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Yuriy Ushakov: The Question of Completeness

BY THE RUSSIAN ARK |  NOV 15, 2020

The Russian Ark  Do you remember your first encounter with art? 

Yuriy Ushakov  I don’t remember my first encounter but at home there were always paintings by my parents, books on artists with beautiful reproductions. I grew up with a special attachment to a volume on Pieter Bruegel.

RA  Where did you spend your childhood? Did it influence your artistic practice? 

YU  I spent my childhood on the move around the Irkutsk region. I remember Lake Baikal very well, even now I go there often. There are so many cool shades of colour in Siberian nature, and I might have absorbed them unconsciously. 

RA  What excites you the most in the painting process?

YU  What is fascinating in the painting process is the process itself: from preparing the tools to cleaning the palette at the end of the session. Nothing compares to the excitement of that first hour in front of the easel: you are so carried away by the motive (or model) that you hardly even look at your canvas. This is when you either make it or break it. 

Artwork © 2020 Yuriy Ushakov

RA  Which great masters paved the way for you and influenced the way you think about your art?

YU  The art of many artists created a universe that we can see through, work in and draw inspiration from. As simple as it is to praise the grandeur and importance of this universe, it is difficult for me to single out particular names, let alone call myself their follower. In the beginning, you are enchanted by certain masters, then learn about and are influenced by others – it’s always changing. Next you dig deeper, you discover the teachers who influenced your teachers, and this can go on ad infinitum. Yesterday I looked at Bonnard, today I am delighted with Braque, tomorrow I will rediscover El Greco. You can always find something new or rediscover the old. 

Undoubtedly, the influence of the master Yuri Kalyuta is important. Under his guidance, I learned how to notice art in life and life in art. To look at the masterpieces of the past through the eyes of an artist, to be inspired, and to fall under their charms. 

RA  What is “good taste”?

YU  Taste might be natural – a person's innate ability to see beauty, patterns and orderly proportions in the world at large. But it also may be acquired – a kind of erudition, say, in the field of art. These two varieties – natural and acquired – are like two ingredients that are mixed and matched in every person, defining his or her taste. Which of these combinations is considered to be “good taste” is a highly subjective matter. 

In my mind, “good taste” should always include natural taste as the first ingredient, flavoured with erudition not only in the field of TV advertising.

"Nothing compares to the excitement of that first hour in front of the easel: you are so carried away by the motive (or model) that you hardly even look at your canvas. This is when you either make it or break it."

— YURIY USHAKOV

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Copyright © Yuriy Ushakov

RA  Which painting you could look at the whole life without getting tired?

YU  I would go for Matisse. Any of his still lifes. Goldfish, if I must choose.

RA  How do you understand that a painting is finished?

YU  The question of completeness is among the most difficult. One may never be certain. I usually stop working when I consider my first impression expressed and any further work to be impractical.

RA  What is the hardest part about painting?

YU  To maintain concentration. To stick to one particular vision and reveal it in all its clarity.

RA  What is “beauty”? Can it be objective?

YU  The first part of the question is as difficult to answer as the second part is easy. I'll start with the second: Obviously not. Beauty cannot be objective, hence the difficulty defining it. Some believe beauty is best expressed in Sandro Botticelli's paintings, while others see it in Francis Bacon's portraits. Beauty is one of the simplest yet most inexplicable concepts. 

Creativity is a desire to express beauty. Each artist through his or her work shows an attitude towards beauty. These various definitions of beauty suggest that despite its seeming simplicity, it is such an enormous subject that everyone, even those who think to capture it completely, can only convey it from their specific vantage point. 

RA  If you could look over the shoulder of any great artist at work, who would it be?

YU  Often, looking at great paintings, I ask myself: "How did he do this?" But being able to look at the process would not provide answers. I would like to know, rather, "What made him do this?" And if there were the opportunity to look into an artist's mind, I would look into Matisse’s.

THE RUSSIAN ARK

HIGHLIGHTS

RA  A painter is a composer or a musician? 

YU  At first glance, an artist is neither a composer nor a musician, but parallels can be drawn. 

An artist, like composer, invents each of his creations. At the same time, an artist who paints from life is akin to a musician who plays from a given score: neither recreate mechanically, but instead interpret the scores, offer their own take.

Like a musician, an artist is a performer. Like a composer, the results of his creative effort is a unique artwork.

RA  Should an artist be hungry? 

YU  Should an artist be hungry? He should not. But can he be? Certainly.

Artwork © 2020 Yuriy Ushakov

RA  Would you mind sharing with us one fond memory from the Repin Art Academy days?

SR  Many memories associated with the Academy are full of warmth and gratitude. I would not know which one to choose.