Artist Anatoly Kuznetsov places his impressions, associations and moods on canvas. His pictures are inspired by his observations of the world around him. It is born anew in the artist’s soul and wonderful pictures appear. Mr. Kuznetsov does not simply depict his impressions but creates his own world — a true cosmos as yet unexplored.
His artistry is based purely on intuition. “On approaching a clean canvas, I don’t know what I’ll paint upon it. Images are born during improvisation,” he says. Actually, Anatoly’s pictures rarely depict concrete objects; his contours are vague, dissolving in space, lacking objectivity while favouring spiritual thoughts and feelings.
To understand the soul of this painter, we met at his workshop, surrounded by his beloved pictures. While showing us his works, Anatoly answered my questions.
As I understand, all your life has been connected with pictorial art. Why is this? How did your artistic career begin?
I came to art rather late in life. I lived in a village in Russia’s Bryansk Region. One day, I came to a painting studio and was lucky. My teacher was wonderful: Victor Vorobiev graduated from the St. Petersburg Academy with honours.
How did you come to Belarus?
During my service with the army, I had to choose where to study further: in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Intuitively, I felt that St. Petersburg’s Repin Academy was conservative but still chose Minsk — thinking that a local academy would be less conservative. Those thoughts had no grounds but still they guided me. As a result, I entered the institution and began studying. Some time later, my intuitive ideas on freedom in art came true. I could be free. Why am I telling you this? In those days, my friend studied at the St. Petersburg Academy and I often visited him, drawing pictures at the Circle (or Compasses) at night — it was where everyone gathered to draw. I felt then that I was right: I felt more comfortable in Minsk. I could express myself during studies — although many teachers adhered to the Moscow or St. Petersburg school of painting. In general, the atmosphere was different.
What was the major feature of the Belarusian artistic school at that time?
We had very good teachers. They boasted perfect backgrounds, being true painters in their souls. Being emotional, they expressed their qualities in lecturing, while also providing students with the chance to show their ability. They worked sincerely. Our studies followed strict academic rules but, at the same time, I could easily improvise. I was fortunate.
What inspired you to head for artistic freedom?
I loved colours… and love them even now. I always feel excited when I see them. Sometimes, this was to the detriment of my drawing. The St. Petersburg school denied this approach, claiming that drawing must be above all. However, it always happens: a painter who is a colourist in his soul will never be equally good at drawing. It’s a well-known truth. When you paint with broad brushes and strokes, you inevitable damage the drawing. However, I cannot say that I drew badly. I was on the same level as others and my grades were high. I even checked myself against the level of the St. Petersburg school: my teacher Piotr Krokholev let me go to St. Petersburg. I then ‘disappeared’ for a week, drawing in the city on the Neva River.
Shouldn’t the teachers have understood you? Piotr Krokholev, a famous Belarusian artist, painted in a different manner…
He was also a colourist. He understood colours, also drawing with broad strokes. Mr. Krokholev followed the Soviet school of painting when other topics reigned: builders, villagers, workers and military. Of course, there were also lyrical themes but that generation of artists lacked deep inner trials.
Mr. Krokholev and others were probably colourists but they were also realists.
I was also a realist at that time. A peach should be velvet and a pepper should be crippled; I made them such then.
Today, many art lovers prefer to return to our Belarusian artists’ earlier works. They say that, in the 1960s, a more professional school was observed — in comparison to the modern artistry of young painters. They believe that the level of painting from those years should guide the younger generation. Can you compare our modern pictorial art and that observed during the years of your studies? Has so much changed?
We cannot compare the two, as those were different times — just as we cannot compare modernity with the 18th century. I can only say that the school has become weaker. Our former teachers have gone and the succession is not there. Simply put, we lack pictorial art departments at the Arts Academy. We need academic and modern painting — as exists in the Czech Republic for example. There, the local Academy has four departments of pictorial art — as is absolutely correct. We all seek individuality. If you wish to become an academic painter, you choose an academic workshop.
You work in the field of abstract art now. You probably have your own understanding but can you explain the essence of this trend?
I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. While working in the figurative sphere, I also tried to escape its dictates. I tried to shift it towards the pictorial state. Naturally, sooner or later, I would have come to abstraction — or, to be more correct, to objectless pictorial art. What does this mean to me? That I’ve rid myself of the dictate of imposed themes. I’ve learnt to think via the subconscious, which has its own vibrations and links — for numerous different reasons: through sound and taste. My ear sees as well as my eye. I don’t refute any colour; on the contrary, I shift towards them. For me, colours exist freely, speaking of sadness and joy — every emotion and nuance of feeling.
When painting, do you imagine a future audience? Would you like others to understand your ideas? Or are you moving along a subjective and realistic path — drawing those things which are only clear to yourself?
Honestly, I try to ‘hear’ myself. It’s impossible to be understood by all, but perhaps one, two or a dozen may gain understanding. I have many acquaintances who wish to discuss my work and, when this communications occurs, I reveal my path to the audience. This is how ‘my own’ viewers are found — at personal exhibitions. When you organise meetings and round tables, with regularity, you manage to make people who wish to do so understand. Those who do not want to understand simply do not come.
You have ‘your own’ pictorial art at present. With this in mind, is it more difficult for you than for other artists working, for example, with figurative images? Do you feel that it’s not easy for you to find your own audience? Or does any artist have their own audience? Does this worry you?
Of course, every artist has their own audience, whatever their style. Realistic works abound yet we sadly lack true objectless pictorial art. Rather, emasculation is common: rhythm is absent, replaced by colour. It has been a European trend for some time. An artist needs to know themselves well, to define their inner priorities. I know my own: colour! This forms rhythms which then link into systems and trends. However, development is a different matter. You must never stop working if you want to see progress. I’ve transformed over time but do my best to do this organically, without rattling from one side to the other.
If we compare the Belarusian school of pictorial art and the fine arts of modern Europe, we notice that objectless painting is quite common there...
This is what I’m speaking about. You might wish for freedom but it has a price. In Belarus, there are many talented artists, as there are in France, Holland and Belgium. They are well-known, with their own genres and style. They are recognisable and adhere to certain traditions. We had a perfect school and our ability to create academic styled artworks is wonderful. People still explore themselves within this: our, Belarusian, artists.
Do you speak about the school which can train even ordinary pupils to become professionals? Or do you mean bright personalities? How much is an artist’s personality affected by the school of Belarusian pictorial art?
Of course, all our fine arts have their own personalities, although they are few in number. For me, Zoya Litvinova is notable, being mature; she does not simply paint but paints her state of soul, which stands high. She communicates, which is a rare talent. Many lack depth of their inner feeling.
Many collectors are interested in Belarusians artists’ earlier works, created when almost no avant-garde objectless pictorial art existed. Why is this?
There is a simple explanation: those times will never be repeated. The British Museum has long embraced works from every nation and genre. We lack such a museum, although there has been one in the past. Pictures from the 18th century and those created by Dutch masters are being popularly collected these days, as the past is forever gone.
This proves that everything has its season. Do you mean that modern-day artists will also be collected in the future?
They are already being collected. Modern times are not simple in the field of art. An ordinary person can hardly distinguish what is good and what is bad. They need training to understand trends; lacking knowledge, they act intuitively.
When studying at the Arts Institute, did you have a bright style, such as distinguishes today’s Anatoly Kuznetsov?
Of course not; style comes with time... and effort.
Did your teachers understand you?
Where there any who did not?
I was not a dissident. I worked, studied and did my best. There was almost no information about pictorial styles. We had only brochures — like ‘The Ideology of Bourgeois Culture’ — and the trends which supported them. I saw this but did not understand. I don’t view myself as a purely avant-garde painter; there is no need. I’m not turning the world upside down. I feel that I can reveal myself and say something of my own.
What is your attitude towards exhibitions? Is a show an event for you? Would you like to have your own exhibitions? Or are you indifferent?
No. I’m not indifferent. I’ve had many exhibitions and am trying to organise them more often. The trend for visiting such exhibitions is gathering force again, although some halls are so badly lit, you hardly notice what’s on show. For some time, I decided not to exhibit my works but I now believe that an artist needs exhibitions: to help them gain an objective view. Pictures live here [in his studio — editor] — with their artist. At an exhibition, they take on new life. Artists need to assess what should be done to advance, to become more convincing and active. Exhibitions are important for any artist.
An artist spends many hours alone in his studio. What do you usually think of while drawing?
I have many thoughts. I sometimes think of giving up! It’s hard work, with great pressure to succeed. Each fresh canvas presents a new challenge, with much effort required: physical and emotional. Difficult periods occur, when I fail to find the right colours or images. Then, I think of giving up. However, I come to my studio again the next day and start working again — succeeding and winning.
Do your pictures have names?
Of course, being united into series; ‘White Suite’, with figurative works, was my first and has continued through my career, followed by ‘Colouristic Spaces’ and ‘Light Vibrations’. ‘The Valley of Pharaohs’ is quite unusual: I’d never before thought of being eager about the theme of Egypt.
What do their names mean?
‘White Suite’ embraces white canvases and their nuances. Drawing through white colour presupposes a delicate soul. They are small works, which reflect tender feelings. They can hardly be explained in words. Drawing with undertones is a delicate job. It’s a series which has continued through all my life, since I’ve added to it when I’ve felt in the right mood. Time passes and I return to this cycle, when ready again. Everyone has different moods, today and tomorrow. However, there are times when your mood remains almost unchanged. The same trend is observed here as well.
A realistic painter depicts a certain plot or theme but you use colour and other elements to reflect the diversity of our reality. Are these enough for you?
My themes are flexible, with moving rhythms which can relax, intensify or shift. Colour transitions from warm to cold, and vice versa. These govern themselves, with the space dictating its wishes to me. It moves and talks, helping me. Contact is conducted intuitively, with deep and philosophical spaces also existing. There are many such spaces and, when they accumulate, they create a general ‘themed’ canvas.
When did you have your last personal exhibition?
It was organised in 2007, to coincide with my 60th birthday. I usually organise group shows twice a year, in Moscow. With the help of the Muscovites, we set up a gallery of abstract painting in May. I plan to organise my next personal exhibition in 2012, at Minsk’s Palace of Arts.
Have you ever been exhibited in Europe?
When was that and how did it come to happen?
For the first time in my life, I visited Paris; we took part in local exhibitions, through the Nemiga Association. There was a serious reaction to the works.
What are your artistic plans?
There are many. I’m now drawing a series relating to the philosophy of Chinese Lao Tzu (3rd century BC). His ‘Canon of Reason and Virtue’ discusses the perfection of the human soul. Its texts chime with me, as I understand how we find ourselves. I often muse on this. My series is entitled ‘Metaphor of Forgotten Truths’. I’m trying to record texts through painting. It’s not going smoothly. I failed to work on it over the winter, so it is only finished in part and lacks full emotional expression. I need to understand Chinese characters, as it’s impossible to record thoughts by image alone. I plan to find a Chinese person who understands my idea, so we can work jointly.
If you had enough time, what would you paint?
I tend to draw emotional pieces, having only created three realistic works. I often visit lakes and feel close to nature; I never thought I’d come home on arriving in Belarus but this is my place. It inspired me to paint ‘Remembering Kurosawa’. In March, I was sitting beside a lake, by the old reeds. It was snowing but the snowflakes were floating in the air rather than falling. I connected that feeling with Kurosawa. Being a neorealist, he used contrasts. In Belarus, I perceive emotional vibrations not only through colour but hearing and smell.
Would you have received the same inspiration elsewhere?
The colours are different here. I’ve been brought up with them.
I suppose that most of your works are based on your inner feelings and your own imagination. Only a small share is inspired by external objects. Being an artist of objectless painting, what is most important to you?
When nerve endings are connected, they form a united whole. It’s impossible to say for sure why this happens in a particular way. Some ideas are visually inspired but it’s hard to explain their origin. I live and feel, so have many emotions which are a materialisation of my environment and my personal upbringing. Certain things are naturally close to me; I can easily paint trees and houses reflected in water. I draw from nature yet see what others fail to notice, what ordinary people never see.
Are you an optimistic artist?
I don’t think I’m an optimist, though I’m quite positive in my soul.
Do you often correct yourself as you paint?
Of course, always; the result never comes immediately. I’m very demanding of colour. Even if I fail to combine two ideas, I’ll never give up on a painting; I feel obliged to combine them and work spontaneously. A hard process emerges, where I need to ‘switch on’ my consciousness. I may spend an hour without a brush in my hand, thinking. It’s a very useful method. Being an artist is not a profession but a state of being. You must move towards yourself. There is no need to assert yourself; this is a mistake. I don’t wish to be fashionable; I want to be myself. I instruct young artists to follow their own hearts. My teacher once told me, “Pictorial art is a woman who never excuses treason.”
I endured a crisis once, failing to work well — even academically. It lasted for three years. I then destroyed everything I’d created and asked my teacher for advice. “Victor Vasilievich, I don’t know what to do. I’m lost,” I told him. He replied, “Go to the attic and search for where you began.” This was 1979. I then moved to Minsk and began working. I felt where my path should lead.
By Viktor Mikhailov
Cosmos of his soul
[b]Artist Anatoly Kuznetsov places his impressions, associations and moods on canvas. His pictures are inspired by his observations of the world around him. It is born anew in the artist’s soul and wonderful pictures appear. Mr. Kuznetsov does not simply depict his impressions but creates his own world — a true cosmos as yet unexplored. [/b]His artistry is based purely on intuition. “On approaching a clean canvas, I don’t know what I’ll paint upon it. Images are born during improvisation,” he says. Actually, Anatoly’s pictures rarely depict concrete objects; his contours are vague, dissolving in space, lacking objectivity while favouring spiritual thoughts and feelings. To understand the soul of this painter, we met at his workshop, surrounded by his beloved pictures. While showing us his works, Anatoly answered my questions.