Oleg Komarov is a contemporary Russian artist based in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. His artworks are mostly focused on the narration and exploration of human perception. Oleg moved to Germany in 2018. And participated in several exhibitions with his abstract paintings. Then started to experiment with such techniques as sculpture and AR. This interview explores these topics in connection to his education, nomadic life, artistic and curatorial practices.
M: We’ve known each other for several years now. As far as I know, you were not far from obtaining a PhD in social psychology at Samara State Academy of Social Sciences and Humanities?
O: I have completed my bachelor degree in Samara, then I got admitted into a PhD program. I wrote my dissertation on lookism, but I didn’t defend it because I realized that I was more into art.
M: Would you please tell more about how you switched to art? Has it always been in your scope when it started to come to the fore? And why did it outweigh the rest of your interests?
O: At that point, I did not have other options. In 2010-2011, a sort of a cultural boom took place in Samara. There were a lot of sites around the city: galleries, exhibition spaces, informal spaces, etc. Surrounded by this, I was a consumer of this art. I have developed my own attitude to art which was truly fresh, contemporary and local.
I got caught up in these processes, and I decided I wanted to acquire some more practical knowledge. And then i got accepted into the first intake of Oksana Strogova’s school Quadro. There we would create abstract paintings using different techniques. At some point, we even used a human body – that was an interesting experience. There, I spent one and a half years in total. During this time, I delved into the logic of abstract representation, which, to be honest, I didn’t understand at all in the beginning. It was not quite clear for me why this artwork that I created, according to my teacher, was good, and another one was not. But at some point I acquired the logic and I find my own way in it. During this time, I created a portfolio which paved my way into the MMOMA School of Contemporary Art “Free Workshops” in Moscow.
M: It looks like the current degree you are getting in Offenbach University of Art and Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach am Main) in Germany is the most “classical” of all your previous degrees in art?
O: Yes, because before I was just frantically consuming any information about contemporary art: books, magazines, web-sites, documentaries. When I moved to Moscow, I would go to every single opening.
M: Based on your experience, do you think it is at all important to get a degree in art to enter the profession?
O: I think it is important because it provides a common ground for exchanging experience. You do not stand alone in an isolated space, you are not remote from other people, you can find like-minded people. It’s not even necessary to work on projects together, it’s enough to participate in discussions about it, because it stirs up your interest too. For this reason I think that yes, it is important. Besides, the way I see it, an artist today needs not only a practical but a theoretical education too in order to understand what has been happening in contemporary art and how the philosophical thought has been changing.
M: Yes, I completely agree with you. Can we say that studying is like a debating society for you?
O: At the end of the day, I do my current studies in Germany, and I am more focused on practical experiments. Yes, I am ready to talk about it, ready to look for a foundation inside a theory, but for me this education is more of an opportunity to access workshops, things I don’t have access to in Russia. I always felt that I lacked a purely craftsman skills. That was always a question to talk and to think about, if an artist needs to have it. Even now I don’t have an answer: there are a lot of opportunities to do art.
M: Nowadays there are too many techniques and mediums that can be mastered to make art. The ideal question to finish this part is: can you draw?
O: I believe that I can create works of art.
M: As we have already seen, a lot in your creative path depends on the place where you are at. What do you think, how important is the location for a young or emerging artist? How fruitful for the career could be movements and relocation?
O: The question is not only about the value of nomadism, but also about different starting points. The path always gives you something – experience. When you move to a new place where there are more opportunities to watch and make art, you experience the same feelings as a tourist in Rome. You eagerly consume everything by visiting museums, sightseeings and historical landmarks. You have more enthusiasm for moving forward. And if I would have a different entry point, it would just be a different path. In fact, it is not so important where you start. Someone needs to make more efforts, someone less, but this does not change the interest in art.
Is the experience of moving to a new city, acquaintance with a new culture necessary for an artist? I think so. Just like any other information that you receive is necessary: philosophical studies, histories, cultural knowledge. New discoveries could be made anywhere, for example, the experience of moving and starting a new life that allows you to take on a new role one way or another. This is a way to live multiple lives.
М: Talking about your own preferences, which artists would you recommend to see to those who are interested in abstract painting?
O: I highly recommend Brice Marden, but to understand his work you will need to read about them too.
Besides that, I would like to mention someone who was not directly connected to abstract painting and even criticized it – Andy Warhol, and in particular his series Shadows. I have a dream to see it live.
Then David Ostrowski, his artworks attract with the minimal effort that was applied to create them: one or two spray strokes appear on the white canvas. This is not Newman’s style of minimalism, it is on the borderline between criticism of abstraction and abstraction itself.
M: What do you think allows abstract painting to remain contemporary?
O: Abstraction is closely connected to our feelings, how different shapes, volumes, colors and materials affect us. I consider it as communication of the emotional state. I remember my impression of Anish Kapoor’s artworks, although they are not considered as abstract paintings, when I visited his exhibition “My Red Homeland” in Moscow. The first thing I heard was the warning not to touch it in any case. That was surprising and a bit annoying while I have visited so many museums already and know the main rules. But when I came closer to the artwork and looked over the wax and pigment, I didn’t want to touch it, I wanted to eat it.
М: …the same I felt looking at Joseph Beuys’ installation “Tallow” at Hamburger Bahnhof.
O: The artworks make a visual impression on us and evokes emotions. I generally believe that I do not create abstractions, but create art using abstraction.
M: In your recent projects, you started experimenting with sculpture, video, and digital formats, but why did you decide to go beyond painting?
O: The medium is not so important for me, I create an atmosphere or space, and I can use different techniques. I am currently working on a sculptures series that I’m weaving into a storyline. I call it history because I believe that my practice is related to narrative.
M: If we think more globally, do we need to talk today about different mediums at all? Perhaps, it is the time to change the focus and come up with new categories, while the concept of a medium has played out?
O: I am generally against this division while It creates discrimination. I would like to get rid of the medium, because now it is more important what topics you talk about, and not by what means. I would like to reset the medium’s dictation! What could be the consequences is another question.
M: Why did you decide to experiment with different digital formats?
O: I consider digital formats as an abstraction, because it is something that exists and does not exist at the same time. In abstract painting you can recognize shapes and objects, as if in Rorschach tests. It exists between the plausible and the improbable. Augmented reality is something that exists, but we can only see it with the help of intermediaries, applications on our phones or tablets. By discovering it, by looking at the phone screens, we see some reality that was not available to us before. In this sense, it is the same phenomenon as an abstraction. So I use AR without making any distinction with abstraction at all.
M: We’ve already discussed your different projects multiple times and you often focus the attention on the choice of colors and their meaning. Why is color so important to you?
О: The most honest would be to say that the color is at the moment interesting personally to me. I want to achieve some emotional and physiological impact with it.
The series “Colorful objects” is the result of my observations of the environment, what we can see in nature. For me, the biggest mystery is what some colors are for, except to draw attention. I’m looking for similarities with reality: some colors warn us, for example, the neon orange of work uniforms or the colors of road partitions that we can see everywhere in the city.
Color always contains information, but how does it work? We read it unconsciously, we attach meanings to colors. I reflected on this phenomenon in the series “Kodoku”. According to my idea, they should have a deeper influence: either a feeling of freezing on the spot as a mouse in front of the snake, or a fear. When I can or if I can reach this effect.
M: How does glossiness help to reach your goals? Why did you choose to work with epoxy resin?
O: The first time it was used from a completely practical point of view. Epoxy resin is transparent and shiny, reflecting light, it attracts attention. If you are not attracted to the colors, then at the level of the retina you will definitely catch the shine. Then I liked this material and found it has some meditative capacity too. It was essential for some artworks, while it stops our gaze and concentrates it.
M: Over the past years you have participated in several exhibitions as an artist and even curated a few shows in Vienna and Moscow. Could you tell what was the most interesting experience of showing your artworks?
O: The most interesting experience I had was in the funeral hall, the space where people are sent off on their last journey: where they are washed, where the last prayers are said.
It looked like a bathroom with tiles on the walls and concrete floor. The space that had a certain purpose was briefly changed – it became an exhibition space. I exhibited artworks, small abstractions, based on the observation of the sky and atmospheric events at a certain point.
I talked a lot with visitors, and in some of these conversations I noticed how someone found their own meaning. And how the space merged with the artworks and at the same time how it changed the perspective. The paintings did not have the meaning that the audience offered – more precisely, that what was shown was the last look at the sky. Obviously such circumstances changed the attitude to the artworks. Whether this is good or bad, I do not know, but as an artist I am open to the re-interpretation. I believe that an artwork is not a static point. It is just like any object or living organism that enters a new, different environment (we said earlier that when you get to a new place, you start a new life) an artwork also begins a new life.
M: What matters for you the most when it comes to showing your artworks?
O: First, the mere opportunity to demonstrate them, the fact that the viewer and my artwork would collide. Second, from the practical side it is always important that they are exhibited correctly for viewing. Some artworks are created with the idea of how they should be displayed. For example, for some works with epoxy resin, you need proper lighting. The series on the sky observation I would prefer to show in space with sunlight. The story must be told – the artworks must be properly arranged so that the viewer can count it.
М: Back to the conversation about abstract painting, what, as you think, does point out abstract painting from the space and environment either exhibition one, or not?
O: The image that we can’t identify as real, figurative, gives us space for imagination, for our perception. It is deprived of symbolism and the dictates of similarity with reality. We are free to interpret such an image as we want. We can turn this into a game, start seeing different shapes there, and at the same time we can focus on the formal side: patterns, materials, colors. Therefore, abstraction is still associated for me with freedom: freedom of thought and freedom to accept something new.
M: Let’s imagine that the standard exhibition white cube – that was introduced as the term by Brian O’Doherty in the 1970s, has lost its validity. Where would you like to present your work? In what spaces could they, on the one hand, get a new life, but on the other, tell the story as you create it?
O: I think that the church and the white cube are quite close concepts for abstract painting. As for exhibiting possibilities, it would be interesting for me personally to connect paintings, meaning on ordinary canvases, with certain objects, to let paintings become a part of the installation.
As for spaces, I would take the radical ones, e.g. pool bottom. The exhibition I want to do would take place in a private house or a castle. I would then replace all former artworks, i.e. the realistic paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, that have been hanging there for a long time. Perhaps, I would even leave their weird kitschy frames. For me, it is always thrilling to play with the space.
M: What do you dream about now as an artist?
O: My dream is to devote myself completely to art practice, so that there is nothing that distracts me from it. In the future, I would like my work to give me the opportunity to move around the world. And also to have an artist’s studio and to exhibit artworks in different places.
Interview by Maria Zolotova
Maria Zolotova is an art historian, curator and researcher. Having experience in various art organizations including the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation and Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Her current interests lay in the interdisciplinary collaborations in contemporary art and its mediative role that open up new horizons and perspectives.