The interview for "Helsingin Sanomat"
How has the time times (in practice and in the moods) change since you were a youngster before Russian independency?
You know, artist can always feel free in any circumstances. He can focus on his creative seeking and enjoying his own creativity. It happened I had started my serious Art studies during Perestroyka. So I was developing as an artist same time as the state.
How did you experience Finland when you came here for the first time?
It was in February 1996. I had some Finnish friends that time because I was already doing Sahaja Yoga. I came with my family to visit them. The house was in an Island in the see shore. Everything was covered by clean white snow. I was surprised that a lot of people are doing sport. I could see many ones going for skiing. The impression was very warm and cosy. We lived in a big old building with huge windows with beautiful view on the see. There were many people living together in the house and many guests as well. The atmosphere was hospitable and creative. Also I was impressed how many Finns are doing different kinds of Art.
Does (-or did) Finland ever inspire you for art? For something else?
Certainly, yes. The nature is very similar to the Udmurt Republic where I come from and also Karelia where my wife come from. I knew a bit of Finnish Art before I came to Finland. I had a book of Gallen-Kallella and a book of compilation of Finnish art (especially I liked Helena Scherfbeck). I was using the books for inspiration when I was a student. I remember I made a work after Sibelius music and I was inspired by Gallen-Kalella. Now when I saw more of Finland I find a lot of inspiration in Finish nature as well.
What Finland has given you?
Many friends. Most of them are in Sahaja Yoga. It is a unique opportunity to communicate on various social levels. People are united by spirituals aims and values. The family and social background doesn't matter much in this case. There are a lot of creative people of different age and great qualities in Sahaja Yoga in Finland. I learn from Finnish people a lot.
What Finland and Finns can benefit from neighbors, Russians?
First I would answer about Russians who have to learn from Finns Honesty, humbleness and their attitude to nature. Finns can learn a little bit of spontaneity and flexibility from Russians (2x2 makes not always 4, sometimes more, sometimes less).
Was there anything else in common between Finland and Udmurti Republic than nature? (languages are at least related)
Udmurt people were hunters before Russians came. They lived in forests and enjoyed everything given by nature. I can not give a deep analyze of culture but I think there is something in common in fairytales and stories. I have read only compilation of Udmurt fairytales and Kalevala. Finnish people certainly more civilized because they belong to Western culture.
Could you live here?
It is a provoking question! Yes but after certain time I need to come back to Russia. There must be always some change happening. In Russia we always live on nerves, there is always something shocking happening. One always has to be alert in everyday life. In Finland we have like a vocation from that tense. It is a very secure feeling we have here. But our mentality needs more things happening and we go back to Russia again.
How do you find your jobs abroad?
It is just happening. Some friends invite me for some project. Like teaching Art for instance or doing an exhibition. Then I meet other people who find the idea interesting. So I get next project. Sometimes I make my own suggestions and offer my projects. Generally not all of them are working but I do my best.
Do you still paint just for fun?
If I had not fully enjoyed the painting as a process I couldn't do it. I have spent 10 years for Art education in Udmurt University and Repin Academy of Fine Arts. But art is always fun.
In Russia there is a bit Art competition. There are lots of well trained artists. We still have art traditions and school. The art market is developing in a way that there is no medium level. There are only very expensive ambitious Art galleries and chip kitsch pictures in small salons. Also the tastes are either very highly and professionally developed or undeveloped at all. There is nothing in the middle.
It happened that after the Academy I was involved into design and advertising. This field attracted me very much. So I was for some time not so involved into Art business. I kept teaching Art abroad and selling my works here and there. But I spent more time for design projects.
Now I feel like paying more attention to Art and exhibitions again. I feel inside some new potential and I am going to express it in my art works. My exhibition in Cafe Art represents a few works made in China where I was teaching Art 2 times. I was trying to examine the oriental aesthetic with the European eyes and traditions. That is why in Light series one can see aesthetics of European and American traditions in composition and technique.
The other part is my Finnish impressions. That is a lot of water. I like the Island feeling. You can see boats, water reflections, see and skies, seagulls, ect. These subjects together with the feeling of being united with nature are my inspiration in Finland.
The name of exhibition is In the Mood of Classic. I meant the classical feeling, the feeling of cosyness, the Art works of old masters hanging on the walls giving the feeling of heritage, steadiness, traditions, the beauty of a good taste coming from the times before consuming society.
Why did you like Scherfbeck and Gallen-Callela, what was the "thing"?
Gallen-Callela's heritage attracted my attention 'cause I was at book illustration department that time. He had a lot of illustration to epos Kalevala. We had an artist Bilibin who worked about the same time in very similar style. I used to learn a lot in color and composition from both of them. As for Helena Scherfbeck her painting works are very female. I appreciate the colors, minimalism and perfect selection in her late works and a very special feeling not to be described or explaned that has to be in any art work of a real artist. I appreciate old finnish painters like Albert Edelfelt as well.
The modern finnish art is also interesting. I am very impressed by graphic works by Kuutti Lavonen.
How has it been painting portaraits in germany (elsewhere also)?
It happened that I had some customers invited me for portraiting their families. They were people of a very high social level. Also most of them were a true art lovers. It was a great experience to paint in families for a rich experience of different culture and brining-up. I have learned a lot. Besides I saw in those houses many authentic pieces of Art like genuine prints by Rembrandt and lithografie by Renoir, drawings by artists of Italian Renaissance, oil and water-color painting by Klimt, von Stuck, Burn-Jones and Flemish painters. Certainly it is a challenge to be aware that my works belong to such a collection though it is a private collection.
What kind of people where they?
How do you experience the development in Russia compared to soviet times (travelling working, creating, etc.) in artists life?
It's not a simple question. I would say soviet limitations were good for Russian art. There was a corridor in which the Art was developing into its depth. We have to be grateful to this situation for the traditions had been kept in our Art school. To become an artist one had to get a very high skill level. Also for those who were seeking their ways. They had a certain resistance to overcome. That was giving a push to Art revolutionaries who sacrificed a lot for sake of art but reached very high level. At the moment though the school is still strong it starts loosing. In St.Petersburg Repin Academy of Fine Art has still very high level but in Moscow the criteria of good and bad in Art is not so clear. In general modern artist need art critics but not always skills to make the audience understand and appreciate his ideas. I am more old fashioned. I believe the Art should be self contained, capable of saying all by itself.
What are you thirsty for in life?
Spirituality. At certain moment of my life I have started seeking the truth, the answer to my questions "who am I?", "where am I going to?", "where is everything starts and ends up?". That would be a seeking my way to God, the power that created everything and myself. I believe I have found it. It has become the way of my life. Whatever I do now I am trying to dedicate it to that power of Love that was given to me by self-realization in Sahaja yoga.
What you want to achieve?
Whatever God would give me. I am trying to enjoy the process.
How do you see peoples critics towards Putin? (for example estonias prime minister recently said that "he would prefer democracy in Russia")
I am trying to be above all that jazz. Politicians want power. They can always find a way to explain to everyone and to themselves the aims. There is a certain ways God arranges everything. I would like to see everyone as instruments in that Devine Play. I would like to believe that Putin wants good for the country. But everyone see it in his own way. Russia is a country with different mentality. I am not sure democracy can make it stronger. People need a strong leader there (it was always like that). I don't know how far it can go because there still not very many people with free and open mind. Let's see...
Say more things about Finland (can be honest talk, no compliments needed:-)
I love Finns. They are different. I respect them for they have self-respect. They keep their traditions. They don't take to unwise and distractive things. You can see it even on their TV – nothing bad or dirty. When people pure inside they feel happier. Comparing to Germany people in Finland know how to enjoy life with very simple pleasures like grill, sauna, nature and sport.
Also they are very reliable. Sometimes they don't show emotions and don't give reaction at ones. To Russian mentality it might seem to be slow. But I found out it is because of responsibility they take. If Finns say something one can rely on their word (not always same with Russians whose reaction can be emotional but mean not very much).
Please tell litte more about life in Udmurt. Then how life and possibilies changed. Also about Karelia.
Udmurt republic is a place where I was born. It is situated 1500 km towards Ural – 30 hours by train. The real culture comes from deep forests. All so called Udmurt culture shown in media has influence of post soviet times. Songs composed after soviet Russian composers, they all are kind of the same. I had a chance to hear real music from Udmurt villages recorded on a place. That was really something! Very impressive. Only too much of black magic! Now Udmurtia is a place with growing economics based on oil. It has a lot of oil in it's earth. There are a car factory and they produce the guns as well. The Kalashnikov was born there.
My wife is from Karelia. They learned Kalevala in school even in soviet times. They didn't learn Karelian (kind of Finnish) language though. But she knows all the characters from Finnish epos. When I come to visit her parents I can enjoy the nature similar to Finnish.
You talk about many friends. Tell about friendship between familes.
I will not tell about persons (specially famouse). Just in generall, OK? Please don't give the names!
We have some friends in Sahaja yoga in Finland. It happened we met them first in 1992 when we were traveling to some Yoga event in Romania. We traveled by train and then a few days by bus so we had time to make a good acquaintance. Next we met in a big celebration of Diwaali in Indian style in Moscow in 1993. Some of Finnish friends got married there so were we. It's been 14 yeas this months since then. All couples married that time are living happily together. Of course we meet sometimes, we have so much in common. Not only events in family live, but all of them doing different kinds of art and it is interesting to see and enjoying the growing of each other.
I was invited to teach art there in 2005. It was a beautiful experience. The place I visited was an art college with traditions. The principal is an art lover and collector of old art and handicraft pieces from Min and chin dynasty. The buildings and gardens were arranged also in traditional style. The students have incredible ability for learning new things.
Next year I was invited again for a longer period. I had a chance to see many historical places in Sichuan province. The building where I have painted most of my Chinese works is made in old style. It was a real feeling of touching some deeper level of ancient culture. You can see some of those works in my exhibition. I have exposed them in St. Petersburg and the critics was good.
The Chinese technique of water color painting always inspires me in my water-color painting though I paint different topics. It is pity that it's become a fashion in China to buy oil painting. They are loosing interest to their art heritage.
In European tradition water-color and oil painting are kind of equal. I can't be involved only in one technique. They help me to express myself differently.