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Interview (in English)

© Sergei Blumin. Interview in ARTES, LETRAS Y ACCIÓN SOCIAL, SEPTIEMBRE/OCTUBRE 2012

A Brilliant Artist Born to Succeed!

© Published by Jose Francisco Mejia Ramirez, Presidente de la Organización Mundial de los Poetas, Escritores y Artistas, jueves, 13 de septiembre de 2012

EDICIÓN BIMENSUAL, SEPTIEMBRE / OCTUBRE 2012, ARTES, LETRAS Y ACCIÓN SOCIAL, La Revista de la Organización Mundial de los Poetas, Escritores y Artistas, EL CENTRO LATINOAMERICANO, DE LLEIDA, Una ONGD al servicio de los más pobres de América Latina y el Caribe

(The teacher Blumin honors us with his presence in the organization as
Executive Vice President Worldwide)

© Compiled, recorded and edited by Yelena Yasen, September 2012

 

What are your roots?

Interview, Cover Page

© Sergei Blumin, Exectutive Vice President, La Revista de la Organizacion Mundial de los Poetas, Escritores y Artistas, photo by Yelena Yasen, 2012

When I think about my roots, recollection of a favorite childhood activity comes into my mind: at the age of three my favorite pastimes was to seat on the floor and persistently tear of newspapers. It was the time of Stalin ruling, and, perhaps, it was my protest against the regime which was greatly symbolized by the newspapers filled with Stalin’s portraits and the portraits of the government leaders and all kind of false information. So I guess, my little voice joined then millions of others who used the newspapers as wrapping paper on the markets, and for packaging, and as a toilet paper as well. All those things, in a way, were demonstrating kind of subconscious rejection of hypocritical Soviet realities by the entire Soviet society.  Speaking seriously… I was born in Leningrad, presently, Saint Petersburg, a famous cultural center of Russia.  My mother was a shipbuilding engineer, and my father was a military doctor. When I was five year old, my father moved to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to serve there and there I lived and studied until I turned eighteen and graduated from the Conservatory High School.

What is your education?

By education I am a professional musician. In 1965 I entered the Moscow Conservatory, and in 1970 graduated with honors from the Leningrad Conservatory, as a professional trumpet player. After graduating I played with various music companies, including the Chamber Orchestra of Old and Contemporary Music, Leningrad Philharmonic, Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater, where I worked with world famous conductors such as Evgeny Mravinksky, Mariss Jansens, Karl Eliasberg, and many others. During those times I performed thirty solo recitals—in total. The last one took place in Florence, in 1979, where I played with Tuscany Symphony in front of Cimabue frescos in Basilica Di Santa Croce, where Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and other famous artists performed as well. It was Baroque Concert for Trumpet by Torelli.

When and why did you start working as a painter?

When I was eighteen, for the first time in my life I saw Klee and Kandinsky works in the albums of Vadik Sakharov, presently a very famous pianist, who was my schoolmate at Moscow Conservatory. I was very impressed and decided to make my own painting with shoe polish, ketchup and toothpaste on a cardboard found in the rehearsal dormitory. The painting did not want to dry and smelled for a long time, but it did dry in the end. Since then I incorporated my artistic and music studies together, and eventually decided that my real path was art.

Who were your teachers?

© Sergei Blumin, Aurora Borealis, 1993

© Sergei Blumin, Aurora Borealis, oil on canvas, New York, 1993

As a musician, I would like to recall the name of my trumpet teacher, Professor Sergei Nikolaevich Eremin. He was the Chief of Woodwind and Brass Faculty at Moscow Conservatory, but, besides, he was a close friend of Abram Druker, the founder of trumpet school in Hollywood in the late 1920s which was a significant factor for me as a young man who was growing up within the realm of Soviet realities. Concerning my artistic education… While I was still living in Russia, I was lucky to get acquainted with Boris Gurvich, a disciple and friend of Pavel Filonov, one of the greatest artists of Russian Avant-garde. In 2006 a monograph on Gurvich by Denmark art historian Troels Andersen was published by Tri Quadta Publishing House (Three Squares). Gurvich became my mentor and older friend in the middle of the 1970s—until I decided to leave the Soviet Union. I learned a lot from him. Trough him I was given a rare opportunity to be connected directly with the tradition of Russian Avant-Garde.

Otherwise, I learned a lot on my own, read plenty of books on different art techniques, e.g., oil painting, invented a lot by myself, e.g., in metal-smith media. After I came in the U.S., I used to draw a lot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art analyzing old masters, created hundreds of life-model drawings. My page “Pencil” on www.sergeibluminart.wordpress.com (as well as on Facebook) is dedicated to this subject.

Did you ever teach art subjects?

Yes, I did during my conservatory years. In a sublime way, I am teaching now by spreading the knowledge on the Facebook, through my Internet sites, etc.

Speaking about websites… I can refer interested readers to www.sergeiblumin.com and www.sergeibluminart.wordpress.com. A lot of critique material about me can be found on www.yelenayasen.wordpress.com, and my own critique is published on www.adonispublishing.wordpress.com

Can you describe what kind of impulse, or impression, or feeling “forces” you to start working on a new art piece, e.g., painting, or collage, or sculpture, etc.?

There is really no way to explain it with words, but it’s when seeing or feeling ‘something’ becomes an inner necessity for me to paint or create ‘that something,’ or to put it in a different way—to interpret… Art is always interpretation of any motif, or subject, or view, or idea, etc.

Did you have a chance to exhibit your art works in Russia?

From 1974 to 1978 I exhibited my art work regularly in the city as well as at regional and national exhibitions. In the same 1974 I was accepted into the Youth Section of the Union of Artists, and in 1975 became a member of the Union through the recommendations of two respected members of the Union, Boris Smirnov and Vladimir Gorodetsky.  In 1978 my solo exhibition took place at The Tea House in the Summer Garden in Leningrad. It was very flattering for me to be exhibited in The Tea House erected by Carlo Rossi, the most important architectural figure in Russian Classicism. So, in fact, I was very successful then.

Why did you decided to emigrate?

Not for one reason, but to put it shortly—for creative freedom.

Did you enjoy the same success in the West?

© Sergei Blumin, The Rape of Europe, 1998

© Sergei Blumin, The Rape of Europe, oil on canvas, New York, 1998

My beginning in the West was very successful. A month after my arrival to Vienna I became a member of the Association of Austrian Artists sponsored by the Austrian government, where I started to exhibit my metal work along with a world-famous representative of German Expressionism, Oscar Kokoshka. In addition I exhibited my metal works at the Am Graben Gallery belonged to Inge Assenbaum, the leading collector of applied and miniature art in Europe during the 1970-1980, and my watercolors—at Alte Shmide Gallery. In 1980 Inge Assenbaum organized my solo exhibition. Besides, my art works participated in the three-year world tour throughout the museums and galleries of Europe, Asia, and Australia together with artifacts represented Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance period, the art of 17th – 20th centuries, etc.  After Vienna, I lived for half a year in Florence. I was invited there by the Duchess Bona Salviatti, the heiress to the line of the family of Cosimo Medici, patrons of Michelangelo. Thanks to her invitation, I had a great chance to live and work in Italy for six months, where I started seriously working in oil painting, and I studied the art of Renaissance.

What happened after Italy?

In 1979 I came to New York where I have been living since then. During my life on the West my oil paintings have been the subject of eight solo exhibitions in Italy, Austria, France, and the United States. I also participated in numerous group art shows. Besides, my works are included today in the collections of The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, The State Historical Museum in Moscow, The Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, and Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA—in addition to many private collections in the U.S. and other countries.

2011 and 2012 were very successful years for me. I participated in the art exhibition “Alphabet of Art” in Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art, International House of Philadelphia, PA, in St. Petersburg, FL, and in Australia. At this point the exhibition is already planned to be exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary art in St. Petersburg, Russia. My solo exhibition is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Mariinsky Opera Theater in St. Petersburg, and after this it has a very good perspective to be exhibited in the city’s Pushkin Museum.

Is painting your primary area of interest?

Yes, it is. It gives me an opportunity to express my thoughts. I would like to emphasize that artist’s intellect is different from philosopher’s or writer’s intellect, and so I hope that, along with other artists, my artistic activities serve to the development specifically of the art field.

Which other media did you work in?

Besides oil painting, in the course of my long artistic career, I have worked in linocuts, woodcuts, miniature metal sculptures, pastels, encaustics, temperas, paper and fabric collages, watercolors, drawings and oil tracings, metal and wood sculptures. I also widely employed mixed media for my collages, sculptures, and reliefs. Lately I started to compose poetry, part of which I used for my hand-made books. And I have written some scripts. Right now I am in the process of negotiations regarding my play The Talkative Parrot or Abandoned Aphrodite  to be produced on radio in St. Petersburg (Russia).

Which art traditions influenced you?

I would say… Prehistoric art, Renaissance, the art of Avant-garde. Reading is also important to me. It gives me a lot of associations as well as reasons to contemplate on the topics of my paintings. For example, several years ago after I had finished a book on Roman Emperors, I created a mixed media series which happened to become a series of Roman emperors’ portraits.

So you like to read?

Reading represents the sharing of the Thought. When you read any author from the past, you feel as if you are bridging the gap between centuries, and you also feel privileged to share thoughts of great independent minds of the past, and witness how certain ideas divided great thinkers. It is very interesting.

What kind of books do you prefer?

I like biographies, especially, of my prominent predecessors which serve to me as a criterion for my own work. Besides, I am interested in history books, something like «Minotaur, Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth». Books of this kind give me a feeling of participation in the dialogue with kindred spirits entangled in the milieu of their time. I have a huge library at home, so there is always something to choose from.

What is the role of abstract vision in contemporary art, and in your art?

© Sergei Blumin, The Dreamer, 1987

© Sergei Blumin, The Dreamer, oil on canvas, New York, 1987

I believe that throughout centuries the art idiom has been developing toward abstraction. I am personally very interested, up to which point I am able to utilize an abstract method to interpret reality by finding the balance between realistic and abstract vision. But while I have been working on achieving this goal, at some point I found myself in a paradoxical situation: I came to the conclusion that, in a way, abstract interpretation of reality does not exist. What I mean is that, after all, everything depends on limitation of the viewer’s mind. This is the reason for the elusive barrier between the viewer and the painting of any kind… Metaphorically speaking, it is as if the soul rejects the solemn presence of the suspended God presented to the man.  On the other hand, I participated once in the exhibit “St. Petersburg Realism. The Unbroken Russian Tradition,” which took place in the Center Art Gallery of Buknell University, Lewisburg, PA. So everything is relative. The bottom line is—art is about creativity, which, in the final analysis, depends on two factors—the artist’s vision, and the ability of the viewer to perceive and/or comprehend this vision.

How important it is for an artist to be educated, to know the history of art?

The history of art is an open vault. It is very important to be educated in history of art and pay respect to any other living artist of the past starting the prehistoric age. I think that cultural multitude of the past shapes a sort of associative as well as physiological matrix in the mind of contemporary artist, or to put it differently… it creates a sort of base mash or a foundation layer to be coated by multiple new layers by any contemporary artist, who expresses his own individual ideas, concepts, and/or personal associations while creating these new layers.

Who are your favorite artists from the past?

Cezanne

What is your attitude toward minimalism?

On this subject I would like to refer to William Rubin, a former Director of Painting and Sculpture Department at the Museum of Modern art in New York. A while ago I read an article about him in the Art in America, where I found the words referring to theoretical works of art historians who were developing academic basis on minimalism: “All critical wordplay is utterly insignificant next to one good picture.” I could not say it better by myself. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful toward minimalism movement, but I believe that the minimal emotion cannot produce, so to speak, a significant motion. I believe that any art work should convey basic human emotions—grief or joy, and everything in between—which minimalism is incapable to provide stylistically in its minimalistic repetition of failure of spirit.

What kind of message you believe your art contains in today’s world?

I think that any work of art should play a role of presenter of happiness, so-to-speak, since art, by its nature, is a divine element in human life; it expresses the spirit of human soul and should elevate the viewer’s spirit. In all my images I try to express this vision through trapped emotion hidden in all my canvases one way or another.

On the other hand, a painting is the reflection of the inner world of the viewer, which is why certain paintings appeal to certain persons and either resonate in the viewers’ psyche, or not.

Post-modernism became a really big movement in the 20th century. Could you clarify a little bit more on your attitude on Post-modernism?

I can say again that regarding this subject I share the views of William Rubin who was not particularly interested either in post-modernism or Pop Art. To me Post-modernism as well as Pop Art include some kind of farce element, and this is very different from what I think about the mission of art.

Besides, I would like to mention that to my mind, all contemporary art from the beginning of the 20th century—cubism, surrealism, social realism, post-modernism, minimalism and conceptual art—based on symbolism. But, I believe that post-modernism and conceptual art movements exhausted their values. Today is the time to gather the culture’s remnants rather than to throw the stones away, so-to-speak.

Do you like to visit museums?

During the 90s Metropolitan Museum of Art was the extension of my home—I saw the Egyptian wing from my window. As I said, I used to go there often to analyze old masters. Now I go to the museums in case if some specific exhibition attracts my attention, e.g., at Metropolitan, or Museum of Modern Art, or Guggenheim, etc.

In my opinion, today the role of art museums as preservation centers is changing; they become more and more similar to some kind of shopping malls. I believe that the presence of the art works today is, mostly, in the hands of private collectors. I also believe that a work of art should be a part of life of any individual today, not just to enrich his personal environment, but, first of all, to elevate the spirit, as I mentioned before.

Did your travelling experiences help you in your creative work?

During my life I travelled a lot as professional musician across the former Soviet Union. As I mentioned above, in the beginning of my emigration I had a great chance to live in Vienna, then Florence, and studied there the art of Renaissance. During that time I also travelled to Germany, and later undertook several long-term trips abroad, specifically to Italy and France. Travelling experience tremendously enriches you and gives you an opportunity to widen your viewpoint and perception of the world.

What do you think about the role of computers in new developments in art?

Even though I find women more interesting than computers, I have to admit: computer is a powerful communicating device, which resolves alienation among people. I have a script on the computer subject, which I intend to publish in addition to my play, The Talkative Parrot or Abandoned Aphrodite, which is already published through Internet, and, as I mentioned before, has now a very good potential to be produced on stage.

Without computers I would not be able to have my Internet sites, so I, myself, extensively use the benefits of computer technology in different ways. For example, my hand-made book series, which I consider as a significant latest accomplishment of mine, would not be possible to produce without computers.

Do visual arts, in your opinion, influence movie production?

I believe so. Good movie productions always have a significant artistic component. Let’s take as an example, an excellent production— Amadeus. Thanks to brilliant artistic design all movie scenes are always perfectly balanced, which was so essential for Mozart’s music. On the other hand, some scenes, let’s say, episodes in the theater are visually so dramatic so that the viewer can really feel the presence of relentless spirit in the aura of the scene.

Do you believe in violence involved in the art image?

No, definitely not. The function of art is to reveal eternal light hidden under the surface of any negative or even tragic event, so-to-speak. That is what ancient Greeks called Catharsis.

So you believe in humanistic and educational role of art?

I believe that art is the best tuner of the human soul. It helps the soul to act upon reflections of itself revealed through the artistic image.

In which way do you think art is able to influence contemporary society?

I think art is the only thing which can save society from all negative factors in life, whatever they are. I believe that together with religion and philosophy art represents the Trinity which defines as well as creates spiritual reality of life.

So what do you think about future developments in art?

© Sergei Blumin, Travelling Circus, 2010

© Sergei Blumin, Travelling Circus, mixed media sculpture, New York, 2010

On one hand, cultural opportunities today give an individual to act in a way which was unthinkable sixty years ago—digital technology, Internet, globalization, all possible inter-connections among individuals as well as regions and/or states, etc. But on the other hand, all these factors are the reason for ambiguity of modern cultural structure, which does not provide contemporary society with the guidelines for the future in the art development. Besides, anyone today has an opportunity to judge an artist, but not everyone is equipped with qualifications for appropriate estimate of his work. It is exposed to public scrutiny as the compression of the thought of the living artist in leaving times—in a way.  What I mean is that there is an ultimate tragic component in a personal human existence as well as in the entire history of mankind: any human life is limited by the time given to it by nature; and this limited time has been in constant contradiction with unlimited time of eternity. And so every artist, in a way, tries to overcome this tragic factor and join the eternity by sending his creations to the unknown future. So to me it is even more important, than ever before, that the focal point of any work of art should be on the presence of the human spirit in that work.

 

 

 

 


 

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About Yelena Yasen

Yelena Yasen (Елена Ясногородская): M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The Academy of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Russia. Work history includes: Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Brooklyn Museum, New York; New School for Social Research, New York; Private College, New York (25 years of teaching experience). Presently: self-employed writer on art subjects and art designer; an author of "Russian Children's Book Illustration or Another Chapter in the History of Russian Avant-Garde" (Institute of Modern Russian Culture, University of Southern California, Archive); multiple published articles and essays in Russian and English (www.yelenayasen.wordpress.com, www.yelenayasenbooks.wordpress.com, www.adonispublishing.wordpress.com); video lectures on YouTube and Vimeo internet portals; multiple mutual art project with artist Sergei Blumin

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