“I’m convinced that art is devoid of meaning if it doesn’t establish any connection with the other.“
What I believe has involved me in art is my predetermination to be here among people on Earth. I don’t have any artists in my family; quite the opposite—salespeople, dentists, doctors, and teachers. As far as I can remember, I’ve always liked doing what I find gripping. I naturally started drawing or fiddling with crayons or any sort of art materials my parents could get me. I was a sickly child, so I remember many days spent drawing at home. Nothing really diverted me from this direction. It was once one of those sick days, I remember, when I asked my grandfather to draw me something. He drew a horse, and I was deeply impressed because he wasn’t an artist or anything but still did it for me. This prompted me to work with all kinds of amateur materials—watercolours, pastels, and tempera paint—until one day they bought me a book about Velazquez, which inspired me to constantly ask my mother to go out and draw random objects. There wasn’t much back then, so a fountain or something of that sort did well. But to answer your question, I believe God has something to do with my involvement in art.
Interesting you mentioned the story with your grandfather. Do you think your role as an artist is to paint for others and not for yourself?
I’m convinced that art is devoid of meaning if it doesn’t establish any connection with the other. Oftentimes, I’ve heard the phrase, “Even when alone, one will still paint.” You don’t have the physical need to be observed in order to do it, but as an artist, as a member of the seven arts, which are all displayed in front of people, you have to communicate with others.
And do you draw purely for yourself?
Well, I always draw for myself because I do what excites me and what interests me, and I’ve never prioritised whether it will be enjoyed by others or where it will be put on display. Everything I draw is related first to what’s going on inside my head. Actually, my drawing gets constantly interrupted by other thoughts, so I start drawing those as well. You could say I am a bit impulsive; I follow my soul first and then go through the details that make work good.
I believe that a huge part of people are like that—everything starts with a rush of energy, but then you need the discipline to make it flow. Do you wait for inspiration to come, or do you force your creative process?
With me, drawing never stops, and it’s not foreign to me to not draw. I like to say that the only two things that haven’t betrayed me are my parents and drawing. I don’t know what it’s like to not draw. It’s my life. I am not the kind of person who waits for inspiration. Even when I don’t have anything to work on, there are still some technical details to execute. In my view, nothing is as fun as the entire process of drawing. And I just like dabbling in art; it’s an inseparable part of my life.
Do you have a favourite classical master?
I can’t really put a finger on a personal favourite. My art teacher, the great sculptor, Goergi Radulov, used to say that “Аt is not a race. It has just as much room for Leonardo as it has for Van Gogh or Rodin”. I like everyone in a different way. But perhaps the one I feel closest to in both a human and artistic way is Caravaggio. I have seen 90% of his production live, and it have never failed to inspire me.
His persona is also interesting, not just his history as an artist.
Yes, Leonardo also! I avidly subscribe to the idea that people, above all else, should focus on the artist’s art rather than the road they walked while alive.
True, but sometimes we need to know about an artist’s life in order to decode what’s encased in a piece. Right?
That’s inevitable. Everyone paints their life.
As you said, everyone “paints their own life” Do you think that’s one of the reasons art is valuable?
Oh, absolutely! This aspect branches out into several other things, including your development as an artist, artistic creation, and past work you’ve done that has led to this very piece. It’s a matter of stacking experiences inside you, as if it’s a library, and you never stop loading new books into it. I think of Leonardo’s life when his uncle, who has otherwise been described as a total windbag, often took him to the field to show him the way plants worked—where water flowed and which part was for soil digestion—and all of this impacted his artistic life. His whole life was art. As an artist, you can’t split your personality into public and private because art is integral to you. You can’t be one person in your studio and another on the way out.
On the question of one’s artistic aura, what would you like your art to say when you’re not there to speak on its behalf?
I want my art to say exactly what I have intended to say, or I haven’t done my job properly. A work of art should prompt laughter, tears, awe… it should communicate some emotions – whether that’s anger, or simply a gesture of appreciation. I denounce those ‘misunderstood geniuses’ who believe people fail to interpret their art the right way and they, the artists, have the higher ground morally and intellectually. I believe that if something grabs me by the collar and drags me into its depths, I don’t have to search for its logical explanation. It’s sort of like a non-verbal dialogue with the work in which I uncover myself. If the viewer can’t establish such communication, this internal dialogue, if I’m left misunderstood, then I haven’t done my job right. If I have to write 10 concept pages about what’ve wanted to say I’d be better off as a writer, not a painter.
Is there a classical technique you particularly enjoy?
I’m quite fond of the Dutch and Italian styles and techniques, particularly Caravaggio’s or Ribera’s. In my view, the Dutch technique sets the basis for everything, and every other artist builds from there. The Italians start with mixing white and black to produce what’s called the ‘classical van Dyke’, but then begin to notice that while there’s a decent gamut of grey nuances, there isn’t a good enough range of warmer colours, and so they add ochre. However, Tician later decides ochre isn’t the most suitable choice and replaces it with Cynobre. If we look at another old master, Raphael, who doesn’t paint over Dutch glazing with a standard blue and instead uses green, we could interpret this as the precursor of our present-day RGB colour model. One example of an artist who’s used the Dutch style all their life is Picasso: the blue period and the rose period, which both achieve staggering results by means of 3 or 4 colours. Or, if you look closely at Ruben’s work, you can notice a thin blue line going just outside the contours of his subjects, and that’s quite a staple of today’s 3D images that rely on blue and red to appear three-dimensional. Everyone has made a unique contribution, the value of which we can’t easily assess.
Are you experienced in a certain format that you wouldn’t like to feature in your portfolio?
Long ago, I was hired to advertise the technical capabilities of a digital spray made by Samsung, so by saying that, I can confirm that I never try to limit myself artistically. I can’t say that I do sculptures the way sculptors do them, but I give the medium a fair shot. I have tried ceramics or graphic art (I have majored in the latter, after all). Everything that’s captivating, I must try out. When you feel like you’re in your own depths, you put the theme of the work above the format.
I see you often switch from sanguine to oils. What are the individual advantages of each medium?
Sanguine is the material that is closest to the works of the old masters, and I believe it retains a special kind of softness. I also feel the material is very close to my character, and I use it even more often than the pencil. If I have to go by Leonardo’s words that every drawing material has a dot, a lone, and a stain, I can testify that for the sanguine, it even leaves behind a very supple finish on the surface. It gives you the opportunity to delve into light and play with it.
Do I sense correctly that there is a religious overtone in your works?
I try to ignore the boundaries of a particular theme, and I don’t seek out specific religious stories to visualise, though I do enjoy what Da’Vinci and Rembrandt have achieved in that line of work and the way they escaped the canon to tell something different. Recently, I’ve been panting for an upcoming exhibition; maybe that’s why I’ve gravitated towards such subjects. But I do owe a great deal to God because I don’t have a clue from where else my aptitude for could’ve come. I don’t try to explain God’s existence or depict it in my paintings. I believe God is uniform for all, and I won’t convince anyone else of the verity of “my God” I think it’s kind of natural for me to be predisposed to Biblical themes because I stand behind my belief that everything beautiful is God-begotten. Another feature of interest, apart from God, is the woman, who has the ability to bear fruit and give life. We can’t be certain what that fruit will turn into. I mean, Leonardo was brought into this world by a woman, but so was Hitler. I have the ability to create, and hence I have taken on this responsibility.
Do you believe the world is disenchanted? That we can predict too much of it?
History has shown that there could be a person who can turn everything on its head. A person of the arts, be they theatre, music, or opera, could make the world spin in a whole other direction. We create aesthetic taste. I nurture the aesthetics of my viewers. We teach people what to enjoy. I have always thought, to a certain extent, that the artist is a manipulator because he navigates the eyes of the viewer. We foster others’ aesthetics. Hence, we are privileged to teach society, as are musicians or designers.
What sort of advice can you give to the newbie artist?
I don’t think good art happens within a piece of advice. I opine that if you truly love it, there isn’t anyone to stop you. People have approached me many times with the words “I really like art, but mom and dad won’t let me” or “I don’t have the opportunity”, but all of this is a matter of choice. If you haven’t made the decision to be an artist, then it’s not your thing. I can’t tell anyone to never give up. If you have given up, then that’s your decision to make. But if you haven’t, then you are in your rightful place, and so this is your vocation.
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Organically generated text by Simeon Cherepov