DON EASTBURN INTERVIEW
In January, 2000, Victor Lysakov had the unique opportunity to meet with Don Eastburn for an in-depth interview and photo shoot in Moscow, Russia. Eastburn, the author of Faces of Russia, is also an award-winning photographer and runs his own creative design firm, Don Eastburn & Associates.
Lysakov was deeply indebted to Mr. Eastburn for his time and interest he expressed in his art. Following is some commentary from the artist about that extraordinary encounter:
“I value Don Eastburn’s professionalism, which was so evident during the interview and the special photo shoot. His questions gave me an opportunity to share some aspects of the artistic craft which are usually unseen.
When one begins to work with a canvas, he does not think about the audience – you either create the painting or you do not. It is quite often that the canvas leads you in a certain direction and offers you help. When you succeed, something of Machiavellian magnitude is born. Then, neither you nor the canvas depends on time or the public…sooner or later, the fame and recognition will come. As for the canvas and me, we did as much as we were capable of – sometimes even above and beyond. Then I smile looking at my canvas and it smiles back at me.
But there are also some painful defeats, where both the canvas and I experience the deep loss. Then the paint is scratched off the canvas and I begin from ground zero.
My conversation with Don Eastburn seemed rather interesting to me. Perhaps it will allow you to peek deeper into the world of an artist.”
Excerpts from the DON EASTBURN INTERVIEW
Eastburn: Please tell me more about yourself and your paintings.
Lysakov: Every artist strives to discover his own space, so to speak. It is an incredibly difficult task, but some do achieve it. It may be a little bit presumptuous for me to say so, but I think I have discovered my own space, my own technique. My personal opinion doesn’t stand alone; it is also supported by the reviews of leading art critics.
I cannot say that I am the one who wrote the plot for this play; it was born in the same way that poetry or a fairy tale is born – just out of the blue, of its own accord. I cannot explain why any given personage appears. They appear, they live, and I merely observe them and then share it with the audience.
I rarely ever make any sketches ahead of time. The work takes place in my “mainframe computer”, my mind, and I must admit it is a lot of work. Sometimes it takes years to complete the whole process, though that computer usually does work fast.
I consider myself to be the artist of the night. I feel the tension in the night; everything is felt much stronger during the night. Every whisper, every sound is treated as potentially dangerous. But at times I challenge myself, “Let’s try and make something with a light background.” I do it because I want to stretch my horizons.
I do not think up some literary theory that I need to illustrate with my art later. Composition is much more important for me – it appears, it is born and is determined by the colorful palette and the rhythm of the movement. It is partly like the theater of the absurd for me. Classic theater of absurd is unbelievably well organized. The logic of it is in the unexpected. As soon as you can trace and predict the next step, the beauty is gone and what you are left with is banal and boring descriptive literature. If you peer deeper still, you will agree that I am a classical realist in the sense that I portray life as it is and our life is spent according to the laws of absurdity.
Eastburn: How did you become an artist?
Lysakov: I became an artist when I was six. The rest of the time I spent proving it to everybody around me. It was when I was six years old that I realized for the first time that the most natural and the most fitting way for me to carry on a conversation with the world was through the visual language, not by means of words.
When I was a kid I painted a lot, mostly using watercolors. All of these drawings were successfully thrown away. It was important for me to understand this language and to learn how to speak it.
My dad was a career military man. We lived in small towns that had neither libraries nor any other access the literature I needed, and we had no TV. I was yearning for any information I could get a hold of, so quite often, the sources of information for me became the accidental popular magazines or some rarely found books. I had no access to the special literary works on art or art history.
I graduated from high school in the small town of Gaisin, Ukraine. After graduating, I entered Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys, and as I worked on my engineering degree, I also studied art. I spent a lot of time in museums of Moscow, read a lot of technical art works and carefully studied the technique of the great masters. I wanted to understand how was it that they achieved what they achieved. I studied Rembrandt’s and Bryullov’s techniques for quite some time. I chose these two artists because they both had interesting techniques. On the one hand, Bryullov’s artistry is incredibly complex. Rembrandt however, employed a relatively simple technique – but the results he achieved were amazing. It was hard to understand how such a relatively simple technique could achieve these great results.
I have literally spent hours in museums studying the impressionist movement and again read a great number of books. I visited a lot of exhibitions at that time. In the 70s, there were a several great exhibits that came to Moscow: sculptures of Barlach and Giacometti, the collections of Van Gough, Marc Shagall, Picasso and many others. Later the collections of Beckon and Rosenberg were on display in Moscow museums. The collections of The Pushkin Fine Art Museum and the Tretyakov State Art Gallery are impressive, in and of themselves. I consider these collections to be an incredible source of visual material.
After graduating from the Institute of Steel and Alloys, I worked as an engineer, but I continued to paint at night. Then my son was born and it became impossible to work. The paint and especially the smell of solvents were not beneficial for the child’s health and I left art for a few years hoping I would never be back. But art is a great chasm, if you wish. It has its aroma, but it is a chasm after all. It is incredibly difficult to ever leave it, and you certainly don’t want to spend your entire life falling deeper and deeper into it.
For a few years I did not paint at all. Unfortunately though, I fell into the abyss again and began to paint. The first year it was like learning how to walk all over again. My hands remembered everything but there was a psychological fear. It took me a year to whisper under my breath the words I used to say before – ‘I can do anything.’
During that year I had gone through the entire technical cycle. I went from Classical Realism to Naturalism - that is when your hands want to touch an ink bottle because it is so real and yet it is just a picture on a cardboard. I spent hours working on details. I needed to learn the technique all over again. And then I must have reached the level of which Picasso said, “You need to master the technique in order to forget about it.”
Starting in 1986 I began to participate in some exhibitions, though back then it was not an easy task in Russia. In the fall of 1986, I co-founded an independent artists’ trade union called “Arbatr.” It happened that this was the very first independent artists’ trade union in USSR. But, quite frankly, I am more proud of the fact that we were the very first artists’ trade union to be officially shut down by the government. That happened in 1987. This “accomplishment” is hard to repeat. Nobody is being shut down these days.
Then I began to be invited to participate in various exhibitions in Moscow, Warsaw, Katovitse, Hamburg, Hanover, Sweden, Austria, Italy and France.
I have recently been working at home here in Moscow, Russia, and I do not regret it one bit. The atmosphere here is different: it is more difficult here, but the aroma of time is quite different here, thus creating different impressions. The bottom line is I work and I exist independently from anybody else.
I know that these paintings live – their life span will be rather long. Many paintings are in private collections in Germany, United States, Austria, France, Denmark, Sweden and Italy. Most of these paintings are in very good collections. From time to time, I have a chance to meet with them again and I see that they are well taken care of and dressed in nice frames. I look at them the way a father looks at his grown up children. What can I say, they have a sweet life.
I would like explain to you why I do what I do and not something else. There is a common misunderstanding in modern art – at times an artist finds a trademark of sorts and begins to use it over and over again. It is called distinctive style. I saw that time and time again when I visited galleries in Paris, Hamburg, Stockholm or in various other cities. I decided for myself that this approach to art is not interesting. What is interesting is to constantly try and discover something totally new. It is harder that way, but it is definitely more interesting.
To discover your own space is incredibly rare. There are times when I dive into various dimensions, travel in them on the pilgrimage from one to another. I do not paint a skill - I paint a painting. Each and every painting has to be perfect all by itself and to be independent from any given skill or trick.
Small works require a different technique and sometimes a different composition, too. I paint them because technically this is a different genre. When I ask myself what kind of paintings I would love to paint, the response is always the same – large, really large, the larger the better. But small paintings have a different material resistance.
I am not interested in creating the same things over and over again. It is important for me to always raise the bar, higher and higher. That does not mean that every new painting is better than the previous one. But that is the goal for me every time I sit in front of a canvas. I try to paint it in a way that is impossible for me to paint. I must rise above myself completely. I must climb higher and higher. Sometimes it does happen.
To order the complete video copy of the interview, please contact Don Eastburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting his website at www.doneastburn.com