Cosmic Phenomenon

Artist Mikhail Shemyakin, master of grotesque and other types of exaggeration, spoke about the mysteries of the Russian people, the fight for language and the future of Russian art that is full of ground- breaking discoveries.

Ladimira Artemova: Is it a retrospective exhibition? What periods of your work will it cover?

Mikhail Shemyakin: There will be works from the Russian period, produced before my arrest and expulsion from the Soviet Union–early abstract works from 1958. Also there will be absolutely new, little-known works. I have not exhibited in Moscow for more than twenty years! Except for displaying graphics related to ballet and the book about Vysotsky. I hope it will be interesting. I also want to show my students’ works.

LA: According to what criteria do you recruit students for your course?

MSh: First of all, they should write what art is, for them. If a young artist says that he dreams of exhibitions, he wants to conquer the world and so on, I do not even consider his works. Our profession is hard and not very in-demand. The farther you go, the more you get ahead of your time, the less the public understands you. The less you are needed. And, what is the reward? You get neither money, nor recognition. The highest reward for an artist is what is called the process of creation–throes of creation. This is something that cannot be bought. If you are interested in this, and you cannot live without drawing, then welcome! In this case, I can consider the student’s work.

LA: Have you finished your book The Mysteries of the Russian People, on which you have been working for several years?

MSh: Not yet. I will show original works from this book and from another one, “Russian Folk Dialects”, which is also not finished and on which I have been work- ing for several years. I have the same dream that Alexander Solzhenitsyn had. He published the first dictionary of forgotten words, a dictionary of dialects. He believed that these forgotten words could re-enter the common lexicon. We are losing the Russian language by leaps and bounds. This is why I am doing this work in cooperation with the Institute for the Study of Dialects in St. Petersburg. An introductory article has been written by Leonid Leonidovich Kasatkin, one of the greatest researchers in this field, who is over ninety years old. For sixty years he devoted his time to this topic, and he continues to work and write amazing things. So, there will be two Russian projects that are important for both me and for Russia. The Mysteries of the Russian People shows the uniqueness of the mindset of the Russian peasant, who was despised and underestimated in the past. The Russian language with its dialects was, from my point of view, a cosmic, metaphysical phenomenon.

LA: What is craftsmanship for you?

MSh: A high level of professionalism. All of us must be, above all, artisans. We have lost sight of what drawing, color and harmony are. Today everything is turned upside down. Artists are not chosen according to their talent but are appointed, because the art mafia, which doesn’t care about art, is in control of everything. In the West this mafia has long been making billions on so-called contemporary art.
I believe in Russia’s “special path”. I believe that only in Russia a new “Big Bang” in fine arts can happen, and I hope that we will be the first to start “gathering stones”.

LA: How would you define your style in the visual arts?

MSh: I do not define it in any way. I'm just trying to do something that would match high standards of drawing, color combination and conceptual content. First of all, when I am doing something, I ask myself, “Why do I do this?” and, “Do I, Misha Shemyakin, need this?” And the rest is the Gudok newspaper supplement. I am looking for something new, because I am always dissatisfied with what I have done. 

DI # 5-2018

October 13, 2018