All his life, Alex Krasky wanted to be an American.
Now that he has been granted U.S. citizenship, he's so proud of the red, white and blue that he's using his talent to create a 4-foot-by-6-foot patriotic oil painting he hopes to hand over personally to President Obama.
"This is the country of miracles," he said.
He has an exhibition coming up when Cosmopolitan Connections Inc. is scheduled to host an artist exhibition event from 7 to 9 p.m. April 21 at Caramel Bar & Lounge inside the Bellagio. Admission to the business mixer is free, but space is limited. RSVPs are required by visiting cosmopolitanconnections.com.
The Summerlin resident recently was in the running with four other painters to be the official portrait artist for outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons. His version was not selected, but Gibbons personally went to his house to receive it.
Krasky's zest for all things American stems from his experiences. As a youngster in Russia's Crimea region -- now part of Ukraine -- he had a privileged childhood, the son of a surgeon father and a mother who was a doctor. They lived in various parts of the world before returning to Crimea. At 27, Krasky, a fireman who was on the Russian radar for speaking out against some government policies, knew he had to flee the country. The idea to emigrate to the United States took root.
But visas were hard to come by, so in 1997, he traveled to Argentina. From there, he applied for visas to other countries, eventually hopscotching his way through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, a month at a time.
"I told them, 'If I go back to my country, I'll be killed tomorrow,' " he said.
But the expected visa to travel to Mexico did not materialize. Krasky suspected that the numerous stamps on his passport raised a red flag.
He found a coyote -- a person willing to act as a guide to a possible border-crossing site -- and paid him $300. After walking for hours through the desert, half of it carrying a sick 5-year-old, Krasky and his fellow travelers got on a bus, only to be stopped by the authorities.
"They said we were spies," he said, adding that he suspected the coyote had sold them out.
He was thrown in a Mexican jail. All his attempts to talk his way out were fruitless. Finally, he succumbed to the most immediate method available: he paid his jailers a bribe. He was set free.
Krasky reached California by traveling up Baja California and walking up to the U.S. border police at Tijuana. He had purposely consumed a quart of tequila before approaching the guards with a story of partying too hard and ended up regurgitating all over the place. The border guards promptly passed him through, thinking him to be an American.
"It was the most idiotic plan, a stupid plan, but it worked," he said.
When he landed at Laguna Niguel, Calif., an upscale community, he was struck by all the freedoms Americans enjoy.
"But the way I imagined the U.S., it was totally different," he said. "It was like (I expected) money would grow on trees."
He put his nose to the grindstone, got a green card and worked in federal security services for the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Social Security Administration and a Veterans Affairs clinic.
He moved to Las Vegas, married and became a citizen last year. But it took being laid off for two years for his artistic talent to emerge and emerge with a vengeance. The little boy who used to doodle with his pencil suddenly discovered a passion for art and a passion to succeed at it. He took four one-hour lessons to learn oil painting techniques, but Jan Bennett, the instructor at Desert Art Supplies, 2003 E. Charleston Blvd., sent him home and said she couldn't teach him anything he didn't already have inside him.
"He brought in a picture of a young child, done in acrylics," said Bennett. "I was just in awe of it. But he wasn't very confident of himself. He looked at me kind of funny like, 'Is this good or is it not good?' "
His wife, Debra, a nurse, said the house has been turned into a gallery since he began painting. She is the subject of some of them.
"I don't need to buy decorations or someone else's art," she said.
When Michael Jackson died, the event prompted Krasky to paint the pop icon nonstop. He completed nine full-size paintings and has nearly a dozen yet to go. His house is covered wall to wall with nudes, portraits and studies.
"Life is un-reversible," he said of his drive to create as many paintings as he can.
Upon seeing some of his art, Bonnie Lamrock of mj-upbeat.com wrote to him, saying, "You will shake the president's hand. Have faith and never give up. If you believe ... then it will come true with hard work and dedication. You have certainly given both."
His latest passion: the oversized painting that depicts Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush and Barack Obama with the Statue of Liberty. With his frenzied appetite to paint, it took about eight weeks to complete.
"They say Rembrandt and Dali and painters like that worked on one piece for a year," he said. "But time is running away. I want to do as many beautiful pieces as I can."
Krasky sent a poster of it to the White House in mid-February, offering to present the original to President Obama in person.
Contact Summerlin and Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-2949.
By JAN HOGAN
VIEW STAFF WRITER