What constitutes contemporary art for you personally? 

I would say that, on the one hand, in all times contemporary art was something relevant for its own time: art is inspired by, rooted in, and confronts its own time. On the other hand, contemporary art is art that is growing. Artists are considered to be contemporary if they offer something that did not exist before them, different in form, technique, and presentation. These artists try to express something new. At all times great artists were that way, they were trying to broaden the horizons of artistic creativity. A salon implies duplication, it is the manufacturing of a product that is a priori out of current tastes or the modern aesthetics. So, contemporary artists challenge the status quo. The contemporary artist is a rebel because he is going beyond the borderlines. If his proposals are accepted, people will perceive them as made in good taste.

What is your role in today’s art scene? 

The same as usual – I do what I like. This arbitrariness of mine resulted at times in rather difficult circumstances, to put it mildly. There are different strategies prevailing in contemporary art. I would like to live my life and express the things that I am supposed to say, to show what I am good at. That is the reason why I do not fit into any of the latest trends. I have never said anything that I was expected to say, I did not follow the advice from my colleagues who have been instructing me, I ignored hints from art critics. Well, I did not behave, so this is why I was always taking a hit. Nevertheless, I do not see any other purpose or method of being an artist. I began painting to find a way of dealing with my complicated relationship with reality, to understand who I was, what was around me, and how to live with it. I didn’t sell a thing for many years and didn’t even plan to, I didn’t even dare to dream about it. For me, all this is just a way of how people survive in a not so humane reality. Maybe this is my exact role: to show that you can still operate in this mode in Soviet Russia and succeed.

What connects new and old art? 

Here there are two types of connections. First of all, in art each step forward is a total denial of what happened before, everything is thrown off the ship of history. This trend relates not only to visual arts but to literature, poetry, etc. Repin himself was thrown off the history ship by avant-gardists. They were the ones who were building a new world, a new cosmos. They firmly believed that it was the only possible way of living. And then others came with their challenges and revolutions, and once again they did the same things with their predecessors… At some point in art history all people live through the same experiences. There is also a different point of reference that I can relate to: an understanding that any art is a sort of an inner discussion of a person with himself, with his time, with his contemporaries, with God, if he believes in God… It is a constant dialog. It continues, develops, gets more and more varied in form. I am interested in pursuing this dialog while continuing to offer something new. Not to get rid of traditions, but to interact with them in different ways.

What was the turning point in your career? 

That is a tough question. If we talk about creative moments: it was in 1975, when after graduation from the Institute of Architecture, I started to paint graphics, trying this and that, until in one of my works I felt that I had found my way. So, I followed that path. And I am still pursuing it. As for success, there were two periods called The Russian Boom and the Second Russian Boom. American dealers and collectors discovered my works in 1986. There was one time, after midnight when they came over and looked at my works behind the back of Soviet officials. They started gasping, tried to present my wife with a watch – sort of like, Captain James Cook was finding his way in Papua. At the time, I was a nobody, and no one paid attention to me. These people noticed me, moreover, they declared that I was painter No. 1 in Soviet Russia. Afterwards, all hell broke loose, since I was in no way considered No. 1, but somebody from nowhere. It took time to deal with this mess. I still cannot succeed in building good relationships with art critics. There was a moment when I was almost destroyed completely in the middle of the 1990s. I was not invited to be a part of any art shows of projects, and nobody mentioned my name in any significant context. Nobody at all bought my works. Gallery owners had no relationships whatsoever with me, and critics were calling me a dead artist. End of discussion! And here came the second boom. In 2007 several of my paintings bought in the USA at the end of the 1980s were presented, by accident, at an auction. There was a multi-fold increase in the prices, and prices sky rocketed for one of the paintings. After that, there was one auction after the other – Phillips, once again, then Sotheby’s, Christie's. Dozens of my works came through these auctions, and they were sold at record prices. It became apparent that art critics would not be able to drown me out anymore – they had lost their former power.

Who influenced your art at different points in your life? 

No one, I guess. I adopted some of Erik Bulatov’s technical moves, and I used them from time to time, but by the time when we finally met, I was following my path. It is possible that some of the people whom I loved or still love have been an influence. My favorite old school masters are Leonardo, Velázquez, Vermeer. From the 20th century - Morandi and Rothko.

What subject matter in the outer world inspires you, fascinates you and unleashes your creativity? 

We are talking more about expressing feelings in certain situations when you want to share your experiences rather than reprocessing someone else’s experiences. As for the “subject matter”, from the very start I was attracted to the most mundane things. Something that is always before our eyes, that we neglect, the most trivial in its casual manifestations. At a specific moment, I felt that the most important things actually contained this void of nothing-in-particular. Unattractive storylines tell me more about life than any accentuated quotes: with a plus – for socialist realism, or with a minus – for the protest underground. I want to show life in its full, in the ambiguity of what you feel watching and experiencing it.

How would you describe the contemporary art of Russia within the wider context of international art? 

I cannot possibly say. At the moment, I do not follow Russian art much, and global art even less. I was never that much aware of it, from the very beginning I doomed myself to being trapped in my studio. My fat ass sits on this chair in front of the easel and I try to do my best in conveying my message. As for the rest – let it be as it is.

Tell us a few words about the piece on the cover of Boscomagazine. 

I received the offer when I was already living in Tel Aviv. I got inspired when I moved there. I took photos out of habit, by inertia, but I had a feeling that there was something unsaid within the photographs. In these landscapes, in this atmosphere, there is something bursting out of the “reality” and requesting representation. Using my Photoshop skills, I tried to extract the feelings, the messages that were bursting out from these photos. The family of my son Ilya came over to visit with my favorite granddaughter Kira. I took quite a bit of her photos. Then I had the idea to take these stories through this new technology and produce a new art project. Thus, a series was born, and I presented one of the works from these series – The Family. I thought that it all came together – my favorite people and my ideal job.

What does the word “family” mean to you? 

My children and grandchildren represent my family for me. Most of the time, I live by myself, but sometimes I stay with them. Members of my family live in different countries, and we have a great time together. They are the people with whom I mostly communicate, and from these interactions, I do get a full sense of family.

How did your family impact your life? 

There was my parents’ family, and then there were other families. My parents were not creative people at all; they never understood and acknowledged my interests, my aspirations. I have been an alien to them. Since my childhood they had decided that I was not their child, that there had been some confusion at the maternity ward and someone else’s child was dumped on them. There was a great difference between me and my older brother – he was quiet and calm, while I was temperamental, cried all the time, did not let them sleep. So, they decided that I was not their child at all. Only when I started biting my nails, like my father, did they admit our blood relationship. Things went on in a similar way. They believed that being an artist was unacceptable. Who the hell is an artist? The one who drinks not only on holidays, who does not go to work every day, a smoker and a party animal. Bohemia! The Institute of Architecture became a sort of compromise with them, an education that was for them verging on hellfire but not quite a complete disaster. For the reasons above, I had to graduate from the Institute of Architecture before beginning my art career, after I finally realized what I wanted. They also thought very poorly of that. They would say: “This is wrong. You should write a dissertation. You have all the skills, a diploma with honors!”. We were always fighting, and there was total misunderstanding between us. I even wrote a novel about this called Syoma’s Childhood to overcome this experience. My first wife summarized it in the following words in the presence of my second wife: “You should be grateful to your parents for forging your steel character.” I am grateful. What is there to say about the other two families? There are some results: some good paintings that were created within both of my families. The main characters are the children, the wives, in a certain sense they have been muses that were inspiring me at some periods and moments.

Why do people create communities? 

I do not have an answer to this question since I never wanted to enter any communities. I felt uncomfortable even in a company of friends. I never feel at ease, and I always feel misplaced. It did not matter about what the people around me are talking: architecture, painting, or any other professional question. Gradually being out of place became my cup of tea. I am an individualist. I have never been a member of any societies; I am not a fan of group exhibitions. As they say, “not a member, nor participant”. I do not know how to mingle with the “right people”. For me, the main goal is to be satisfied with what I do and how I live.

How should a neophyte approach contemporary art? 

He should be prepared. Contemporary and non-contemporary art implies different viewings. A person has to have eyes that he should be using as a sensory organ, and not as an information deciphering instrument. He should be focused on his senses and gut feelings. Nevertheless, there is conceptualism and other stuff that requires your eyes to be an instrument for reading information. In general, if you would like to understand what contemporary art is, you need hands-on training. The question “What did the artist exactly mean by his work?” is applicable. In my case, besides the traditional messages, there is some other information, like in my latest project. Images can appeal to people, but it is not always evident what they are all about, what’s the catch. It would be useful for the artist, art critics, art experts to create a launching pad for the audience. Going to art shows is a must. You have to acquire experience, and that is essential for any area. In this case we are talking about the experience of viewing contemporary art.

Why and how should one buy contemporary artworks? 

I don’t have a clue. You can buy branded artworks with trademarks, or some new and cheap art in the hope that someday the artist will become someone. First of all, the buyer has to like the artworks in question, no matter what other people are telling him about them. The first owner of a gallery with whom I worked was the American Phyllis Kind. She explained to me a lot about the laws and the functioning of the art market. She divided collectors into two groups: the people who collect with their eyes and the people who collect with their ears. The second group constitutes the majority, but the first group is much dearer to me since there was a time when they were my only buyers. I suppose that they live happier lives with their acquisitions, despite the market situation. This group very much influences the trends of today since it is somehow not viable to consider contemporary art buying strategies for making a quick buck in the Russian market. Living with art objects that fill you with joy, are refreshing, and adorn your life is always appropriate. It is always worth it.