Neoteric Art: Your “day job” is driving a cab. Does that influence your work in anyway?
Dmitry Samarov: As with any “day job” concerning an artist, the primary way that it influences me is to cut into time that could be spent making pictures. That being said, it does provide opportunities to watch people in all sorts of situations. There’s a fly-on-the wall aspect to it which permits me to learn things without appearing to pry. Sometimes an episode will stick with me enough to write about, so there’s a blog called Hack (www.samarov.blogspot.com) where I try to tell stories along with illustrations…I’ve also done some paintings and drawings in the cab. The best thing about the job is that I work as much or as little as needed, there’s no clock to punch or boss to answer to, only more or less money which is pretty directly tied to the amount of hours put in.
NA: All your work has a sort of stillness…do you agree? How would you describe your own work?
DS: Not quite sure what you mean by stillness. If that means a calm or a grace, then that would be a good quality I suppose. The thing is that I hardly ever have any preconceived notion or meaning in mind when a picture is started, nor for that matter when it’s finished usually. There’s an endless fascination with the way the world looks, the changing light, the color relationships, and so much more. No need to inject ideas or memories when there’s an endless store of subject-matter anywhere one turns one’s head. Fairfield Porter said something about how the best a painter could hope to do is to make analogies to the world, there’s no way to compete with it; I put marks together that will ideally show the viewer some bit of what’s out there, so they recognize it as the place that they live in, so they can bring their own associations and memories to the painting. All that can be hoped for is to hit on something that resonates. Back for a second to the ‘stillness’: As there aren’t ideas, so also the mood or atmosphere aren’t predetermined either. Of course there’s no way to completely take one’s state of mind out of a picture, but the goal is to look out not in.
NA: You were born in the USSR in 1970 and immigrated to the US in 1978. Do those early memories ever filter into your work?
DS: I generally distrust my memories as they tend to change so much to reflect the present condition, there’s no reliable way to know with any certainty that all that ancient mush in my head reflects much that’s worth looking into. The fact that I’m from another country, one that no longer exists no less, does figure into my perception of the U.S. Thirty years here and there’s still a feeling of foreignness—it’ll probably never go away. Yet the picture of the USSR is also murky, ill-defined so what’s left is a sense of rootlessness. It’s left me with an aversion to travel, a longing to stay in one place forever which is probably unreasonable.
NA: You attended a couple of different art schools. Describe your experiences?
DS: I spent my first semester at Parsons in NYC which was a miserable time. They had a system where you were stuck with the same classmates through all the classes kind of like kindergarten, a professor informed me that I was unteachable, and I lived with a crazy old Russian guy in Brooklyn who invited his cronies over to discuss UFOs and bitched at me for leaving a few stray macaroni noodles in the sink while the rest of the place was a complete pigsty. So I transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where the experience was greatly enhanced by the fact that I had a live-in girlfriend for most of my stay. There were some good teachers, in fact I took the same figure-painting class for a good two years, however being a perceptual painter at that school guaranteed second-class citizenship. A common refrain was praise for technique followed by questions about when I’d paint something ‘personal’ or ‘important’. Having a home life spared me from really trying to find my place there; I didn’t go to the parties or worry so much about the color of my hair. It seemed like a place where rich kids could spend an additional four years of high school-style rebellion before becoming useful members of society. There was no illusions about my BFA leading to instant Art-Stardom—what it led to was my first stint driving cab in Boston in the ’90s. I attempted grad school for one semester, dropping out after realizing that teaching in the present college system didn’t appeal at all. Also, no matter the wisdom offered by the teachers at crits and studio visits, there was a recognition that others’ opinions just didn’t matter much any more. Overall it’s hard to say if it was worth it, a mixed bag probably…
NA: What’s your short and long term goals concerning your work?
DS: I’m working on a series of portraits of friends that will be up at the Rainbo Club, July 19th to August 16th. Some cityscapes will be part of a group show at Tony Fitzpatrick’s studio in the Fall. Long term the goal is to figure out some way to get by without a shit day job. I’ve consciously taken those to leave my mind open, but as the years roll by it becomes more and more tiresome to waste time on meaningless money-gathering. Avoiding the art world, as I mostly have for the last 9-10 years, doesn’t seem feasible any more. So, it’s a matter of playing the game in some way that still allows me to sleep at night.