My great grandfather died before I was born. He was a Russian artist. It never occurred to me that I would one day decide to follow in his footsteps, like my grandmother and mother did. I grew up in their Moscow studio, teaching myself to draw, paint and work with clay, but was too busy doing other things: journalism, photography, writing, to name a few, to devote myself to painting fulltime.
My great grandfather was a rebel and a romantic. These two features of his character probably explain why he left Moscow soon after the 1917 Revolution and ventured off with his wife and two daughters to the remote Altai Mountains region. He later returned from this self-imposed exile to find a niche in the new Soviet art world. Did he ever find peace with himself? Was he ever happy with what he was creating under the Soviet system? I will never know.
What I do know is that we definitely have something in common - a spirit of contradiction, which most certainly guided him through the first part of his life, just as it has so far helped arrange the sequences of my life. My parents say I was impossible to control as a child, always went in the opposite direction, made my own decisions, and swam against the tide. Perhaps this eventually helped me get to where I am now, perhaps it only made life more complicated. Nevertheless, breaking away from consensus has always been part of me. It was not about saying ‘no’, rather about finding a different solution, doing it my own way. It seems that this can also apply to my art work.
In the Russian language the verb “to paint” literally means “to cover a surface with paint” and usually suggests that one is repainting his apartment or a fence. When speaking about a painter, Russians would say “on pishet” (“he writes”). There is something about this expression that elevates an artist.
A finished canvas should show a frozen movement with the full force of the energy neatly preserved. When I move the colours and shapes born in my mind to a canvas the end result always fundamentally differs from the original concept. As if the rebel in me puts up a fights and seeks to go against the grain. The hundreds of scratches as never ending thoughts carved on top.
Creative irregularity and inconsistency can be a bonus, at least in my case. Switching from writing to photography, from photography to painting and back has helped prolong a fascination with real life, as well as the imaginative world, and contributed to exposing the interior of the artist’s mind.
Paul Bowles wrote that “life is not a movement toward or away from anything; not even from the past to the future, or from youth to old age, or from birth to death. The whole of life does not equal the sum of its part. It equals any one of the parts; there is no sum. The full-grown man is no more deeply involved in life than the new-born child; his only advantage is that it can occasionally be given him to become cautious of the substance of that life, and unless he is a fool he will not look for reasons and explanations. Life needs no clarifying, no justification.”
The old redbrick chimneys and the whole roof across the street from where we live in Vienna are now gone. They have been replaced by modern glass penthouses as part of a renovation of the whole five-storey building, which stood abandoned for a number of years. The paining on the opposite page is a reminder of what the view was like before.
The changes that happen to us and to the world around us are not always easy, yet as we grow older we begin excepting more and fighting back less, realizing that changes are a condition of life, which keeps rolling on, sweeping away the cosiness we have gotten used to, offering new challenges, dilemmas. We can turn our backs on the changes, delay accepting them, but in the end often give in and adapt to new conditions, just like we accept the changing features of the face we see in the mirror as years go by.
Mikhail Evstafiev, Vienna, 2007
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