'Vechernyaya Moskva (Moscow Evening newspaper)' writes about the artist life of the Russian painter Nikolai Kuzmin and about his personal exhibition ‘Connection of times’
The Moscow Evening Newspaper: ’When I was a young man I spent the night at the station in order to go to the Tretyakov Gallery,’ interview by Evgeny Nekrasov with the artist in the series ’Those who live on a cloud.’.
To us coal is black, sugar is white, but to a cloud inhabitant they contain dozens of tones whose names you cannot imagine.That’s why I’m afraid of painters. There’s a language barrier between us. They either worry us with words that don’t exist, or I feel like a clinical idiot to whom it is necessary to explain ‘This is the church of Basil the Blessed, there’s a village house, here is Ostozhenka Street.
And I, a mortal, went to see Nikolay Kuzmin at his exhibition at the Central House of Artists.His first personal exhibition for nine years – like a certificate of complete incapacity to manage on his own. A touching small button fastened on a collar with no tie, and paintings we’ll talk about later; everything suggested to me that I had come across a cloud inhabitant. No matter how much you want to appear intelligent and an expert, using the obligatory word ‘colour’ in your first question, to me everything happened quite differently.
Generally the public likes it if there is realism, that is to say as if everything has been painted like a postcard.
Some say ‘why such roughness, such a doodle, all in blobs’... Once I started to draw in pencil on a large canvas and my father asked me ‘Are your canvases really big? Go and see the artists at the fair, they have really big ones.’
And at the fair Vrubel, Korovin, and Serov were painting. My father, with his father, went there and had a look at how painters worked - they poured paint into buckets and spread it with huge paintbrushes. That’s what genuine artists do, he said. It’s true, they were really painting with such freedom, and this lived on in me. An artist has to be free.
The ice has been broken and the paintings have their own history. ‘The village house’ tells the story of his parent’s house in Nizhny Novgorod – a brightly coloured house, the house of his childhood, with the reflection of the sun in the windows, but the panes are blind, the shadow pitch black, lying there where it shouldn’t be.
My mother is dead, and my father died long ago.
Are there other people living there now?
My sister. She comes to see me now and again.
You painted this from real life? It seems more like a memory.
I paint everything from real life, but this liveliness is not real life, on the contrary, the liveliness is an impression of real life, my feeling, my imagination... Look at the interior of this house – the photos in the big frames.
And that is you?
That’s me. And there’s an apple. To me it’s the best symbol, the apple. There was once a song: ‘Red apple, the colour of the rose, do you love me or love me not?’ A children’s song... Paris, when you have chosen beauty, what have you given in return? The apple, a symbol of the realisation of beauty. A bird – ardour. Time - pendulum clocks... Now we walk across to the next room, and there stands the English Big Ben. To me it is connected with ‘Pavel Bure’ clocks – I grew up with their sound. In England you can still find cocks in cathedrals, and to us cocks are ‘The tale of the Golden Cockerel’ by Pushkin... It’s surprising how everything is connected. That’s why I’ve called my exhibition ‘Connection of times’.
But how did you land up in England?
That’s the artist’s destiny – the chance of fate. I was painting at the church of South-West, devoted to archangel Michael. A nice church – well all churches are nice. I’m painting. It’s winter. A man approaches, modestly dressed, and stands there without disturbing me. But painting on canvas is a long story. This was for half a day. It was cold, he was frozen. I have the feeling he wants to ask me something, but as I understood later, he doesn’t speak Russian, he’s from Denmark. But he was born in England.
In brief, he saw my paintings and invited me to Denmark and England. His name is Harry, an adjunct professor without much money by western standards, but an interesting man. And Denmark... once again the connection makes sense. Previously I enjoyed reading Andersen, and Harry took me to where the Andersen memorial stands, where one finds the world of tales.
What do you expect to get from this exhibition?
I don’t expect anything in particular. I realize that life is somewhat complicated. I just want to show my paintings at the Moscow Jubilee, the town that raised and brought me up.
How long have you been living in Moscow?
Since 1965, when I went to ‘The Stroganovka Art College’ But Nizhny Novgorod happens to be quite close to Moscow. I went to the Tretyakov Gallery when I was a teenager. You spend the night at the station, wash in the toilets, and go to the Tretyakov Gallery... All painters, of course, like the Tretyakov Gallery. I have liked it since my childhood.
Surely, in your heart of hearts you must be celebrating?
The celebrating was done by my family – my wife and my daughter. One gives through selfishness, when it is given by oneself. It’s the first time I’ve seen so many of my paintings at the same time. In the studio you see one or two paintings, and it’s necessary for an artist to look back from time to time, to see what comes after. I try to figure this out: what is life? Is it possible to embody life in a painting without personal and artistic workmanship, to put it bluntly.
...He smiles with his child-like eyes. As if nothing was more usual than these questions about the secret of the universe. What is life? If in general the answer does exist someone can come and see him, the cloud inhabitant.
By Evgeny NEKRASOV.