Literaturnaya gazeta
No. 10, 14 March 2012
Tatyana Esaulova interviews the artist

— You’re now at the peak of your creative powers; you’ve achieved a lot. Can you come to some sort of conclusion about your work, take stock of what you’ve done?

— In my view, one should never stop but always continue looking for something new. After creating a work, you begin to have doubts about it and look for new ways to make it more perfect. You want to create something special. With time, an inner confidence that you’ve done it right must appear. I feel that an artist must always have doubts about his work and always seek something new, to continue improving what he’s doing and what he’s already done!

— Fazil Iskander says of you that your “innovations are paid for on the spot in the oldest and soundest coin of the realm: talent”.
— Talent is just that doubt that’s with a person always!

— If you doubt, then doesn’t that mean that talent is connected with the “agony of creation”?
— If you have the ability to paint, then you should be grateful that fate granted you that ability. That’s happiness! If you’re forbidden to do what you love and what you’re good at, that’s agony!

— This exhibition is a retrospective look at your work from the last several decades. What is it that unites these paintings from such disparate periods?
— Retrospective exhibitions are always especially interesting. Solo exhibitions are interesting in general, though one should hold them very rarely, in my view, only once every five or ten years. When you exhibit a large number of works, it immediately becomes clear what you’ve done well and what you’ve done poorly, what you need so strive for and what’s best to avoid. This showing has revealed a lot to me about myself. Out of curiosity, I hung two works next to each other, one from 1971 and the
other from 2011. I sat down and began looking at them. What could they have in common? — forty years is a long time! But it turns out that these paintings, while differing in subject, painting technique and the texture of their canvases, are similar in their purely spiritual aspect. Looking at them closely, you can see they were painted by the same artist.

— The “bulldozer exhibitions” have become part of our history. Tell me, what’s your most vivid memory connected with them?
— I participated in the Izmailovo exhibition. That was a celebration. It was a splendid, warm September day. All the Moscow intelligentsia were there, around thirty thousand people, and in those days it took some effort just to get there! Art school students were detained at the metro station. I felt then and continue to feel now that art should never depend on the authorities. Try as I might, I still can’t understand to this day why they needed to forbid non-conformist art. So many people left the country: Rabin, Tselkov, Kabakov…

— But you didn’t leave…
— I was young then, still green, and thought everything would work out in the end. I began participating in exhibitions very early (I have works dating to 1969, when I was only 22 years old). I received visits, I was summoned and so forth, but I didn’t take any of it seriously for some reason. A big problem at the time was that you had to be in the union, otherwise you were a “parasite”. In 1974 I was accepted into the youth section and in 1979 into the union itself. I was given recommendations by
very well-known artists; they rated the quality of my painting very highly. I was at the Winzavod recently, and it was like returning to our 1970s atmosphere! Back then everything was half-forbidden, in basements, but the artists were more powerful then, much more powerful!

— Many critics have remarked that the intense rhythm of your works combined with their inner motion, volume and color reminds them of musical compositions. Do you feel your paintings’ musicality?
— In my youth I was friends with well-known musicians. I loved avant-garde music very much: Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Denisov. In the 1970s I even had two exhibitions at the House of Composers. It’s always seemed to me that painting is just visible music and that poetry and music are audible painting! I try to make the viewer “hear” my paintings; I want very much for them to influence him in some way.

— Do you see sounds and hear colors?
— Yes, I see color in terms of sound and sound in terms of color. Kandinsky could tell a city’s color by its street noise: Paris was light blue and Berlin gray. To convey the sensation of a whole city in a single image, a single color — that’s genius! That brought about a whole revolution in its day. I have a fantastically high opinion of Kandinsky. I can’t say that I’ve based myself on him, but I take him into account in my work. I see sound because it’s tactile for me. It’s an indispensable component of any
painted work, whether figural painting, still life or landscape. And I always try to convey it in my paintings.

— What are you working on now?
— Right now? It’s hard to explain. My style is changing in some ways; I’m trying to innovate. I’m painting lots of still lifes. But I don’t consider them still lifes: they’re made up rather than taken from nature. I simply express my emotional state in them. I can put down a single cup and create a whole still life around it out of my own images and express their state and color and how they relate to my current mood. The artist can’t ignore the things around him. I’ve always felt that everything around you is also inside you … and also on your canvas.