Costa Dvorezk is the rare sort of painter who seeks unbridled freedom of expression within a highly technical discipline. He succeeds in suffusing his figurative works with movement and a raw frenetic energy, and compromises nothing of the technical refinements of his craft in the process. Not to make too fine a point of it, but wasn’t this the mark of the old masters? descriptive precision perfectly balanced with an immediacy of expression? Nice to see an artist devoted to this notion of craft who is not at once tethered to the antique subject matters themselves. You will notice, there are no cherubs or pastorals here. For a discussion of the thematic content of the work, I’ll refer you to Robert Meynell’s article posted on Costa’s website: http://dvorezky.com/pages/articles_w.htm. I sat down with Costa for a drink and a conversation about his process, influences, and life. The bar was loud, and I confess to getting sauced. Regardless, One hopes you find the conversation as enlightening as I did.
Q You work in several styles, with very few similarities between them, in terms of aesthetic or technique, can you talk a bit about this?
A i have three themes, the way I paint. when you work in the same style too much, it becomes just a product. so that’s dangerous for the artist as a creative person, and it’s also bad for the market. You’re doing something very similar for 5 or 6 years and for some reason that’s it, you’re not painting anymore, so you have to come up with something fresh.
Q You work on one theme at a time?
A Yeah, of course, I’ll work on one theme for a couple of months, you know, 3 months let’s say, and when it gets dry, when I don’t know what else to do I’ll take a break and move to the opposite theme. you can open up a different process and then go back to the other one, right? It also helps continuing to be secure, because you have to survive, you know, feed the family (laughs).
Q Can you talk a bit about your training?
A I studied in Moscow. It’s a little bit different from here. In Moscow I trained in the Art Academy, so before that you have to go to the art college. At that time it was very competitive, you had to take these exams that last for two weeks. and then they told you wether you’d been accepted or not.
Q This was for the college or the academy?
A For both. The first step was you brought in your portfolio for a review, this would decide if they’d let you take the exam, right? because so many people come. The exam is 3 or 4 days of drawing. It’s life drawing, 4 hours every day. So By the end, you have to have finished the drawing. Then they have to decide what level you’re at. Once you’ve been accepted they’re teaching you the other disciplines too, literature, math, and history as well as art.
Q And once you’re at the academy, what’s the style of teaching?
A It’s very conservative.
Q Cast drawings? Sight size method?
A Yeah. All that.You start at the beggining, because you have to understand not just how to draw it, but also how it’s structure works, which I think is a really really smart move because you know, let’s say you’re drawing a person from profile, you need to know how they look from all other angles as well.
Q So if you’re looking at me head on, you could draw me from the side view?
A Yeah, that sort of thing, so we have to do a lot of anatomy courses. Probably 8 hours a week, you know it’s very intensive, it basically gives you the ability to paint. they want you to be able to do anything the situation requires by the time you get out of there.
Q Did you struggle with this teaching method at all?
A Oh no, it’s an incredible thing.
Q And what direction did you go with your work after school?
A Well, since I finished, because I’d had so much of the academic experiences, I knew I had to start somewhere with different subjects, you know, less academic things.
Q When was that?
A This was in 1993. I was trying to marry this with academic structure or composition , to find the right marriage. But then I came to Canada and I had problems selling anything.
Q It took you a long time to find interest here?
A Yeah. The market wasn’t really for this kind of work. I sold alright in France or Switzerland, other places, you know, but not really here at first.
Q What made you come to Canada?
A I just wanted to travel, because I couldn’t sell anything in Russia, because you know, people were poor, artists might have like one client. I’d been living in Moscow, so I came here for a little bit, and then stayed for some reason.
Q Where do you get your models from?
A Well my wife is a ballet dancer…
Q …and there you go. (laughs)
So let’s say for your figurative theme, How long does a painting typically take?
A It really depends. sometimes it’s happening in 3 days, sometimes in 3 weeks. Sometimes a month and a half. the painting is never finished right? you’re trying to get the maximum out of the the square of information from the canvas, so it takes time.
Q Other than your wife, who are the other models?
A a friend of mine, sometimes I get him to come down. Though I don’t always use a model when I paint.
Q Would that be true of the action paintings, like the jumpers? Do you ever use photographs?
A Yeah sometimes i use photographs. I had my friend for that one. He kept jumping for me, I would try take these pictures of him midair, but kept missing, so he was just jumping there for a while, it was quite funny.
Q So that’s how you got those poses
A Sure, Because for me it’s not the move, it’s more like anatomy, you know when you’ve got a moving figure, all the muscles have different articulations, especially when you’re in the air rather than when you’re standing up, which is easy enough. When you’re in the air the muscles move totally differently, the body, it’s not as stiff. The weight is less obvious, so all the muscles express new shapes. It’s quite different.
This was something to deal with in these paintings. Plus you have to be quite minimal with your brush strokes, so that’s what i deal with all the time. because you put it down, “no i don’t like it” so you wipe it off, do it again. it can go on like this for several days.
Q I noticed this quality in your work. While it is very immediate, it’s still very accurate, the fresh quality of the mark making doesn’t come at the expense of descriptive accuracy.
A That’s what I’m trying to do.
Q are your ideas Formal? Is there a conceptual framework that you’re trying to fit works into? Or do you simply get ideas for colours and poses and this fits into your general sensibility?
A That’s a good question. My idea of the painting is never the subject matter. I never really care about that. I care about the movement, the brush’s movement, and the shapes that I want to get in that space, And the light. The human body is the perfect subject for this kind of execution. Its hard to do and it’s a little bit different, you get unexpected colours and you have to adapt to this.
Q Do you do sketches and preperatory drawings?
A Yeah, occasionally, but most of the time I just go from the cavas. because, you know, I found out sometimes you do the sketch and think, “oh that’s pretty good” and then you try it at a bigger size and it loses it’s dimension. If it’s straight from the canvas you’re starting with the right dimensions. If it’s just a sketch, sure it looks nice, but you don’t know if it translates well to the canvas.
Q What’s your approach to colour? do you keep a limited pallette?
A I keep it to a certain palette. because you don’t have as hard a time mixing. Some people are mixing all these colours and you look at their palettes, and can’t figure out how they have time to paint. Always try to keep it to basics, like primary colours. Of course you have to have the whites and earth tones too. Mixing with basic colours, you can really control the consistency of it. You use violet from the tube let’s say, you try to mix anything with it, it won’t work. So just primaries, and umber, The rest, forget it.
Q Mix on the canvas?
A No, on the palette. well sometimes, it depends on what you do
Q I’ve noticed the way you score the canvases, almost like razor marks.
A Yeah, first I’ll prime the canvas, then on certain areas I’ll do that with a putty knife.
Q You do this on top of the painting or underneath it?
A underneath. It’s kind of mechanical probably, but that’s what allows me to do like this technique with the natural brushstrokes, and the background, it adds to it somehow.
Q There’s an interesting tension between these sharp lines almost cutting through the softer qualilties of figure, it adds an almost aggressive dimension to the work
A I don’t think it’s aggressive but it helps me to say more, if i cover it with a brushstroke, certain things you won’t see. Its just another element. I use it as let’s say an underpainting, I just put different things on top of it.
Q Do you use glaze techniques?
A No. I use just like a varnish at the end.
Q What are some of your Influences?
A Well it’s always changing right? when you’re a kid it’s one thing, and then things progress. It’s hard to say. I like so many artists.
Q let’s say historically.
A At first when I was a little kid kid it was just old masters Then in college it was mostly impressionists because that was a pretty revolutionary kind of thing, historically, and it’s beautiful work. Then at the academy it was a lot of conceptual work, because of the training we had, you know, too much of one thing. Now I think I go back to the old masters. I’ve realized I’d really like to go back to Europe twice a year to look at them. You have to see the originals, It’s a totally different space, besides, the reproduction just gives you the image, it can’t give you information on how it was made.
Q You can always tell a painter at a museum because they have their noses practically pressed up against the art
A Which is kind of pathetic maybe. (laughs) Maybe I’m just getting older, but I realize they really were such giants, there’s so much to learn there.
Q Do you think there’s a market in Europe for Realism?
A No. The market is here not in Europe. They have so much of everything there, it’s really hard . Painting for them means something more lofty.
Q Socially, or even professionally, Do you associate with a network of artists?
A Well, I keep with a few friends that are russian artists, but really I don’t have a lot of spare time actually.
Q When you’re painting, how would you describe the process? for example, Is it peaceful? or maybe intense? what’s the experience like for you?
A Its not peaceful no, but it’s something I can’t wait to start doing every day. I have a physical addiction to paint. It’s something I really enjoy doing.
Q Do you feel like you’re on the right track?
A Well yeah, I love it. I don’t want to do anything else with my life.
Q Do you have long term goals?
A well I’d like to become a master.
Q Are you there yet?
A You never get there because there’s always more to learn, it’s bottomless, the learning process. I gotta tell you something. somedays I feel like I’m in school. Back when I was in college… I miss that. bascially, I had no responsibilities, nothing to do but go and paint and have fun. Enjoy it while you can.
Q I’m trying! What sorts of goals are you planning?
A Well every painting I try to do something different. I don’t mean different in terms of painting different things, but different in terms of upscaling my process. distilling it with less brushstrokes. That’s why I tried that thing with the palette knife, so there’s already something there, it helps me to do less.
Q how’s the process changing over the years?
A I use less brushstrokes now. And I show more information with the application
Q does that mean taking more time between brushstrokes?
A Yes. You take more time, it’s more labour intensive, but eventually it works. But I find I have to redo things often. I work large, so your distance from the painting can skew the paintings too, you have to step back and see where things are, sometimes it requires a different approach with the placing of the various parts of the figure. It’s funny, with some paintings I’ll spend a lot of time with these kinds of problems but then the next few are suddenly very easy.
Q Do you work in sets and variations?
A yeah. And I plan it. I have to plan it, because creativity for some reason is tied up to financial issues for me.
Q how does that dynamic work?
A Well maybe I’ll work on one series for a couple of months and then I’ll switch to a different series that may be less commercial, but i’ll have fun with that. But it will take longer to resolve these ones. It’s an equation of what you can afford to do.
Q Are you good under pressure?
A yeah. It can be distracting, but I do need a little bit of fire, so it’s all psychological. You need both. You always want the work to be proper but then you have these deadlines, and that can be problem. I’m lucky right now, I have the freedom to work on what I want.
Q Do you find your themes slowly starting to merge at all?
A Yeah. That’s what I would like to achieve. When I can achieve this it will be much easier to work
A Where do you feel realism is at?
Q I think It will start to happen everywhere. people are getting tired of the contemporary thing. Modernism is everywhere right now. It’s cheap and it’s everywhere. Now, Realism is tired of detail because of detail is so available in photography. In fine art it’s hard to do this. Photorealism is not as competent, because it’s really hard to be expressive with it. It has to do with the new technologies. Because of this, the future of realism will to do with expression as evidence of the brushstrokes. That’s what people will want.
I think realism will come back at some point. I see people start to realize the limits of modern art. Contemporary art is beautiful and all, but you change the couches in the living room now you have to change the art, and you payed so much money for it! I think it will take quite a few years, but society is changing, with the big changes in the world right now, everyone will re-evaluate what they have. I don’t know what will happen, but I think people will want something different, and that gives a chance for this aesthetic to re-emerge as something new.
Q Do you feel as though you struggle against contemporary trends?
A First, personally I don’t think you have to struggle. But the other thing is, there’s so many people on the planet, there’s something for everyone there. But still, it has been too long for this kind of art, also, it’s a new century, historically interesting things happen around these times, in culture ad polititcs as well as art, so i think the shift is coming, hopefully something’s going to happen in this [figurative/realist] direction.