Interview with Dmitry Kustanovich for the Internet portal «The Art World»

Please tell us how and under what circumstances do you find motives and images for new works, what inspires you and why?
I've been drawing since I was a kid. More precisely, from early childhood. Therefore, the search for stories has become so natural for me that it is difficult to analyze this process. But I'll try. My perception is already set up to try to draw everything I see. But I don't want to draw everything. Not everything is possible to draw. Therefore, I often measure my desires with my capabilities. But even in the most difficult story I have seen, I try to find exactly what impresses me. And not necessarily — the plot itself or part of the plot. It can be a color, a shape, or something else. For example, air. Or the smell. By and large, I am inspired by everything that the Lord has created. But whether I want to draw it or not is dictated by my personal propensity, which is difficult to decipher. Forgive me for not saying anything «definite». I just can't find the words. What I noticed a pattern in is in the process and frequency of creating the canvas. For example, first I saw something. I was impressed. And best of all, I fell in love. This is the first stage. Then I get over it. I live with it. I remember. And I miss it. And the third stage is the craft itself. Here I analyze how I would paint this or that, whether I can or cannot. But at least a piece of what I saw and what I was in love with, I want to convey. The result may be a completely different painting, which is not related to the primary impression. As a rule, this is often the case. But I know for sure that, for example, having drawn a birch tree, I was originally inspired by a poplar tree. At large, something must «click» inside. And I have no influence on this click.

What is art for you – a reflection of the world or a means of transforming the world?
For me, art is primarily a means of displaying the world through personal perception and possibilities. About the transformation of the world. In my work, I set tasks, as a rule, mainly aesthetic. And I am afraid and do not set myself the task of influencing anyone with my idea. I value my personal freedom very much. And this means that I am very sensitive to the freedom of perception of the viewer.

What kind of experiments in creativity do you accept for yourself?
Only technical ones. I'm afraid to «break» the world. More precisely, its views. I'm afraid of ideas. Conceptual forms. I am afraid of any kind of distortion of God-given beauty. Although I do it involuntarily because of my infirmity. I read somewhere that Levitan cried from the knowledge that he could not convey all this beauty. Probably, it is not necessary. I try to put myself «in my place». And take small things without going large.

I think there is a strong sense of nostalgia in some of your works, especially in rural landscapes. Please tell me, are the huts and overgrown footpaths more likely to be about Minsk? Or about Russia in general?
There are no overgrown footpaths in Minsk. This is a fairly civilized city. But I'm pleased! Yes, nostalgia. The painter cannot work without it. We are painting yesterday. And you need to get in the state of missing this day. But don't stop. After receiving a portion of what you see, try to implement it in your work. And understand that there is nothing random in this world. Everything is providential. And now about my favorite footpaths. I'll have it here unclear and intricate. My mother was born in Leningrad, dad in Karelia. I was born in the city of Minsk. I've never had a village experience. As a child, I was always envious of the guys who talked with admiration about how they spent their time in the village. And then, when I was taken to the dacha or fishing or mushroom picking, or even better, to some village, I could not tear myself away from these sights, smells. Sometimes foreign places became so familiar to me. I don't have a village house, much less a footpath. But if I get the chance, I get in the car, drive out of town and look for these houses and footpaths. Maybe it's genetic. My maternal grandmother was born in a village in Belarus. And my great-great-grandfathers on my mother's side were from the Novgorod region. Or maybe I just like the silence and the light in the window. And I love my small homeland — Belarus, although I happen to come there recently rather rarely. I must admit that I do not share Belarus and Russia. And everything I paint, I combine with the series «Russian». I was born and raised in the Soviet Union. I speak and think in Russian. I was raised on the Russian Peredvizhniki. I listen to Russian music. That's why I love Russia. At large, everything I draw is about Russia, or rather, something Russian. And I love Minsk, because it's my childhood.

How did moving to St. Petersburg affect your creativity? What new themes and stories appeared after moving to St. Petersburg?
In the long run, moving to Saint—Petersburg «mobilized» me. My native Minsk, like everything else, was relaxing. And then, I didn't feel like I had moved to some other culture. Minsk is the capital of the former Soviet republic. And for me, it's part of Russia. Russian is the language we all speak, in Russian culture we were brought up. And even more so, my mother was born in Leningrad. I can't say that I went to another country. St. Petersburg is a city for artists. It seems to me that Peter I designed it this way. It's all about culture.

Maybe I'm just mistaken, but it seemed to me that the genre of the portrait is less close to you than the others. And the genre of self-portrait. Please tell me what this is about, if it's not because of my ignorance, of course.
I always painted portraits. They are in the collections of my family and friends. Sometimes I exhibit them. Just recently, two of my portraits were sold: «Vasily Shukshin» and «The Old Man in the knitted hat». But, as you correctly noted, this genre is very rare in my work. First, I treat the human image very carefully, which means that I paint for a long time. Admittedly, it can be annoying. Secondly, I do not see anything in my portrait works that would be interesting to the viewer. I have no new discoveries here. Thirdly, due to the short temper and hotness of my nature, and therefore the same technique of execution, I miss very important moments in the face of a person. Agree, after all, carelessness to the human face, and therefore to the human personality is inappropriate. And fourthly, I still have no art education, so there is no ease in execution in this genre, which is acquired through classes that I missed.

On the site, I saw the tab «Personal family Collection». By what principle were these particular works selected for this collection?
The family's private collection is formed purely according to my personal perception of the work. They are technically no better or worse than the works I sell. But I leave those that, in my opinion, are more interesting. In addition, I give the right to choose a picture as a gift for birthdays and other holidays to my family and friends. And then there are the works that are particularly precious to me. And what «precious» means, I find it difficult to decipher.

How do you feel about a situation where the viewer's interpretation of the image is significantly different from your own, the author's, or even contradicts it.
I calmly, normally treat such situations. This is natural. Even wonderful. We're all so different. We look at everything so differently. Earlier, when I was young, I thought that I was doing something wrong if the viewer's opinion did not coincide with mine. And as I grew older, I realized that it was fine. But there should be no extremes. For example, when I draw, what comes to my mind and requires the same understanding from others, this is already a degree of intolerance. I always remember my father's advice: «Don't look for any worse than yourself». Using this question, I repeat that the canvas is not a place to throw neuroses and cockroaches out of your head, the artist must love the viewer, and if not love, then at least respect. The game of misunderstood geniuses imposed by modern art, I think, has already passed. A good artist will always be understood. To one degree or another. And to flaunt his incomprehensibility is simply to flaunt his ineptitude. An artist can't draw for everyone, that's understandable. But he should always have his own circle, even if it is small. But I'm sorry, I got off the subject. And, allow me, the second extreme is the desire to please everyone and everything. This is already commerce, which has nothing to do with art. In art, the model of «personality for personality» should be very well understood. The personality of the artist must not offend the personality of the viewer. And the viewer's personality should be a little condescending to the artist. But, I emphasize, a little bit. After all, we work for people. And the bread we eat is not illusory, but real. So we should give real bread, without the taste of chosenness.

As far as I understand, you tend to think in whole series. Let me find out how this happens — first you set up a programme, and a whole series of works on a particular theme is born, or does it come out as if by itself?
Take, for example, the series «Urban Rains». A very inaccurate image of the city. Why is it popular? Because in these works, it seems to me, there is a reason for «mulling over». Roughly speaking, blurring, inaccuracy, whatever you want. But in any case, failure to follow some kind of confident purpose. When I finish the job, I realize that I «didn't hit it». The second one, too. The third and so on. And it was this «walking» around the goal that defined my series. Roughly speaking, like a multi-part movie that doesn't have the last episode. The endless walking «around and around» determined this seriality. My decision to choose this form was probably endorsed by Monet in his «Stacks». Any true artist will say that he will never hit the target. And the interest in the object remains. It's infinite. You can say that I have works that «did not hit the target», but are not combined or not included in any series. It means in them I said everything I wanted, or, more precisely, I could say. Or else. The very name of the series no longer suggests the possibility of» speaking out « with one work. For example, the series «Russian». This theme is inexhaustible.

Do you listen to people in the art world (curators, art historians, gallery owners, dealers) about what your painting should be, or do you focus solely on your beliefs?
Yes, I'm heeding. To be more precise, I force myself to heed. But I try to be reasonable. It's very easy to lose your personality in art. But you need to check yourself on the opinions of people, notably specialists. I need advice. The smart tips. I ask for them. But again, very carefully.

Questions were asked by art historian, lecturer in Saint-Petersburg University of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Maya Dronik, Saint-Petersburg.