Interview With Denis Sarazhin

Interview With Denis Sarazhin

Hello Denis, it is a pleasure for us to sit down with you to discuss all things Sarazhin. At first glance one is fascinated by two qualities of your style, the first being: how you convey movement through bodily suggestion and painterly method; and the second, how you express an inner radiance, or, the way you produce light suffused with emotion. What to you is vital for artists to understand about communicating bodily motion and mastering particular natures of light?

Hello Andrew, it is a big pleasure to speak with you too and I appreciate your interest in my work. To explain this, first of all, I think artists need to have a big knowledge base, this is to say that they must understand a lot of disciplines and practices, or, they need to be born “special” people; they must also feel all of these subjects intuitively. To master these qualities without a depth of knowledge would be like sitting down at a large church organ for the first time and trying to play Bach’s A Minor Prelude and Fugue without any prior musical education. But, if one has deep prior knowledge about how this organ works and music theory, within a few days of practice they could make it sound like Bach’s Prelude. For artists, such knowledge bases required are: composition theory, color theory, perspective, anatomy, drawing, a base in painting, art technic, materials knowledge, history of art, etc.

I have seen that you are a fine draftsman, drawing anatomy first with graphite much like the old masters had. With new technologies, and society’s embrace of radically subjective styles (without respect to classical form), do you think the art of proportions and understandings about form, especially of the body, are becoming a lost art? If so, is this troubling, and if so, why?

In my opinion, there are a lot of great artists who continue the traditions of a more classical understanding of depicting real life. But with the whole eclectic movement in modern art and its big capital concentration on more radically subjective styles, a big section of young artists now neglect traditional knowledge. And yes, some damage is certainly done to this more rigorous layer of art education through their indifference. But islands of great art education still exist today, and I believe such schools and finer institutions will not allow this to happen.

Because a big part of good draftsmen and painters go into the entertainment arena, games, animation, and movies still need this knowledge, so due to necessity, it should persist for a long time. In a strictly more artistic environment, these skills could become more exclusive than it has been in the past, and maybe such will become something more underground in due course. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the future because cyclicality in art is gone, now the world of art is run by fashion, multinational brands, and PR companies, so things are advancing unpredictably.

Your work maintains a faithful vocabulary, it exudes an operatic or contemporary dance and ballet like poignancy. Being Eastern European, did you grow up with a fond appreciation of dance and theatre? If so, do you have a favorite opera or ballet? Also, to you, is dance an important form of art, if so why?

I can say for sure that I don’t really know modern dance and ballet, but at the same time it holds an importance. I draw some inspiration for work from modern dance because it provides a great opportunity to observe the movement of the body, its plasticity, its structure. At the same time, dance itself in my work carries more of a metaphorical idea, it living far beyond just images of choreographed movement.

Yes, there exists a tradition of attending ballet performances in Eastern Europe, and of course I attended and attend ballet and theatrical performances, opera included (which I don’t understand either), but these leave me with positive impressions. This tradition in our country takes place for many years, we visited like presentations with our parents at an unconscious age as children, and the importance of this art form bears fruit in adulthood.

I’ve attended the same ballet and theatrical productions many times, and they are always new because they depend on different performing groups and directors. I have never thought about what my favorite productions are, I think this answer depends on who is on the stage.

Though anatomically precise, your subjects have subtly unfamiliar exaggerations and angles, some would even say that they resemble the work of Schiele, but I would rather say that they are more alike to the Ukrainian Impressionist Novakivskyi. Who are your stylistic forefathers, and what can the world discover through appreciating Ukrainian artistic heritage?

I had gotten acquainted with the art of Schiele a little later than those who had more influence on me. Mikhail Vrubel made the strongest impression on me as an artist as well as man who believes in the power of art. This being especially so because he spent a part of his creative period in Kyiv and worked a little in Kharkiv (The city where I studied art and live at the moment). I was very impressed with a book of his memories containing correspondences with his sister and friends. It was in this book that I was captured by his sincere passion for art and his faith in it, which was a solid foundation in my chosen path in art. The next artist who had a big impact on me was Nikolai Feshin.

And in general, after reading his memories and correspondence I found similar thoughts about the power of the art that I found in Vrubel’s book. This similarity alike further confirmed my faith in the power of art. I think Feshins’ book affected me so much because I read it in my youth when I was still forming my ideals and heroes. Nowadays, these dream ideas would face a tough reality of the modern art market. Of course, I could list for a long time the different artists who have somehow affected me, but this would need a whole article. During the period where I was engaged only in plain-air landscapes and still-lives, I had one list of artists who influenced me, and then, upon switching to figurative painting, others formed a second new list.

Speaking of the past, your use of color evokes the Sistine chapel’s “The Libyan Sybil” by Michelangelo. Your use of vibrant finger tips and joints also conjure the androcentric American artist Mark Beard (though his work is rather transgressive). In both cases, your use of semiprecious stone like translucency in skin, as with your selective palette proposes these allusions. Does your use of color come as a predefined concept first, or is it something that is completed instinctively?

Lately, I’ve been devoting more time to the preliminary sketch for later work on the larger image, and this is why color can be found in advance through the sketch. While working on my large scale canvases I know where I need to find color solutions. And of course, applying styling in the drawing and shape, I also use the same in my work on color. On color, I seek to avoid repeating how it is in nature, using knowledge of color and how it should be, so I transform this in the manner I need to in order to achieve the compositional goals I seek.

This opportunity also gives me an additional visual language in addition to the overall compositional language. Previously, I have worked more from life, I had to get as close to reality as possible and paint it on as it was, but then, concentrating on the main ideas and concepts of these works themselves, it became no longer interesting for me to depict nature one to one. I started exaggerating or changing color depending on what mood I needed to achieve in the finished pieces.

In our current time, new media and new mediums have taken center stage. Though you work in oils, you maintain a watercolor light appreciation for definite nuance. What are your views on the style of graphic novels (which your work could easily be applied to)? Have you ever considered producing a visual narrative for your subjects to live through?

Yes, I have sometimes thought about the style of graphic novels and have tried to imagine how it could be beaten in my technique and through my stories. I was thinking about trying to come up with my own main personage who would move from one picture to another, but in fact, this didn’t come so easily because the way of creating concepts for my paintings is a bit contrary to this approach.

I build my compositions more from ideas and feelings than from characters themselves. I think that the characters in my paintings themselves play the role of the main scenario like those in the theater’s tasks, and this is why character identification is not that important to me. It is possible that I’ll come back to this idea in the future, and maybe something interesting will come of it.

In my childhood, there was no access to international comic books nor visual novels from abroad, we had our own visual novels and they were drawn by local artists who had very high levels of art education. As they were students from the post of socialist realism. From these, I was more impressed by the artistic level of pictures in local visual novels, and because of this I just wanted to learn how to draw like those artists instead of seeking to produce a narrative framework.

As a creative, I have noticed that you can be self-critical and I esteem this trait. Do you think this inner criticism or aversion to once accomplished things is a universal aspect of all great minds? Can you share with our audience the benefits of being a self-critic, and how this propels you towards further perfections?

Of course, everything should be in moderation, the same goes for self- criticism. This character trait can lead to the constant improvement of ones skills which is a good opportunity for growth. But, if used excessively, this can also lead to bad psychological consequences, which is most likely a part of the neurosis learned as children. On the one hand, if one knows how to use this trait correctly, they can achieve good results, but at the same time, one will never be a man with a high-assed nose. But secondarily, if one doesn’t succeed in their targets for a long time, such being what they are striving for, this can lead to other consequences. I think something in the middle is the most correct and favorable factor for development and happiness.

What roles do love and separation play in your visual philosophy? What stories are you telling, and retelling, that we can see yet not fully understand until you give us a glimpse into your thoughts? Are your pieces connected by any unifying themes, or are they just feelings embodied in pigment and linseed?

Explaining the meaning of ideas inherent in my work is the most unloved topic for me because I chose a visual language to present my thoughts and ideas, so it is different from the verbal or textual presentation of these ideas and meanings. The opportunity to express through the depicted body, their gestures, colors, lines, and the overall composition becomes its own nonverbal language which is difficult to explain in ordinary words. A brief hint or key to understanding a works idea can be embedded in its title.

But nothing more, on my opinion. Since I don’t do conceptual art like Performance, Installation, or Happening, in which a clear description and explanation are really necessary, I think visual language presentations of ideas are akin to musical language in which musicians also express their feelings and thoughts with sounds of notes and accords. But at the same time, I’m not a supporter of the theory used in art criticism when they say something like, “the artist expressed the essence of being through these strokes”.

The “brushstroke” is only a technical process that has nothing to do with inner self-expression of meaning or feelings. But the ability to properly apply the necessary stroke in the right place on the canvas in conjunction with color, line drawings, and composition, together can eventually lead to the correct presentation of thought by the artist. This is why the artist should be able to know the techniques of painting, anatomy, color, etc., to be able to use them in the right ways in the right places; and at the same time, this artist, knowing all these rules and understanding them, can then step over them at any time or change them in order to achieve his goals.


 All images with courtesy of Denis Sarazhin

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