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Alexander Reichstein

Alexander Reichstein is a unique artist. He started as an illustrator, but his imagination requested a bigger scale, so now he not only makes pictures for books but creates spaces for children to put stories in and start playing and re-creating them on and on – according to their fantasy and desire. So every exhibition becomes a living book - a training ground for children’s creativity, a meeting point where a child and culture cooperate. It is a wonderful and most efficient way to bring up the reader.


Alexander Reichstein was born in 1957, in Moscow, Russia. 1976-1982 he studied printed media design and illustration, at the Moscow Polygraphical institute, specializing mostly in children's book illustration. 1982-1985 he worked as art director in the "Iskusstvo" ("Art") publishing house in Moscow. Since 1982, he has worked for various Moscow publishers, designing and illustrating books for adults and children.

Alexander has lived and worked in Helsinki, Finland, since 1990, making art for children, and with children: illustrating children books for Swiss, Austrian, German, American and Finnish publishers, painting pictures and making sculptures for children, leading workshops, arranging happenings and art courses, building up exhibitions and installations (in a wide range of institutions - from day care centers to libraries and art museums). 1992-1994 and 2006-2008 he was teaching at the University for Art and Design Helsinki. Alexander Reichstein has taken part in several seminars and conferences for art education, presenting papers about his own art projects. The projects created by Alexander, are exhibitions for children and their parents, where visitors can be active both mentally and physically, and experience unusual artistic impressions with all their senses. Many of Alexander's projects are based on children's book illustrations. His art work has been exhibited in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Iceland, Italy, France, Japan, Spain and Portugal. It is to be seen in several collections in Finland, Russia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Israel, U.S.A.

A book illustrated by Alexander (Alexis Kouros. "Gondwanan lapset". Helsinki 1997), was granted the highest Finnish award for children and youth books, the Finlandia Junior in 1997. For his exhibition project "The feather island", Alexander was granted the Topelius Medal in 1999. In 2008, Alexander was granted the Finnish State Award in children's culture. A.R. is member of Association of Finnish Sculptors, Finnish Illustrators Association, Grafia, Union of Moscow Artists

Alexander Reichstein is married with two children.

Grigori Oster.

Huviksi ja haitaksi (Vrednye sovety – Mischievous Advice).

WSOY, Helsinki, 2010.
Translated into Finnish by Teemu Kaskinen.
AST Astrel, Moscow, 2010


Books, designed and illustrated by Alexander Reichstein

Grigori Oster. Huviksi ja haitaksi. WSOY, Helsinki, 2010.
R.Kipling, V.Hlebnikova, A.Reichstein. Norsunlapsi ja lapanen. LK, Helsinki, 2007.
A.Reichstein. Ohto ja taikuri. Ohton huvipuisto. WSOY, Helsinki, 2005.
V.Hlebnikova, A.Reichstein: Moja volshebnaja fotokamera: Zhivotnye. Arkaim, Cheljabinsk, 2005.
V.Hlebnikova, A.Reichstein: Moja volshebnaja fotokamera: Professii. Arkaim, Cheljabinsk, 2005.
Volshebnaja azbuka. Arkaim, Cheljabinsk, 2004.
Vera Hlebnikova, Alexander Reichstein: My Magic Camera. Book 1: Animals. Grimm Press, Taipei 2003
L.Petrushevskaya: Pete-possu ja auto. Tammi, Helsinki 2003.
L.Petrushevskaya: Pete-possun matka. Tammi, Helsinki 2003.
L.Petrushevskaya: Porosenok Petr i mashina. OGI, Moscow, 2003
L.Petrushevskaya: Porosenok Petr edet v gosti. OGI, Moscow, 2003
L.Petrushevskaya: Porosenok Petr i magazin. OGI, Moscow, 2003
Kotin'ka-kotok. OLMA-Press, Moscow, 2003.
Elena Hellberg-Hirn: Imperial Imprints. SKS, Helsinki 2003
Mischa Damjan: Die Weihnachtsperle. Nord-Süd, Gossau Zürich, 2001
Olga Sedakova. Stihi. Proza. (2 vol.) NFQ, Moscow, 2001
Jane Goodall. Der Adler und der Zaunknig. Neugebauer, Gossau Zürich, 2000
Brigitte Weninger. Was kann das sein? Neugebauer, Gossau Zürich, 2000
K.Ivanov, A.Smirnov. Vsjo, chto vy hoteli znat' o Shvecii. Swedish Institute, Stockholm, 2000 (together with Vera Hlebnikova)
Udo Weigelt. Rodolfo kommt. Nord-Süd, Gossau Zürich, 1999
Marit Laurin. Parzival. Stuttgart, Freies Geistesleben, 1999
Sabine Jörg. Mina und Bär. Neugebauer Verlag, Zürich, Salzburg, 1998
Brigitte Frey Moret. Bärenweihnacht. Nord-Süd, Gossau Zürich, 1998
Alexis Kouros. Gondwanan lapset. Lasten Keskus, Helsinki, 1997
Lasten virsi. Lasten Keskus, Helsinki, 1997
Melody Carlson. Tupsu. Questar; Sisters, USA. 1997
M.Snunit. Sielun lintu. Lasten Keskus, Helsinki, 1996
Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Izbrannoe. Iskusstvo, Moscow, 1995
G.G.Kay. Tigana. Rabén & Sjögren, Stockholm, 1992
J.Dmitriev. Trinadcat' chernyh koshek. Detskaja literatura, Moscow,1988
G.Lagsdyn. Poslushnyj zajchonok. Detskaja literatura, Moscow, 1988
A. de Vigny. Izbrannoe. Iskusstvo, Moscow, 1987
J.Dmitriev. Zdravstvuj, belka. Detskaja literatura, Moscow, 1986, 1987
St.Zweig. Castellio protiv Calvina. Mysl', Moscow, 1986
R.Aldington. Stevenson. Portret buntarja. Kniga, Moscow, 1984
L.Feuchtwanger. Bezobraznaja gercoginja. Kniga, Moscow, 1984.


L.Petrushevskaya: Porosenok Petr i den' rozhdenija.
Bros.Grimm & A.Reichstein. Strohhalm, Kohle und Bohne.
Russian letters for children & foreigners
Sweet horror. Russian children's tales of horror.
William Shakespeare. Hroniki (Histories).
Ivan Bunin. Izbrannoe.

Official website

Grigori Oster.

Huviksi ja haitaksi (Vrednye sovety – Mischievous Advice).

WSOY, Helsinki, 2010.
Translated into Finnish by Teemu Kaskinen.
AST Astrel, Moscow, 2010


Transated from Finnish by Andrew Lightfoot (from: Alexander Reichstein. Ihmeotuksia & Ihmemuutoksia. Curious Creatures & Changes. Salo Art Museum, Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art, 2007. Finnish/English/Swedish resume. 25 x 21 cm, 112 pages, 205 illustrations in full color, hard cover. Articles: Laura Luostarinen, Anne-Maj Salin, Maria Laukka, Marjatta Hietaniemi.)

Illustration in the Russian style

Even a brief glance at the illustrations in Russian children’s books reveals at least two recurring elements: lavish ornaments and extensive decoration. This is evident not only in the initial letters and vignettes but also in the folk dress. Not only the people but also the animals in Russian folk tales are often dressed. These features are generally referred to as the Russian style of illustration. The initial waves of functionalism and constructivism at the start of the last century were promoted by Soviet architecture and art. They also affected Soviet children’s book illustration in the 1920s, which was highly innovative*. In the Stalin era neoclassicism became the main trend in art. In children’s book illustration this meant realism and a return to the old Russian national style. The decorative style of the Stalin era has partly remained in present-day Russian children’s book illustrations.

Love-hate of illustrations

In his childhood Reichstein shunned the so-called Russian style of illustration and its decorativeness. Only as an adult did he come to admire some exponents of the style for symbolizing Russianness. This included the famous Soviet illustrator Tatyana Mavrina, whose works contained genuine Russianness, and the Russian classic Vladimir Konasevits. Alexander Reichstein remembers admiring the illustrations of Ivan Bilibin, Vasilij Lebedev and Vladimir Favorski in his childhood. The young Reichstein had illustrations by Nikolai Popov on the walls of his room. Reichstein also absorbed influences from the artist and illustrator Victor Pivovarov, whose surrealist style he admired, and from the East German Klaus Ensikat. On graduating Reichstein got to work with the veteran book illustrator Juri Seliverstov and picked up his thorough working methods.

Ornaments put to use

When Alexander Reichstein concluded his studies and began illustrating books, ornaments were important in his first books, too. Reichstein spent a lot of time putting content into ornaments. For example, he researched typographical embellishments in books from various periods and used a similar approach to turn his own drawings into ornamental borders, for example for the collected works of Alfred de Vigny. Reichstein took the same approach to ornaments as to typographical characters or photographs. For him, they were material to play with. On the other hand, lavishing so much time on a job was at odds with the fact that back then the quality of printing and paper in the Soviet Union were below standard. For a variety of reasons many perfect originals were mangled in the printing process or the colours came out pale on paper.

Kaija Pispa. Rouva Uimonen ja Taikasingeri. Lasten Pyhäkoulu 1-10, 2011. Helsinki.

Flight from reality

At first Alexander Reichstein illustrated adult classics, like Lion Feuchtwanger and Stefan Zweig. The biggest assignment was to illustrate all of William Shakespeare’s works. But this was never published. It fell victim to the collapse of the Soviet Union and all the cost structures. Finally a publisher was found, but an overworked editor left the completed layout in an underground train. Years of work were lost. The first major work illustrated by Alexander Reichstein was Lion Feuchtwanger’s Bezrobraznaja gercoginja*. Reichstein painted a large work depicting medieval life, which became the dust jacket of the small book. All the illustrations in the book consisted of details from the painting. When doing the illustrations for Richard Aldington’s biography Stevenson. Portret buntarja**, Alexander Reichstein got to “travel”. His imagination roamed the world with his subject. Reichstein drew characters from Stevenson’s books in ink on the photo spreads. Works like this and the research in libraries that they required meant the author could escape from the 1980s Soviet reality, where foreign travel was practically impossible for the ordinary citizen.

Illustrator of children’s books

After the birth of his daughter, Alexander Reichstein increasingly specialized in illustrating children’s books. His first children’s book illustration in the Soviet Union was Gaida Lagsdyn’s work about life in a children’s nursery, Poslushnyj zajchonok (Kind Bunny). Reichstein’s illustration combined ready-made fabric patterns and his own drawings. That work was still in two dimensions, but in the next book, Kotin’ka-kotok (The Kitten), the characters were raised off the surface. Reichstein used brightly coloured Russian fabrics as a background, on top of which he placed relief-type characters and decorations made from porcelain and modelling clay, and then photographed them. Although the work is one of Reichstein’s most Russian illustrations, it reshaped Soviet-era illustration practices.

Prize fails to bring in commissions

The move to the Finnish publishing world was difficult for Alexander Reichstein, who was used to regular commissions in the Soviet Union. He did some work with the publisher Lasten Keskus, but as an illustrator his name remained relatively unknown in Finland, until Lasten Keskus commissioned the illustration and graphic design for Alexis Kouros’s work Gondwanan lapset (Gondwana’s Children). The work won Finland’s first Finlandia Junior prize in 1997. In his illustration of the book, Alexander Reichstein combined photographs of the Finnish bedrock and ink drawings of penguins and other characters in the book. The dynamic black-and-white illustration brings out well the secretive and strange world of the book. Reichstein used the same method as his illustration of Gaida Lagsdyn’s book. Instead of colourful fabrics, the illustrations are now overlaid on black-and-white photographs. Although Reichstein shared the Finlandia Junior prize with Kouros, it did not result in illustration commissions. For that he had to go abroad.

Alexis Kouros. Gondwanan lapset. Lasten Keskus, Helsinki, 1997

International publications

Visits to European book fairs got publishers interested in his works and placing orders. The first of these was to illustrate Melody Carlson’s text Tupsu, the Squirrel Who Was Afraid. The book contains realistic illustrations of animals and nature and is reminiscent of some Russian children’s book illustrations. The book was first released in the United States. At the Frankfurt book fair, a Swiss editor from the renowned publisher Nord-Süd was won over by the book’s winter scenes and in 1998 commissioned Reichstein to do the illustrations for Brigitte Frey Moret’s tale Bärenweihnacht. The same year the book was published in translation in Finland as Karhujoulu. In a blue tinge, the work tells the story of a bear that followed a flock of sheep and their shepherds into a barn. A woman gave the bear red berries. When the bear had eaten them, it was replete and went into hibernation in its cave without disturbing the sheep. From that time on bears have gone into hibernation.
The illustrator placed the story in a northern setting, the sort of which can be found in Finland. Since the work had to bring out the struggle between cold and warm, and dark and light, Alexander Reichstein developed a very special illustration method for the purpose. He managed to put an impression of freezing cold into his pictures by painting the trees and landscape contours with thick gesso, producing a relief effect. On top of this he applied acrylic paint, which he used like watercolours. This made the backgrounds with their animals and human figures appear frosted, thus increasing the impression of cold. This is offset by a warm yellow colour.
The next book for the same publisher, Rodolfo kommt by Udo Weigelt, again makes use of new techniques. The characters are painted on a film in precise ink strokes on top of light, pastel natural backgrounds. The artist was able to make corrections to the film without spoiling the carefully crafted background paintings. Fitting the line drawing over the background enhanced the printing.
L.Petrushevskaya: Porosenok Petr edet v gosti. OGI, Moscow, 2003
For Sabine Jörg’s book Mina und Bär (Mina and the Bear), Alexander Reichstein again devised a new technique. The paintings were done on sandpaper, making the images appear more dreamy and soft. There is a pop-up effect in Brigitte Weninger’s work Was kann das sein? (Special Delivery), where a boy jumps out of the box on the last double-page spread. The My Magic Camera books by Alexander Reichstein and Vera Hlebnikova are also sort of three-dimensional. Readers can place their photograph at the end of the book and see what they would look like in various animal bodies or uniforms.
In the Piglet Pete books by Ljudmila Petrusevshkaja published in Russia and Finland, Alexander Reichstein first drew the characters just a few millimetres high and then enlarged them substantially. This allowed him to produce a lively broken line. He then coloured the characters on a computer. Reichstein used a similar technique in his own books Ohto’s Amusement Park and Ohto and the Magician. Ljudmila Petrusevskaja’s books are about children’s everyday games. Alexander Reichstein likes to use similar flights of fancy in his own books: playing at home is a good enough amusement park; the magician can be Ohto’s father, who really makes him fly when he lifts him up.

A.Reichstein. Ohto ja taikuri. Ohton huvipuisto. WSOY, Helsinki, 2005.

Theatre game turned into a picture book

In 2005 The City of Tampere Cultural Office, with support from the Arts Council of Pirkanmaa, commissioned a suitcase project from Alexander Reichstein and Vera Hlebnikova. This comprised three suitcases which the artists packed with the equipment needed for three games inspired by literature. The suitcases toured libraries in the area. The biggest suitcase contained outfits for the story of the princess and the dragon and the smallest a card game based on children’s nursery rhymes. In the medium-sized suitcase was a puppet theatre based on Rudyard Kipling’s tale The Elephant’s Child and made from recycled material and children’s socks, mittens and gloves left behind in nurseries. The curious elephant child asks questions, gathering experience and making his trunk grow.
This theatre game was also made into a picture book containing the fairy tale and photographs of the game. Detailed do-it-yourself instructions are also given at the end of the book for those who want to recreate the story at home. The Elephant’s Child is perhaps more art educational than any previous children’s book by Alexander Reichstein. It is also closest to the workshops organized by him and his partner Vera Hlebnikova.

From one change to another

The Russian author Anton Chekhov said that if a writer cannot change from one book to another, he should stop writing books. The same applies to illustrators, at least in the case of Alexander Reichstein. For him it is important to change from one illustration to another - depending on the text and the assignment, but above all for the pleasure that he himself gets from the changes.
Alexander Reichstein is critical of the practices in the publishing world. International publishers work to the rules of business and there is less and less room for inventive children’s book publications. Such barriers do not exist when working directly with children. Having learned to play with children, Reichstein has no longer cared for the lonely role of the illustrator. So nowadays he increasingly goes for interactive installations built with other people and where children’s reactions are directly visible. He thinks this is often more rewarding than illustration work.

Bros.Grimm & A.Reichstein. Strohhalm, Kohle und Bohne. (unpublished)
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