies. He liked Hitchcock and John Wayne films. Early on Dali had
collaborated with the Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel on two avant
garde movies and in later years he worked for Alfred Hitchcock in designing a
scene for “Spellbound”. Dali told us he hoped to yet do another film. Toward
the conclusion of our lunch, Dali pulled out a portfolio from which he gifted me
a signed artist’s proof lithograph. A man in the restaurant had recognized Dali
and approached our table to ask for an autograph. Immediately, Dali turned into
the eccentric madman he usually portrayed. He propped himself up, soldier like.
His eyes bulged and his voice became amplified, with his language having changed
into the familiar chaotic Dalinian jargon of English-French-Spanish. He
graciously complied and gave the man an autograph. Upon the man’s retreat back
to his table, Gala shot up off her chair and berated her husband loudly in
French. Customers in the restaurant were glaring. Quite embarrassing! After we
left the place, Mr. Karr attempted to explain that Gala’s rant, saying that she
resented Dali drawing attention to himself, creating a spectacle. That pretty
much describes my encounter with Salvador Dali.
Elena: That’s an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it with us,
tell us about your
relationship with Masonry.
Ari: I have
always appreciated the great achievements of humanity while also being very much
aware of the shortcomings. There isn’t a thing about the human condition that
cannot be found in the Bible. Since much of my way of thinking is of biblical
origin, I understood that humanity was given the ability by God to rise up to
advance itself and achieve wonders to benefit one’s self and mankind.
Art played a significant role in leading me toward Freemasonry. I
never felt Art was limited to esthetics. For me it became an expression of the
soul. Art is a universal language. French, German, Spanish, Greek, Russian,
Polish or African. Any genuine work of art transcends its ethnic origins, and
translates into a universal language that speaks to all.
Walking through the streets of Los Angeles, New York and through
Europe, my eye often fixated on old buildings that incorporated mystical looking
designs. Often I wondered if these were Masonic decorations. My curiosity about
Freemasonry started taking form.
I began to read up on the subject and absorb the philosophy and
the rich culture accompanying it. What struck me early on is that some of the
iconography I had known from early Christian art, such as the All Seeing Eye of
God was an important essential component of Freemasonry, as is the Holy Bible.
Then I was surprised to recognize similarities between Masonic symbolism and
some of the mystical imagery that had been appearing in my own pictures for
Detail from "Pyramid Of Light "
Fascinated with the moral philosophies of Freemasonry, I was awed
by the abundance of illustrious members, the great philosophers, leaders,
authors, artists, musicians, philanthropists, scientists, inventors, poets,
physicians. Mozart, Goethe, Voltaire, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin,
Booker T. Washington, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pushkin, Oscar
Wilde, Mark Twain. In my triptych that currently hangs in the Livingston Library
there is a tribute to quite a few illustrious individuals who have been Masons.
Detail from Rebirth
Just a matter of note, in comparison to music, literature and
entertainment, there were relatively few artists who were Masons.
Ari: There were numerous fine engravers. The most important
sculptors and painters included Bartholdi, Hogarth, Mucha, Grant Wood, the great
German expressionist Lovis Corinth (who did illustrations of lodge ceremony) and
the Cubist master Juan Gris (he served as Master of his Lodge in Paris).
interest eventually led me to the point where I wanted to do a film on
Freemasonry. With that project in mind, I visited the wonderful Chancellor
Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library & Museum of the Grand Lodge of New York in
Manhattan. Their collection of materials is awesome. And everything was
generously put at my disposal for study. This was in 2002. Although this
particular film project has not as yet materialized, this was my road to
joining. It has been an ever inspiring journey.
Elena: Your work is a very skilled and inspiring contribution to
the smaller body of Freemasonic art. Currently, you have art on display inside
the Grand Lodge of New York building. Is there anything you would like to share
about the exhibition?
Ari: Yes, my
paintings called “Hiram’s Apron” and “King Solomon’s Vision”, which have become
widely known, were the first to be exhibited at the Livingston Masonic Library &
“KING SOLOMON’S VISION”
Currently, the museum is displaying my triptych titled “Parable
Of Light and Dark” which consists of three paintings, which tell a symbolic
story about Freemasonry through the past, present and an eye toward
possibilities for the future. The first piece is called “Foundations”. It
depicts the beginnings of Freemasonry, starting with Hiram and the building of
the Holy Temple. The composition then moves upwards to Medieval times with
Knighthoods and Cathedrals paving the way towards modern times.
"FOUNDATIONS" (2008) LEFT SIDE PANEL OF MASONIC TRIPTYCH
At the very top in "Foundations", I depict art and culture with
portraits of Mozart, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Pushkin and Voltaire.
The middle painting is called “Eclipse”. The idea behind
‘Eclipse’ is that within any darkness, there is a light of inspiration that can,
if recognized for the possibilities it offers, lead one to a positive path.
The last painting in this group is called “Rebirth”. Hiram and
King Solomon appear at the bottom amidst the ruins of a city. The King, like
Noah years before him, sends a dove out into the future. Inspired by Masonic
fundamentals, the future is represented by builders constructing a new and
Elena: Profound symbolism. It is nice that you always include
your thoughts on each painting on your website and social media. Tell us about
your painted Masonic Aprons. What inspired you to make them, what do you hope to
accomplish through them?
PAINTED MASONIC SYMBOLIC APRON BY ARI ROUSSIMOFF
aprons are a lost art within Freemasonry. During the 18th and early 19th
centuries, many Masonic aprons were beautifully hand painted and also
embroidered. Some were folksy in style, others elaborate. Eventually came the
standardization of aprons and the painted ones were relegated to the pages of
history. For my part, I wish to bring this lost Masonic tradition up into the
here and now and also hopefully into the future. My painted aprons are never
imitations. They are highly symbolic, as I instill in them the classic ideals
and virtues of Freemasonry. But I do this as a modern artist, with the voice
coming from my soul.
THE AMERICAN FREEDOM MASONIC APRON
signed artworks, it is not necessary for my aprons to be worn. They can be
displayed on a wall. I am happy to say that my painted Masonic aprons are in
fine collections throughout the world. And I very much love making them.
THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
rather Medieval themed Masonic painting dates from 2013. The symbolism
encompasses lessons in regards to morality, spirituality, chivalry and the
mortality of all humankind. ~ Ari Roussimoff.
Receiving The Light
Elena: Your aprons are incredible! You also do special Masonic
portraits where you combine painting with photography. Tell us about that.
These are pictures I do on commission. I integrate portrait
photography with my painting. Likenesses can sometimes be tricky and
problematic. Even a great master like Rembrandt had occasional problems in this
department. The story goes that a man commissioned Rembrandt to do a portrait of
his wife (or daughter). Upon seeing the final painting, the man was displeased
because he did not see a likeness and demanded his money back. Ha. Ha. Can you
imagine?!! What I do can be called mixed-media portraits. No one will ever
complain about a lack of likeness. The process consists of first, the client
gives me a favorite photograph of themselves or whoever they wish me to create a
portrait for. Next step, I have the photo enlarged and transferred onto a canvas
of the desired measurements. The last step is for me to paint a complete
composition surrounding the photo, which I do not alter. The painted elements
will reflect elements in that person’s life or imagination. Voila! Never an
issue regarding likenesses. A Lodge commissioned me to do one of the retiring
Grand Master of California. It was gifted him during a special presentation
ceremony. And I did one as my personal gift for the retiring Grand Secretary of
New York, a wonderful man.
Elena: Amazing and creative.
By the way, these pictures are also made for non-masons. I’ve created them for
weddings, anniversaries, births, people’s parents. Anything someone might like
Elena: I read that, for you, art is a spiritual experience. Would
you share with us something about the process of bringing forth such wonderful
images? Spiritually speaking, what is it that you experience?
Abraham Sacrificing Isaac
Ari: For me the act of painting is like praying. It originates
in my heart and my soul. Spirituality in art is not limited to the confines of
one or another religion. It is at the very core of all life.
Spirit of Ukraine
Painting, like prayer, is a spiritual experience. Magical in many
ways. And I am certain that being a painter is what God intended for me to be.
Elena: I agree on that.
Ari: Otherwise I’d be doing other things. Too many people depend
only on the limitations of their eyesight. They’re not able to touch base with
the soul. Hence the four eyes in some of my paintings.
Elena: I love your four eyes theme!
Detail from Eclipse
Ari: In this self-portrait, the two pairs of eyes have a mystical
meaning. It is my belief that one should try to develop two sets of eyes. One
set represents our innermost self: the heart, passions and spirituality. This is
the soul. The other set are those of the mind: logic and intellect. All four
eyes together can give one excellent vision.
Selfportrait With Pipe In Red
In art, it isn't required that an artwork depict a religious
subject in order to be spiritual. That special spirit is very much embedded
within any true work of art. Spirituality can be felt in florals, landscapes,
portraits, figurative or abstract compositions and whatever. Same holds true for
music, literature and all other arts.
Elena: On your website, linked here at the end of this interview,
in addition to Masonic subjects, your art is presented in three other
categories: Old Russia, Jewish life, Phantasmagoria.
Ari: These are
among the subjects I have painted throughout my life. Art has been my lifelong
passion. It is easiest to categorize works by subjects. There is also a general
section called “Newest Works” featuring a cross section of paintings and also an
interview. We are preparing to update the site. There are lots of new additions
and improvements coming!
Elena: I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!
You are also an award-winning director of motion pictures and have created sets
for Broadway shows. You have done costume design, performance art, and have
hosted a three-part television music program on MTV.
VALLEY OF MYSTICAL SECRETS
the arts are related. Being primarily visually oriented and a lover of classic
movies, it had long been a desire to also express myself in film. My first
feature was a surrealist horror film featuring a cast of underground stars, even
several Andy Warhol superstars. Federico Fellini, the brilliant Italian
filmmaker, saw a rough edit of some of the early footage of bikers, and his
admiration brought us further funding.
Ari: My best movie was the documentary “Freaks Uncensored: A
Human Sideshow” which took years of research and dealt with the history of
physical human anomalies throughout the ages. My significant other of many years
Vivian Forlander wrote the screenplay and I directed it. It opened at the
Anthology Film Archives in New York, to standing room only crowds and has been
released on both VHS and DVD.
As for MTV, I hosted a special three-episode Russian style spoof
of the MTV hits countdown. It was called MTV-ski and I was the Russian V-J, all
dressed up in fur hat and rubaschka, peasant blouse. My old performance group
went under the name “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks”, We performed in theaters,
discos and art galleries.
As for the stage, I was chosen by impresario Ralph Mercado to
create sets and paint a mural for an Eastern European show he was importing from
"LIVE APPEARANCE AT NYC’S LIMELIGHT DISCO (1991)
Here I am on stage in 1991 with my old performance troupe “The
Trans-Siberian Cossacks”. We are doing a live multi-media show at the Limelight
Club in New York City. While our group lovingly exhibited Russian style, the
name cossack was used metaphorically for individualism and inspired
rebelliousness against status-quo trends (the initial meaning of cossack was
rebel). We performed our uniquely circus-like shows in theaters, art galleries
and discos. Venues ranged from the Limelight to Howard Guttenplan’s Millennium
Film Workshop. This was a great way to incorporate elements of theater,
painting, music and film. Cast members would often be interchangeable (based on
locations). Performers included: Big Bob Bear, Clayton Patterson, Valerie Caris,
Taylor Mead, The Magnificent Lori “W”, Vivi-Vixen and Brooks Rogers. In this
photo at the Limelight, Clayton Patterson is the man holding the flag and the
Queen of house music herself, Screamin’ Rachel is doing her wild thing in the
far right, under the big screen (where we presented excerpts from one of my
It has been quite a few years now since I have retired “The
Trans-Siberian Cossacks” (although occasionally, I get an urge to resurrect
them). Even nowadays when giving a talk on my paintings, I like incorporating
various elements. It makes for a more stimulating and also fun presentation."
Elena: In a way, the group has been resurrected in your work. Ari,
what else would you like to mention that I didn’t ask?
Just this week, I completed a Masonic composition which I call
“Pyramid Of Light”. Currently I am putting finishing touches to a painted apron.
There are a multitude of paintings stored inside me, each competing against the
others to make its way out and onto canvas first. And I haven’t a clue which one
it will be. Freemasonry, with its great teachings of morality and positive
energy, provide me with tremendous inspiration. I hope to do many paintings in
Elena: The readers and I are hoping too, Ari, I am sure.
Pyramid Of Light
Let’s end this interview with some of your amazing paintings.
Thank you very much for letting us pick your brain. Phoenixmasonry would love to
check-in with you periodically to let our readers know what you are up to.
BUSY DAY AT THE MARKET PLACE
is where all the action is: the Marketplace. Painted in 1973 and I added some
finishing touches to it in 2003. Ari Roussimoff.
GOING FISHING IN THE OLD COUNTRY
Here are fisherman doing what they love to do in an old Ukrainian
or Russian village. One of my fun Cubist style paintings from 2004. I have
always enjoyed watching fisherman at work, even though I do not eat sea food. ~