Interview by Matthew Cencich
USk Victoria (Canada) correspondent [flickr]
Dmitry Samarov was born in Moscow in 1970 and has lived in the U.S. since 1978. He attended several art institutions between 1989 and 1994 including Parsons School of Design and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He currently works as a cab driver in Chicago.
I've noticed your drawings and paintings on your flickr site and enjoy them very much. How did you get started as an artist? How long have you been drawing and painting?
I don't remember a time when I wasn't making marks of one sort or another on a flat surface. At 13 or 14 my parents started to take me to private art classes with a theatrical set designer named Alexander Okun. He taught me a lot though it wasn't for any lack of effort on my part not to listen or cooperate. At 16 I started going to life-drawing classes and count that as the true beginning of a serious involvement with art. For whatever reason, drawing the nude model was transformative, it taught me that engagement with the seen world was going to be my path. Those charcoal drawings got me into art school, though I was still doing awful teen-angst expressionist pictures at the same time.
After an awful semester at Parsons School of Design in New York, where a professor pronounced me 'unteachable', I transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Most of my time there was spent in figure painting and drawing classes; this rendered me second-rate in the eyes of the tastemakers there, who'd typically praise technique then ask when I'd paint something meaningful. I always thought that there'd be a lifetime to paint pictures of deep, dark content and that school was a time to attempt to actually learn something. The governing spirit there indicated that we were already artists and that the school's job was to nurture our fragile egos enroute to success in the Art World. I knew this was ludicrous and wasn't surprised or disappointed at what followed graduation.
The past 16 years have been filled with meaningless day-jobs taken in order to continue painting. Nine of these years have been spent driving a taxi, first in Boston, now in Chicago. It's provided me with a way to look at the city and it's people unattainable from other vantage points. The flexibility of the working hours has allowed me to get pictures painted. The latest series of pictures has actually been of taxis, painted out at the airport and the cab garage; their natural habitat, so to speak.
The strong connection your sketches have with your work as a cabbie is very noticeable, and there is an immediacy in most of your work. As viewers, it feels like we’re right there with you. It seems that you have a sketch pad and pen as well as paper and paints beside you at all times, is this the case?
Well, you certainly are there as much as a viewer can be, or that's the intent anyway. I always have a sketchbook with me at least and lately, with the cab paintings, it's been a box of paints and a watercolor pad as well. What always draws me in is the interaction with what's seen; without that tension there's little excitement and decisions start to feel random and inconsequential. Comparing what's before the eyes to what's on the paper is like a built-in bullshit detector; the view will not allow lies or excessive flights of fancy, it demands acknowledgment and response. I don't mean to suggest that slavish attempts to reproduce every detail is called for; marks on paper are necessarily an abstraction. All that can be created is a sort-of visual shorthand that allows a viewer to be reminded of some small aspect of the world they themselves know.
I’m aware of your sketching, watercolour, and ink wash paintings. Do you do any other type of creative work? Also, are there any artists that you particularly admire or that perhaps influenced your own approach?
In terms of visual art, I also use charcoal, pencil, gouache, and oil paint. There are two illustrated series of stories that are ongoing: Hack, which is about cab life, and Dive, which is about my year of bartending. There's also my website, which has taught me what little I know about computers, mostly during the many times I've wrecked it and banged my head against the wall before finding whatever little coding mistake that made the whole thing collapse.
As far as influences, it's always difficult to narrow it down, so I'll mention some painters that've come to mind lately. Robert De Niro Sr. whose brushstrokes simultaneously described and existed as their own thing. Without painting every shingle on a roof or every eyelash on a woman's eye, he'd put the you by that house, looking right at her. Giorgio Morandi for doing so much with such a limited vocabulary, showing how a sustained concentration and attention to very slight variation can open a whole world while barely leaving one's room. Euan Uglow for the way he obsessively stared at and measured all those models for all those years, paradoxically coming up with pictures so unlike photography and so uniquely skewed yet recognizable. Philip Guston for making flesh the monsters that live inside us and for doing it with marks that look like they were just put down, barely finished before we saw them...There's many, many more but I won't bore you any longer…
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. In parting, do you have any advice or thoughts to share with other artists or urban sketchers out there?
Not sure what to say here except that, to me, the seen world has provided more subject-matter and inspiration than I could've made up in three lifetimes. So, if you put in the time actually looking at your surroundings you'll be amply rewarded.
• Dmitry Samarov's website.
• Dmitry Samarov's blog Hack.
• Dmitry Samarov's art on Flickr.
Would you like to contribute an interview or article to the blog? We want to hear from you. Interview a favorite artist you admire, review a book about sketching with watercolors or tell the story of a memorable sketching trip. Contact us at urbansketchers at gmail dot com.