Explaining the principles of his creativity, Minsk artist Anatoly Kuznetsov invites us to his workshop, to view his inner circle of pictures
I know that you moved from Russia; how do you come to be in Belarus?
While serving in the army, I wondered whether to eventually go to St. Petersburg or Moscow. I chose Minsk, studying at the Art Institute, with no regrets. I felt comfortable in Minsk, where I had the chance to express myself. The teachers had mostly studied in Moscow and St. Petersburg but the general atmosphere was different.
What induced you to aspire to creative freedom?
I’ve always been fascinated by colour; it excites me. At times, this has been to the detriment of my work — as the St. Petersburg school would say. If you are naturally drawn to colour, your work lacks ‘fine’ quality, although this is not true of using a wide brush. I cannot say that I painted badly, as I painted like other artists and always received good marks. I measured myself by the level of the St. Petersburg school. My teacher, Piotr Krokholev, allowed me to go to St. Petersburg, on the River Neva, where I painted for a week.
Today, you see non-figurative painting as being more meaningful to you. How do you explain this?
It was a long journey that was inevitably heading towards abstraction or, rather, to non-figurative painting. I learnt to think subconsciously. My ear can see too. I still use colour actively, allowing it to float freely and speak: of grief, and pleasure, and all the nuances of feeling.
Do you imagine your audience, and aspire for them to understand your intentions?
In truth, I try to hear myself. If I feel my own response, others will too. Not everyone, but some, will understand. I have many acquaintances who discuss this notion and have told them my stance before.
Being unlike other artists, is it harder for you to find ‘understanding?
Unfortunately, today, there’s little non-figurative painting. There is emasculation, with no rhythm or colour, as has been evident in Europe for a long time. Artists need a vast range of knowledge and should know their own priorities. I do perfectly: colour, colour and colour! It creates rhythm, which becomes a system and directions. To maintain your own impetus, you should work constantly.
Was your vivid style already in evidence at the Art Institute?
Time and work evolve your style.
Did your teachers understand you?
And were there those who did not understand?
I was not a dissident; I worked hard, studied, tried. There was almost no information on painting styles. We simply had brochures with titles like ‘Ideology of Bourgeois Culture’, expressing certain directions. I saw these but I did not understand at that time. I do not consider myself to be purely avant-garde, as I don’t turn things upside down. I only try to manifest something of my own.
Anatoly Kuznetsov likes vast areas: sometimes his canvases need large space at the exhibition
What’s your attitude towards holding exhibitions? Are they a great event or you are indifferent?
I’m not indifferent. I used to have many exhibitions; then, the exhibition halls became empty. They are again being put in order, although I often think there is a lack of illumination to view works. Exhibitions are vital for artists, to allow them to take stock of their image. You see your work in a new light, which helps you progress. Every artist needs exhibitions.
Artists spend many hours in their studio. What do you think about while working?
Many things. It sometimes crosses my mind to give up because, as a rule, it’s a struggle to make a good picture. You begin each canvas as if for the first time. For the picture to establish itself you must work hard, physically and morally. Frequently there are difficult periods: the colour won’t work well, or an image won’t take shape. You think that maybe it’s better to drop it but, the next day, you enter the workshop and try again, this time ‘winning’.
Do your pictures have names?
Certainly. I have whole cycles. ‘White Suite’ is one I’ve been working on all my life. It began with figurative works. ‘Colouristic Spaces’ an ‘Vibrations of Light’ followed, but the most unexpected is ‘Valley of Pharaohs’. I never imagined creating works on an Egyptian theme.
What do the names of these cycles refer to?
‘White Suite’ has white canvases, with slight nuances. If you paint through the white, it creates a delicate effect, with tender sensations. You see a sensual beginning, although it’s difficult to explain. Why have I continued with this cycle all my life? There are periods when you are ready to work and others when you don’t paint anything. Time passes and you return to an idea, feeling ready. Moods shift with passing days. You may feel differently tomorrow than you do today, or have a period when you sustain a particular mood.
If someone works in a realistic manner, they reflect on a certain event via a plot. You simply use colour and other elements to reflect the diversity of reality. Is this a challenge?
My plots are flexible, with movement and rhythm, straining on the surface, the relaxing, in flux. Colours pass from hot to cold, and from cold to hot. I work within a concept of space, which is more than spots or stains. They move and talk. They make contact at an intuitive level, deep and philosophical. Those spaces accumulate, creating a theme.
Pictures from ‘Valley of Pharaohs’ cycle are the author’s reflection on the secret of eternal life
What are your creative plans?
I have many. I’m painting a cycle connected with the philosophy of Laozi of China, who wrote ‘Way and Perfection’: a conversation about the perfection of the human soul. It speaks to me and inspires me. My cycle is called ‘Metaphor of Forgotten Truths’. I write through painting.
If you had time, what would you create?
I paint on emotional themes and often go to the lakes, to feel close to nature. I never imagined that Belarus would have this effect on me, making me feel that it was my place. I painted ‘In Memory of Kurosawa’ while sitting near a lake, looking at old reeds while the snow hung in the air. It made me think of neorealist Kurosawa, who worked with contrasts. Belarus allows me to perceive emotional vibrations connected not only with colour but with hearing and smell.
Could another place have the same effect?
Colours are special here and have helped me to elevate my work.
I assume that most of your works come from your imagination, from within. Do only some small parts reflect external sources?
It’s difficult to explain. Some ideas come through sight, while some cannot be explained. Everyday life brings many experiences, which inform our thinking. I paint trees, houses and reflections in water. I paint from life, but I try to see what others do not.
Are you an optimist?
I don’t think so but I am positive by nature.
Do you ever make corrections to your works?
Certainly, and through necessity, since not everything can come right the first time. I’m capricious with colour. I begin spontaneously but there comes a time when you have to try and look more objectively. I may sit for an hour or two, thinking and looking, without painting. It’s very useful. Being an artist is not a trade but a condition. You must examine yourself rather than aspiring to be in the public eye. I don’t want to be fashionable; I want to be my own self. I always tell young people this: follow your heart.
His creativity is intuitive, since he assures us that he approaches a canvas with no idea of what will come; images appear ‘in the course of improvisation’. Kuznetsov’s pictures seldom have an obvious subject, with contours shaded and dissolving in space. He works beyond the constraints of realism, looking deeper, into experience, thoughts and feelings. Such is his choice.
By Victor Mikhailov