Born in 1972, in St Petersburg, Artem now lives and works in Aarhus, Denmark. He studied at the Academy of
Fine Arts in St. Petersburg (1989-96), specializing in Concept Design. In 1999 he moved and eventually settled in
Denmark. In recent years he has had solo exhibitions at X-Power Gallery, LA, USA (2009); Gallerie Beatrice
Binoche, Saint-Denis, Reunion (2008); Kirsten Kjaers Museum, Frostrup, Denmark (2008); Gallery NB, Roskilde,
Denmark (2003, 2002) and has participated in group exhibitions at Den Frie, Copenhagen, Denmark (2008, 2007).
He is further engaged in an ongoing collaboration with the Architectural Design and Interior Firm, R+S Workshop.
Almost ironically it would be his conservative educational background at the Art Academy in Russia, stressing
traditional rules of composition, , and perspective, which would allow Artem to transgress and finally
surpass these more rudimentary aesthetic concerns. In this sense, it is his mastery of techniques, which liberates
him from them, and you see in his work a constant attempt to avoid any complacency or routine by introducing
elements such a circular composition, unexpected movement, and skewed perspectives. He is embracing the
random, and let himself be guided by intuition, giving to each piece a distinct character and a sense of constant
development in his œuvre as a whole.
In recent years you can observe Artem’s art becoming increasingly
abstract and he himself explains that he is striving towards a sense of minimalism: “I want to say as little as
possible, as clearly as possible”. This concern of clarity stems from a wider critique of an overproduction of content.
His art should not be seen as political nor authoritative, rather he is drawn towards the particularities from our
material reality, and investigates these visual phenomena by translating them into his own artistic language. He
puts himself in opposition to a trend of immateriality by directing his focus towards the physical data which form our
world, stressing how the first step to knowing ourselves stems from an in-depth understanding of, and familiarity
with, the content surrounding us.
Artem is creatively hyper-productive and when he is not painting, he is
expressing himself through music, writing or performance. He sees creative expression not as a counter-part to life,
but rather as an integral part of it. He is always interested in hearing about new possibilities, that being
collaborations or conversations.
INTERVIEW BY ELVIRA HØJBERG
Let’s begin with the book. Ever since I’ve met you, you have been very hesitant to speak about your work, and yet you have agreed to publish a book about it. What are the motivations behind this decision?
I think the main point is to archive, to bring together almost 15 years of work in an organized manner. But also, to try to understand what the impact of all of it is. It is very interesting for me to hear what you think, what kind of effect my paintings might have.
Could you talk about how you feel about someone like me, coming as an outsider, to interpret your work? Do you recognise your work in the writing or does it feel foreign to you?
It fascinates me that it can activate this stream of thoughts. You write something that I’m not aware of, and when I’m reading it, it is as if I am reading about someone else. I think on one hand I identify with my work, on another I don’t. I’ve said it before, but you can discuss the work as much as you want, it will still remain the same. It is like a closed unit, when it is finished, it is finished, it has a life of its own.
So you have never worried about being misunderstood?
No. Being misunderstood implies being understood. I mean, any opposition, any antonym, implies the existence of the other. We are in this sense living in complete duality. So no, not at all.
Flipping through the book, it seems as if you have been moving through very different styles. Is there an overall thread which describes your development?
Boredom. I think it is very much driving by boredom. At some point you’ve just had enough. You’ve been eating oats for days and you begin to crave something else. That’s why there is a change. I don’t know how obvious it is though. If you hold the paintings together, they don’t really contradict each other. Many of the paintings have more than 10 years between them, but they feel very harmonious to me.
To me, it intuitively seems as if you are slowly moving away from a more traditional, figurative style towards a style of abstraction. Is this trend accidental or is it something you are conscious about?
I have never thought of it. You experience certain things at a certain age, you grow older, not only physically, but through all kinds of experiences. Right now, I am fascinated with the very simple expression of things. Human figures are very complex matter I think, and everything that can be done with them has already be done, at least for now.
Do any themes reoccur?
Yes, absolutely. You can certainly see my fascination with transportation, all kinds of transportation. Then, various stages of despair, and ecstasy to some extent as well. In general, you see the exploration of very extreme states, especially in my earlier work. I am not so interested in that anymore. I tend to focus on the very simple, everyday life things, to find the expression within the banal. You don’t really have to invent anything, everything is already there in the world around you. The material world is big enough for you to explore. I am a materialist. I mean, I like meta-physics, but I like simplicity, I value that very much.
Many of your paintings have sexual references - either explicitly as in your first group of paintings, or implicitly as in the last chapter where you talk about the movements of penetration. To what extent are you conscious of these sexual undertones?
Penetration is not purely sexual, it is form of exchange, things being influenced by one another. And it happens all the time, on all kinds of levels, in the sky, in the woods, everywhere. We are constantly in a process of exchange, from the very beginning in the form of heat energy. There is this urge to communicate, to influence one another I think. With work, it is exactly the same: You blend things. Penetration is not a sexual act necessarily, there are so many other aspects to it.
From talking to you, it seems that the artistic process is very intuitive to you…
Yes! I was raised by women, surrounded my women, I slept in the same room as my great grandmother until I was 22, we slept together in the same 20 m2. I think it explains my intuitive process. I wish I could balance it with rationality, because I am also a very rational person, but I can’t say that I have found the recipe yet.
How do you practically proceed them? Do you paint motives straight away or do you sketch them first? Do you develop them in your head, on paper, or on the canvas?
All of those, plus many others. You exercise your experience, and you do that in many, many ways. What you aim for is to talk clearly. Like when you write, you have rules of language which decide the order of the words. In painting it is not exactly the same, but there are structures, and these structures can be very messy or very clean. I strongly believe in a clean structure, I am a puritan in that way.
When do you know that you have arrived at a clean structure? That the piece is done so to speak?
You go through a process and you make innumerous mistakes and detours and finally you arrive somewhere. And you say ‘right, I’ve made all of those mistakes, and all of those detours and I am very satisfied with this experience, so I’ll leave it right here.’ The only thing you can take with you is an experience, so you keep on experimenting until you accomplish that experience, until it has actually happened. It sounds absolutely trivial but that is the process: You process until you are satisfied, until you are ready to digest whatever is there for you to digest.
The past 2 years I have not been able to finish anything, everything I do now looks like an exercise to me.
Why do you think that is?
I change, my motivations change as well. Before, many things were done out of anxiety, sparked by very strong feelings. Today I feel much more, not calm, but, I am no longer interested in extremism. I probably stopped being a terrorist. That is how I would qualify myself then - as a terrorist. I was doing terror, and I don’t do that anymore.
Do you think you need terror or strong emotions to produce art?
I don’t think that you can completely avoid strong emotions, but you do not necessarily have to bring them to your work. For a man full of energy though, it is a very accessible source.
I want to speak a little bit more about the moment where you select an object to paint. I speak at some point in the book about the idea of an intention – how our brain naturally selects something amongst the million different, possible intakes around us. I can imagine that for a painter this process is even more attuned. Is there anything specific which draws you to objects or motives?
You know the paintings with the lemons. It was over Christmas and I had just finished working on something and I was trying to think of what was next. Leaning over the kitchen table there was this vase of lemons, and I saw it from this particular angle, straight from above, and I was really fascinated with that perspective. It was just so obvious what I had to do, it was very simple, I just took it and put it on the canvas. I didn’t invent anything, it was one of those situations where you act entirely as a medium. And it feels really good, because there is no ‘you’ in it, no ego, you just interpret. It wasn’t exactly like hearing a voice, but just something, nothing to do with me - I was just knew what to do, and I did it.
I wrote something about that, how we like to think of ourselves as shaping the world..
Fuck that shit! Just give room, the world will shape itself, no problem.
Yes exactly, instead, you could say that the world is imposing itself on us. It sounds a little bit like what you were describing.
Exactly, it is the greatest relief you can experience as an artist. You are not trying to dominate, you work because you want to be liberated from your own domination. Much too often we act like capricious children - “I want this, I want that, I don’t like this” - and that really doesn’t interest me. It is not about doing what you want, no one is interested in that. Most of the time you don’t even know what you want yourself!
This dedication to the motive seems very indicative of your style. And yet, you have told me that certain moments in your life have come to influence your paintings. Could you say that all of your paintings are autobiographical in a way?
Certainly. You have access to a form of big diary, but the task is still to remove yourself. I mean, you experience things, but more as an observer.
It seems as if sometimes, when you look back over your paintings, you see things you didn’t realise were there when you first painted them.
The two airplane paintings, for example, the first one, ‘My boing goes home’, was made after five months without a woman, and when we managed to produce a child, the second one, the one with the parachute, was made. And I overheard a friend interpret them to his wife. He was telling her, “So look now here what he does, first he paints airplanes with dicks and as soon Rambo is born he is putting parachutes on top of everything.” Honestly, at first I thought it way too obvious, but I realized that he was right. You think of yourself as something special, but see how predictable you are! (laughs).
Looking through your different phases of paintings, are there any which you feel closer to or which represent you more?
I think that Triple Mickeys Arriving is a decent piece. it took me 1.5 months to paint and it was just easy. There was no conflict, I was just moving along with the painting. Technically, I didn’t come across a single difficulty, and I think that is quite remarkable because it means that you are on the top of your game. I felt as if I was dealing with some higher grounds, and I think I dealt with it well.
Can you talk about any future projects you have in mind, or which direction you could see your painting going from here?
I would like to go to bigger formats. I want to make paintings bigger and bigger and bigger, so that no single private house can contain it. I don’t want it to become a decorative element of interior. Painting has in many ways become a part of interior design and I am absolutely not interested in that. Décor is linked to decay, I think they go well together. I was always very conscious of doing independent pieces, work that is not seeking interior, that are strong and sometimes uncomfortable. I work very consciously for the museum space, where all the focus is given to the painting, not the interior realm. I also think that I am returning to gravity. I think that is often what is lacking from contemporary painting - there is no gravity, everything is cosmos, everything is free to go right, left, up and down. As said, I am a materialist. I have been in cosmos for some years now, but I want to explore gravity now. So, I think that is my mission if you want to put it like that, to bring the gravity back.