INTERVIEW WITH MAXIM DEMIN
Moscow artist Maxim Demin gave an interview to our journal, in which he talks about the connection of his work with traditional iconography and its interaction with the environment, time, space, his study of natural dynamics and life cycles of natural materials and objects, and spiritual sources of creativity.
Keywords: image, environment, spiritual, nature, culture, creativity
Brief information about the artist
Maxim Demin is an artist, a graduate of the Orthodox St. Tikhon University, a diploma winner of several art competitions, a member of the Creative Union of Artists of Russia (abstract art section), an artist-restorer of easel tempera painting in the Museum of Andrey Rublev, and teacher at the Department of Painting at the Moscow State Academic Art Institute after Ilya Surikov. The artist's works are in state museums and private collections in Russia and abroad.
Alexander Kopytin (A.K.): Your work combines the traditions of ancient Russian painting, icon painting and murals, with modern art - abstract expressionism, conceptual works, and street art. Such a combination seems to me innovative and distinguishes your explorations in the field of fine art. How might you characterize the specifics and tasks of such a combination?
Maxim Demin (M.D.): From the moment of my first acquaintance with ancient Russian art, both mural and icon painting, I had a desire to convey my impressions of what I saw. I wanted to find some way to reflect the depth of my feelings when looking at such monuments, preserving the aesthetics of the ruins, and at the same time I wanted to express myself in a modern language, understandable to a person of the 21st century. From this began my experiments, which led me to what I now have in my work.
Figure 1 Untitled
А.К.: What can you say about the spiritual basis and tasks of your art? To what extent can the tradition of ancient Russian painting, if we deviate from the canon, be a source of spiritual meaning and experience, relevant to the current cultural situation and the psychological, spiritual, and environmental needs of your contemporaries in Russia and other countries?
M.D.: All my works, in addition to using visual language, employ deep cultural and historical peculiarities and technicalities. Often, turning not to the prototype from icon painting, but to my inner spiritual instinct, I form new compositions. The spiritual part of the work in general is a very important aspect of art for me, since modern artists, in the vast majority, neglect this factor. On the contrary, I consider it necessary to talk about spirituality in art and believe that forming the spiritual dimension is fundamental for the creation of any kind of artwork. After all, the spiritual basis of art is what allows you to harmonize the natural and cultural foundations of life.
Figure 2 Untitled (from the Lîgnūm series)
Figure 3 Untitled
A.K.: I imagine that some viewers may perceive your work negatively and may consider them a violation of the laws of sacred art, the icon-painting canon. Others, on the contrary, may see in your work the attempts of a modern artist, not limited to stylistic searches and borrowings of original forms, to look for meanings in the times of “post-truth”, the debunking of humanism and spiritual truths characteristic of postmodernity.
M.D.: Both these opinions exist. The former category of viewers is less common. Both options can be present in one individual from what I have seen. But here the question is more about what the author invests in the work.
A.K.: What role does the environment play in your work, the features of the natural landscape and its condition? Are they reflected in the content or the atmosphere of your work? Does tuning yourself to the atmosphere of your environment matter to you?
M.D.: In general, I don’t consider myself to be a ‘city person’, but at the same time, I have spent most of my conscious life in a metropolis. Natural landscapes inspire me a lot. Sometimes also urban landscapes and architectural ruins. The environment is very important to me. I really like to create a certain atmosphere around me and consider this as an important task for an artist.
A.K.: You don’t consider yourself to be a city person, although you have lived in a metropolis most of your life. What is the basis for you to consider yourself ‘not a city person’? What are you looking for and finding in the city? How different do you feel and perceive reality outside of an urban environment?
M.D.: At the moment I no longer live in the metropolis. I have recently moved out of town. I have always had a desire to be closer to nature in order to be able to observe the change of seasons and to be inspired by natural themes. Outside the urban environment, I feel great physical and spiritual freedom, and this encourages me to new creative endeavors.
A.K.: Many people in our modern world are hypnotized by the Internet environment and heavily influenced by telecommunication technologies and screen reality. They are attracted by the rapidly rotating whirlpool of the information environment, which radically changes our perception of time and space. How important are the categories of time and space to you? It seems to me that your work conveys a different experience of time and space, which occurs when we break out of the ordinary environment, come into contact with the "eternal", tune in to the natural dynamics of life, space, time and the human spirit. They are revealed, for example, when contemplating an “aged” natural material or cultural artifact (icon, etc.).
M.D.: I am also under the influence of the above phenomena. They form an important part of the modern world. Now a significant proportion of information is received and transmitted through the prism of electronic gadgets. By the way, I began to address this issue recently in my works, such as, for example, the installation “Letter from God”, now presented at the exhibition of the Art Therapy Center in St. Petersburg, or the work “Here is Wisdom”, currently on display at the Center for Contemporary Art in Yaroslavl. Both of these works reflect the perception of information by a modern person through electronic devices, but at the same time, preserving the genuine images that resist the media whirlpool.
A.K.: The French philosopher Paul Virilio writes about the “twilight of the place”, which manifests itself in the modern person’s feeling of the limitedness of the living environment, which is largely due to the replacement of immediate reality with the reality that is associated with the Internet and the media. He also asks questions about the extent to which processes of spiritual growth and individualization are possible in a culture that functions on the basis of rigid information algorithms; he draws attention to the lack of depth of perception and the limitation of time and distance, which are necessary for spiritual and psychological growth. How significant is the influence of the Internet and the media for you, and to what extent is this influence one of the reasons for your inclination to study the natural dynamics of materials and objects in your work?
M.D.: The Internet and information technologies now strongly influence our perception of the world around us. I, like any other person, know this and accept it as a fact. Perhaps for the same reason, due to the oversaturation of information, I wanted to turn to a kind of primary source, to work with natural materials and objects, reaching for a more holistic and authentic experience of reality, and with it the possibility of spiritual and psychological growth. I agree that sometimes an excess of information coming from various media creates a kind of veil that limits opportunities for the processes of spiritual growth and individualization, the depth of perception of the world, and the comprehension of time and distance. After all, spiritual growth is impossible without the appropriate dimensions of time and space. I, as an artist and a person, need to immerse myself in space and time based on attunement to the natural environment with its rhythms and dynamics of formation, decay and restoration.
А.К.: You mention that you like to work with old material - wood, metal, fabric - and this brings you much closer to the original source of your work. What exactly captivates you with old, natural materials? What is the significance for you of the "ecology" of the material, its naturalness and the history of its life, including the phases of aging and dying? Are you interested in the "mystery" of the transition from one stage or form of life to another, that new life that enters the old natural material or object through an artistic act?
M.D.: I am attracted to old materials and objects by their natural qualities and capabilities. The idea that I give an opportunity to an old object to find a second life in the form of contemporary art also rings true for me. And, of course, the color, texture; all this is very mesmerizing. Sometimes I look at one of these objects and understand that I am powerless before the natural life cycle, because nature has done everything for me and sometimes it’s better not to do anything more, other than pay attention to the object and tell others about it by bringing this element to light.
Figure 4 Untitled (from the Lîgnūm series)
Figure 5 Untitled (from the Lîgnūm series)
A.K.: You admit that you strive, by including your works directly into the environment or into a photographic image, even if the environment consists of the most unpretentious, urbanized, industrial or dilapidated buildings, to show that beauty and “the sacred” are present everywhere, and that something beautiful can be revealed in the ordinary and the profane.
In your work, a natural or cultural object is revealed in a state of half-life, half-destruction. What psychological, spiritual and cultural problems are you trying to solve for yourself and your contemporaries by exploring reality through the prism of natural entropy and creation? Do you see any similarity between your artistic method of studying physical and spiritual reality and the aesthetic worldview of wabi-sabi, with its cult of modesty, non-brightness, imperfection, authenticity, and at the same time, inner power? In your work, in my opinion, there is something akin to a Zen sense of the world with its desire for the transcendent, the will to go beyond the limits of material dependence, and, at the same time, the ability to follow the material, learn from it, listen to it, comprehend and clearly transmit its ecology, and reveal the beauty of the natural, discreet, and ordinary.
Figure 6 Untitled (from the Attribution series)
Figure 7 Untitled (from the Attribution series)
Figure 8 "Royal Doors"
M.D.: I am very fond of the aesthetics of the ruins, the beauty of seemingly ordinary elements of our culture, whether it be architecture or icon painting. In these dilapidated objects, I see centuries-old wisdom, suffering, goodness, holiness, a feeling of awe from the opportunity to communicate with a person of past centuries, to touch monuments that a person touched hundreds of years ago. It's an indescribable feeling. In my works, above all, I try to draw attention to the crumbling monuments of our homeland. To old churches, icons, paintings, to a heritage that many simply do not care about, and which are forced to live out their lives, because the priorities of culture do not seem to be on their side. But without that depth and dimension that are associated with the life of a ruin, culture is without roots and the nutritious soil, without which it is deprived of the strength of life and faith. This is the natural and cultural ecology that I try to comprehend and convey in my work.
А.К.: How important is the theme of preserving the natural world for you? What role does the artist play in the process of finding ways to harmonize human and natural forms of being?
M.D.: The topic of ecology is also a very important issue for me. Although I do not emphasize its environmental orientation in my work, in my own way I am looking for ways to harmonize the natural and the human, the material and the spiritual, the profane and the sacred, the modern and the historical. If we are able to see the beauty and spiritual essence of any form of being, we have reason to hope for the salvation of humans and the world. It's good that artists are now paying more attention to environmental issues, but this is only the beginning. There is still a lot of work to do.
Interviewed by: Kopytin, Alexander
Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor, Department of Psychology, St. Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Education (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Reference for citations
Kopytin, A. (2022). Interview with Maxim Demin. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, Vol.3(2). - URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru
“Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice” is the first international multidisciplinary Journal focused on building an eco-human paradigm, disseminating eco-human knowledge and technology based on the alliance of ecology, humanities and the arts. Our journal aims to be a vibrant forum of theories and practices aimed at harmonizing the relations of mankind and the natural world in the interests of sustainable development, the creation of Eco-Humanity as a new community of human beings and more-than-human world. The human being is an ecological being, not separate from the world. The Ecopoiesis journal is based on that premise and aims to develop a body of theory and practice within that framework.
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