Artist Interview – Vladimir Zimakov
January 15, 2013 § 11 Comments
Vladimir Zimakov is an artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. He is a printmaker, an illustrator, a designer and a drawer who holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London. He also teaches art and design and frequently conducts artist talks and workshops. You can see more of his work here on his website and on his art process blog.
Vladimir and I corresponded in 2012 for this interview.
Mike Schultz: Where do you come from, and has this place had an affect on your work?
Vladimir Zimakov: I’m from Moscow, which continues to have a tremendous effect on my work. When my family and I came to the US 20 years ago I started drawing Soviet style buildings that I grew up around, perhaps as a way to keep the connection. This is when art really started to have a lot of meaning for me. I think that switching countries at the age of 12 had a huge effect on me. I came right into Junior High, which is a tough time for anyone. For someone who hardly knows the language and culture it’s even worse. Then we also moved from Michigan to Texas, from one neighborhood to another. At some point I’ve realized that instead of constantly adopting and trying to fit in, I will be much better off as an observer and all of a sudden things fell into place. I’ve started to become very conscious of my surroundings: people, architecture, nature, environment, and how all of it interacts with one another, with past and present. This is still one of the main themes in my work.
MS: How do the past and present play a role in your work?
VZ: I am always searching for references of things that I have experienced or simply the things that resonate with me. For example, I have just spent hours on the web looking for archives of soviet magazines that I have grown up with. In addition to having a nostalgic or sentimental value, the images in those magazines are capable of triggering new ideas for drawings. After all, at some point, those images played a role in shaping my visual aesthetics and are now part of my vocabulary along with images that were done way before I was born and the ones that I am exposed to now. In combination, those symbols of past and present can be used to express specific concepts.
The Master and Apprentice is a drawing in which I wanted to visually express the process of teaching and learning and what happens as a result. I wanted the harp players (in this case serving as both a symbol of an initial idea or the Muse and the finished result) to reference images from Victorian romanticism. The mechanical apparatus was inspired by Renaissance drawings. The rats are taken from my daily observations of the two pet rats that I had at the time. One was much younger then the other and the latter was constantly trying to share her wisdom.
MS: Do you use any kind of technology, ancient or new, in the process of making your work? (For example: the Internet, photoshop, silk screens, printing press…)
VZ: Ancient and new alike, preferably in combination. Of course everything starts with a quick sketch. While developing a mock up it’s a constant back and forth from the drawing table to the scanner to Photoshop to the printer. The final result is almost always done by hand in form of a drawing, linocut or a silkscreen. It’s great to combine techniques.
This illustration for Edgar Alan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum is a silkscreen print, but it went through quite a few stages. First, I printed a bunch of letters using wooden type on a Vandercook letterpress. I’ve later scanned the prints and arranged the text in Photoshop so that it would fit the intention (I wanted to start with the crisp impressions, then have them more and more beat up as it got closer to the rats). I carved the rats from a linoleum block; the print was also scanned and digitized. The final poster was hand printed using three screens that were made from digital files: one with white type, the other with black line work and the third with the brown color for the rats.
MS: Which artist from the past had the most influence on your work?
VZ: Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Without any doubt! As far as I can remember I was always fascinated by the narrative and symbolism in his work. When I was a kid I spent hours looking at books of his painting and I still can’t just walk past a Brueghel book. I am not trying to imitate his work, which would be quite hard in the first place, but I find the overall theme and aesthetic to be of a constant inspiration.
MS: What is your ideal studio setting, and how do you find your rhythm? (Time of day or night, quiet or not, with or without company, use of external substances, like coffee?)
VZ: I spend a lot of time organizing and reorganizing my working space so that it feels right. I guess I am very particular about having all the pencils, paper, erasers, inks in their right place. This obsessiveness lead me to making most of the studio furniture myself, so that it fits just right. There are lots of pictures on the walls and art books all around. Ideally, the music is always on, whatever I stumble upon that night, mostly jazz and underground Russian rock with some Tom Waits or Nick Cave thrown in. One thing that I’ve discovered is that it’s quite hard for me to work in short bursts. I also never got comfortable drawing in public. Managing work, family and studio time can be a little challenging, there is a focus shift that needs to happen every day. On days when I teach or freelance, after work there is a short nap time, then family time, and after the baby goes to bed is the studio time which lasts well into the night.
MS: What work of yours are you most excited about right now and why? (Or: What are you currently working on?)
VZ: I am shifting gears a bit now and trying new techniques. After doing linocuts and gouache/ink paintings for a while, I am going back to charcoal and pen and ink drawings. So now, as to be expected, I am going through some frustration stages when things don’t work out and I have to rework drawings over and over until they feel right, but at the end of the day there is that satisfaction of being one step closer to understanding something new. The other exciting part is discovering new inspirations. When I did a linocut series, I looked at a lot of German Expressionists, now with the charcoal pieces I am rediscovering and absorbing turn of the 20th century photography.
MS: Would you talk about your use of black?
VZ: I was always drawn to very bold, graphic work, where the drama was created by the contrast of darks and lights. In a lot of cases using black and white is all that is needed to create the desired effect; everything else starts to be a distraction. However, there are some problems with black, it’s easy to overdo it and when it’s an ink drawing, quite impossible to erase.
MS: Who is your favorite contemporary artist?
VZ: I have a lot of respect and admiration for Mihail Chemiakin, an artist that I had the opportunity to study and work with after graduating from KCAI. Besides the overwhelming amount of paintings, drawings, illustrations and sculptures that Mihail has done and continues to do, he has a very unique approach to art making. He is also constantly researching and analyzing everything what’s happening in the art world and around us. As a result he creates some of the most interesting and amazing work.
MS: How important is narrative to your work?
VZ: I think that it’s present in everything I do. Sometimes it’s very open-ended, sometimes very specific and direct, but it’s there in some form.
MS: Do you use a sketchbook?
VZ: I have a pile of blank paper sitting around that I use for sketching. After I have a drawer full of sketches, doodles and drafts I compile them into something bound. I always had a lot of admiration for someone who can start a sketchbook and fill it from start to finish without tearing any pages out…
And thanks as always to you for reading! Thoughts? Questions? Feel free to leave a comment! <<<>>>