INTERVIEW: Our Editor speaks to contemporary Russian artist Marina Jijina
Theodora Clarke: Thank you so much for coming to talk to Russian Art and Culture today, Marina. My first question is about your artistic background. How would you describe your work?
Marina Jijina: I would say sincere and empirical, although this is a very hard question to answer for me as I wouldn’t like to be associated with already established movements and schools. Sometimes I draw inspiration from Outsider artists (Art Brut). Their work is always honest and very sincere.
My art starts with an idea. In that way it is intellectual I would say. It is connected with emotions but I am not led by emotions. I mainly paint from my mind, therefore imagination and memory are my main tools. I also try to purposely suppress colour to try to supress the immediate reaction and bring to the surface something which is deep down. I am exploring myself in order to understand the world around me.
TC: Did you always want to be an artist?
MJ: I don’t remember not drawing or painting. I have always sketched and painted, even when I was very young, there was never a time when I didn’t.
TC: You were brought up in Russia and I see you have painted pictures of Pushkin and Catherine the Great. How important is your Russian heritage to your work?
MJ: It has become important since I moved to England thirteen years ago. Although its only recently in the last two or three years that I have explored the importance of that heritage. When I lived in St Petersburg and I studied at the university I re-read Pushkin and Tolstoy so much that I got fed up with the books so I didn’t feel like painting those characters or the writers themselves when I lived in Russia. It’s only with the distance of living in London and the thirteen year journey of trying to understand the British culture that I came to turn and look back to the Russian culture from England.
TC: You mention Russian poets and writers but what about Russia’s artistic heritage? Are there any Russian artists that have been an inspiration to your work?
MJ: Yes, although not so much in form but in the message that their work conveys. I like Filonov and Vrubel.
TC: Those are two very distinctly Russian artists. What is it about their work that attracts you to it?
MJ: Filonov is just unique in the way he communicated with the canvas. His colours and his particular manner are very intense. I like that energy. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s abstract or its figurative; if I feel that connection, that sincerity with an artist then that works for me. With Vrubel I can feel the pain. I sympathise a lot with those artists that suffered their way through art, those are my favourite. I can follow their journey and I can suffer with them and that makes sense to me. Those that killed themselves, they had the strongest message to pass and I am attracted to those characters. I want to pick it up and I want to carry on the message that they have left for us.
TC: I noticed you’ve also been very attracted to the Old Masters. In terms of the wider European tradition, who would you say has been the greatest influence on your work?
MJ: It started with British painters actually, like L. S Lowry. I also like Gwen John a lot. I think she was much more gifted than her brother. I wanted to look a bit further, beyond the twentieth and nineteenth century. Recently I felt the necessity to find the connection between now and the past. In order to move forward I find the need to look back and take with you in your journey forwards something that has already been established. My research has been focused on international non-conformist artists. These were the strongest creatives in my opinion because they didn’t conform; they didn’t try to adjust their style or their views to others. For example Rosso Fiorentino I discovered a year ago when I went to Italy. He is now called Mannerist because during the sixteenth century Renaissance artists were dominating that scene but he didn’t belong. For various reasons he had to leave and escape to France. I don’t agree with his classification as mannerist but every artist has a style and there are those that for me are distinctly familiar when you look at them. For me there is much more to Rosso Fiorentino’s art than just his style. That’s why he attracted my attention.
TC: I notice that all the artists you have picked have all been very much stand-alone individuals and not necessarily part of a particular group or movement. Do you see yourself as part of a group? You have a manifesto that includes the signatures of several other artists.
MJ: It took me a couple of years to write and organise that manifesto but I am actually an individualist. I’m an outsider. I don’t like to belong to any groups although it’s easier to survive in artistic society as part of a group. That group actually is a union of 4 people that I made in order to find a connection between the Russian and English culture. We united so that we could exhibit together and find some common ground in our art.
TC: What are your plans at the moment? I know you have joined Rise Art. What is your involvement with that project and what are your plans for your next exhibitions?
MJ: My involvement with Rise Art has been the most enjoyable and successful of my career. I joined in December and in January I was chosen as a shortlisted artist thanks to a public vote. I love the concept of the project because people from all over the world, from Mexico to China, can vote for works. Because of their votes I was chosen, which is incredible, and that’s gives me a lot of opportunities to exhibit. I really enjoy it.
TC: It’s a tough economic time at the moment, especially for artists. A lot of art societies have been cut. How do you think the recent spending cuts are impacting on artists, in terms of your work at the moment?
MJ: I was born and grew up in Russia and I know from the Russian history that times have always been hard for art. If you choose to become an artist you don’t expect things to be good. No matter what the economic situation sometimes artists just can’t sell. I would be worried if my works sold out! As an artist you always have obstacles. It has been difficult for other artists I know in London. I know most artists have to find day jobs to be able to survive. Luckily I didn’t have to do that, but I continue to paint and draw every day. I always paint and draw, that’s my priority.
TC: I notice you have done several portraits and produced a number of figurative works. But you also have quite different styles in your paintings. How would you actually characterise your work? For example, what would you say are the major themes?
MJ: When I was very young, before I went to university, I once showed my work to a professor in the theatrical institute. He was looking for a student to join his group to become a theatre artist. I showed him my work and he said I had too many different styles and that he was looking for somebody who had one style and consistency. That was my first sign of non-conformation because it would have been easy for me if I stuck to a popular style. Some of my works are more popular than others so I could just rationally choose one direction. But I am not a person like that; I always try to follow my soul and that takes me in different directions. My work reflects the way my creativity leads me.
TC: Some people question why we need art. What would you say is the role of the artist in society today?
MJ: I can only speak from my own experience, not on behalf of all of the artists in London, but I believe that artists work very much like priests in that they are healing the soul of the human. That is where I belong. The point of all my work is trying to understand the conflict between man and the world. As you age you realise that something must be wrong because everything is difficult. The longer you live the more questions arise. Just like priests artists are this medium between the person, the little voice and this mass of callous in the world.
TC: I read that you are quite a spiritual person and that the Orthodox Church is important to you. How important is religion to you as an artist?
MJ: Although I am Russian Orthodox I am also practise yoga and I am godmother to a Catholic child in Paris, so I guess my spirituality spreads out to different religions. I’d like to untie different approaches to god rather than to separate them.
TC: I saw that you had a reading list on your website, which is quite unusual for artist. You mentioned on the Spiritual in Art by Kandinsky- have artists who have written about spirituality been significant for your artistic development?
MJ: Yes, very. Music is also particularly important to me. That’s another very metaphysical experience that humans can be exposed to. I couldn’t paint without music.
TC: Several of our readers are young up and coming artists themselves so what advice would you give to them as someone who is a professional?
MJ: I would advise them to be honest with themselves. You have to look within yourself in order to understand where you stand in the world. You have to research and look for the gifts that are hidden very deep. There are so many layers of surrogate and superficial beliefs and things we have been told but there is always something unique within us. I think creativity is part of our nature and something that connects us with God.
Interview conducted 2 October 2012. All content ©Russian Art and Culture