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Ilya Zorkin: Choosing An "Easy Path" of an Artist

BY THE RUSSIAN ARK |  APR 28, 2021

1. A FAILED GENERAL AND A SUCCESSFUL ARTIST

Until a certain moment, Ilya Zorkin had absolutely no interest in painting. He studied programming, played accordion, and guitar. Descending from a military dynasty, his plan was to join a military school. It’s only when it was time to enlist that Ilya realized that all those military drills and marching in line were not his thing. He explored alternatives and ended up declaring a major in mathematics.

"And then one day, I bought a book How to draw a portrait of a friend in 5 minutes. I followed the instructions and was quite pleased with the results, in spite of my obviously novice skills in sketching (Ilya chuckles); I thought to have uncovered my natural talent and decided to change my major from mathematics to arts. At the entry exams, we had to paint a still life and a plaster head from life. I did not have any experience doing that, so before the exam I asked a couple of friends to give me a blitz course. The passing score was 51 points, and I magically scrapped 52."

Ilya laughs. As we concluded our conversation, we were utmost impressed by the fine balance between his serious and hardworking attitude of a professional artist and a lively sense of humour, as well as self-irony he employs when talking about life’s whimsical turns.

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Ilya Zorkin at his workshop, Saint-Petersburg Art Academy, Russia, 2021. Artwork © Ilya Zorkin. Photo: © Madina Murtazina for The Russian Ark Gallery

"I sacrificed many things when I started studying arts."

—ILYA ZORKIN

2. THE PATH IS EASY... IF YOU WORK HARD

“Usually, I start working at 9-10am and finish by 5pm. It depends on the lighting conditions. You generally don’t get enough sunshine here in St. Petersburg. Well, in summer you do, during the white nights you can paint for much longer. At my first job, I had to get up at 6am, take shifts, it was boring and not appealing to me. So, I decided to take the ‘easy path’ of an artist instead.”

 

Ilya smiles because he knows too well that a career of an artist is one of the toughest, filled with hard choices and sacrifices.

Ilya Zorkin Thirsty pieces of silver oil on canvas The Russian Ark Gallery buy original art historical religious painting

Ilya Zorkin, Thirty Pieces of Silver, oil on canvas, 200 × 200 cm. Artwork © Ilya Zorkin

"I sacrificed many things when I started studying arts. I had to sell my car to pay the first year tuition fees, ended up moving back in with my parents, and renting out my own apartment. I was among the oldest students and among the least experienced ones. Everyone else that came out of the specialized art schools knew a lot more about proportions and perspective. To get to their level, I had to work twice as hard. So, I immediately picked up a very intense work schedule.

 

After 3 years of studies, I became even firmer in my belief that art was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. In this case, I thought, one should learn from the best, so I dropped out for the second time in order to enter the St. Petersburg Art Academy."

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Ilya Zorkin at his workshop, Saint-Petersburg Art Academy, Russia, 2021. Artwork © Ilya Zorkin. Photo: © Madina Murtazina for The Russian Ark Gallery

To say that this institution sets a high entry bar is to say nothing, only the top 5 percentile from a highly competitive selection of applicants are accepted to the St.Petersburg Art Academy, a classical art instution founded in 1757 and still maintaining the finest art traditions.

"I remember coming to the open house, thinking to myself that I would never be able to get in."

But Ilya not only got in, he graduated top of his class, receiving a gold medal from the Russian Academy of Arts, an award that continues the pre-revolutionary traditions of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Aivazovsky, Bryullov, Repin, and other prominent Russian painters, who defined the classical school of painting of the 19th century, have all received this award in the past.

Ilya Zorkin Saint Petersburg Art Academy Oil Painting Moscow The Russian Ark Gallery

Ilya Zorkin defending his graduation project, Saint-Petersburg Art Academy, Russia, 2019. Artwork © Ilya Zorkin. Photo: © Roman Pankov

3. TALENT IS OVERRATED

Ilya's approach to work and study is governed by a meaningful precision, concentration and focus.

 

For him, even talent has nothing ephemeral about it: “Talent is just an ability to learn meaningfully and apply that knowledge. If you are a quick learner, you can pick up a lot: the foundations of the academic drawing, how to grasp proportions, how to combine colours. But if at any stage you think that you have nailed it, then you will start going downhill from there.”             

Ilya Zorkin Portrait of a beautiful blond lady Sofia oil on canvas The Russian Ark Gallery buy original art
Ilya Zorkin Portrait of a beautiful blond lady Sofia oil on canvas The Russian Ark Gallery buy original art

Ilya Zorkin, Sofia, oil on canvas. Artwork © Ilya Zorkin

"Some people say 'You don’t have to learn to become an artist, just express yourself.' It is a big problem actually. At the Art Academy, unlike some leisure courses, they won’t teach you how to draw a beautiful picture from a photo.

 

The entire 6-year academic curriculum is focused on bringing you to a level where you can paint from your imagination and compose your own large-scale paintings on any subject and of any complexity. Isn’t that called freedom?"

Ilya Zorkin in his workshop, Saint-Petersburg Art Academy, Russia, 2021. Artwork © Ilya Zorkin. Photo: © Madina Murtazina for The Russian Ark Gallery

"The academic curriculum is focused on bringing you to a level where you can paint from your imagination and compose your own large-scale paintings on any subject and of any complexity. Isn’t that called freedom?"

—ILYA ZORKIN

Text © The Russian Ark. Artwork © Ilya Zorkin. Photo © Madina Murtazina for The Russian Ark. All rights reserved