I made the subconscious choice to become an artist at a conscious age.  I had completed my studies in history and philosophy at the University of Latvia when I realised that this was not my life’s calling at all.  I had read a great deal about historical individuals, war heroes, other leaders, and artists.  The paradigm of the 20th century offered nothing to a young historian who was physically different than others.  I found work at the National Archive, which was a godforsaken place where wages were minimal.  (I ended up returning to the archive somewhat later, when my wife had grown tired of supporting us both.)  I thought that I was going to perish.  I told my parents that I was going to continue my studies.  I would learn to draw.  I had no skills at drawing, I did not feel close to the subject at hand, but I needed an escape.  I was also inspired by the life stories of artists which I had read and translated from the French as a developmental exercise.  I did not know that in this search for refuge, I had opened the correct door.

The very first thing that I did when I started to draw was draw a great sun on the wallpaper of my bedroom, much to the delight of my parents.

The die was cast.  I started to study art seriously, first with private instructors, and then at the Latvian National Academy of Art.  That was a fascinating environment, full of people who were not afraid to colour outside of the lines, so to speak.  Later, life would sort them out.  I was absolutely in the right place.  I met my wife at the academy. We led a bohemian life in which we drank a lot and did whatever we chose, but she taught me to draw, helped me to develop my skills, was strict when it came to the academic approach to drawing, and established serious requirements with respect to my art.  I presented myself as a courageous and ambitious student, one who had his own outlook in life.  And yet there were plenty of things which kids learned at art schools and colleges which went missing for me.  I had to learn them along the way at the academy, and so my wife and I drew and painted from early morning until late in the evening.  Particularly in advance of exams, we sometimes didn’t even go home at night.

While at the academy, I defined my style and technique.  It was clear that I wanted to paint life as I saw and interpreted it.  I was prepared for this in intellectual terms.  I had matured.  I absolutely do not produce imagined compositions or pretty pictures for interior design.  The idea comes first, and it can be based on just about anything – people (Make Up_B, Make Up 1,2,3), something about primates seen on the Discovery Channel (Boris & Gleb, Nicola, Gottesmutter), or even a combination of words (Manual Therapy, Verbal Sadism).  Ideas come from things that delight me.  Ideas come from hunger (Horse) or from things that I would like to eat (Caviar From Baku, Dead Yankee).  Dyoma Boeing is based on a desire to fly and drop bombs on everyone.  Bath and Blood for Blood refer to my wife’s heroism, while Zinger is about her sewing.  The appearance of a desperate cashier led to Cash DeskArbeit macht frei! refers to modern slavery, while Dyoma and Trolley-Bus is about germophobia.  I also appear in many of my works.  I am naked and crippled in Horse, Elephant, The Ostriches, Angel, Siamese Twins, Hegemon’s Hygiene, and others.

As soon as I have formulated an idea on the basis of the concept “event-reaction-phenomenon,” off I go!  I already know the appearance of the artwork and the colours that I will use.  I draw a sketch just to make sure that I’ve got it right (although, of course, there have also been artworks which have involved a great many sketches and studies to find the best visualisation of my intention and my idea).  Usually I work quickly. There is no suffering if the process is subordinated to the goal, just as long as the goal is clear.  I prep the canvas quickly.  I draw my sketches while the gelatine is drying, and then I start to paint.  From there, the process is all but automatic.

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1. Boris & Gleb, 2010, oil on canvas, 150 x 125 cm
2.  Horse, 2003, oil on canvas, 150 x 110 cm
3.  Caviar From Baku, 2007, oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm
4.  The Ostrich(es), 2006, oil on canvas, 110 x 150 cm

A big turning point in terms of my techniques was the use of the palette knife.  That was exactly what I’d been looking for.  I could use the brush now exclusively for the foundations and the details of the painting.  Oil paints, too, are an inspirational and encouraging artistic material. The way in which they appear on the canvas is quite magical, indeed.  Don’t ask me which is my favourite colour.  I love them all.  I use them all.  I am as delighted as a child to find a new colour combination.  When I look back at what I’ve done in the past, I see that my sketches, too, are independent objects of art, but oil paintings nevertheless excite me because of the process. They do better at presenting my thoughts, and even though oil paintings take longer to complete, the fact is that they offer a more powerful means for communicating with the viewer who can then join me in my delight or, instead, criticise the work.  In either case, the viewer must think, think and think again.  The point is that all of my formal techniques, the colours, the light, the shadow, the absence of these, the decorativeness of the work – all of that is secondary to my desire to make sure that the message is clear, that the message or some component thereof becomes obvious from the first glance.  My instructors often complained that I was not listening to what they were saying. That was not true.  I heard what they said, but my aim was to present my ideas on canvas in a “pure” way, without any purposeful, artificial or unjustified so-called compositional solutions. Those are techniques which are of use if you really want to be an artist, but you don’t have your own ideas.  An artwork is meant to present your own adventures, your character, your experience in life.  Surely these are not things that someone can teach from the sidelines. Yes, instructors can teach you about the technical fundamentals – prepping the canvas, studying life, constantly producing portraits, learning about anatomy, and so on.  The rest of it, however, is up to you.  I thank my instructors for never allowing me to sink to the level of a dilettante and for overseeing my training, but everything else has been up to me and my wife, no one else.

I believe that I am doing what I have been called upon to do.  When I try to do other things, it is without much enthusiasm.  I feel like I am being punished.  Only painting allows me to breathe freely, to think, to feel emotion, to be.  Just to be.  When I paint, I am a fish in the water.  I know what I have to do and how.  I know the paints that I need.  I know the format that I must choose.  Only my wife is allowed to recommend things in this regard, because she knows me and what can be expected of me.  We’ve been living and working together for 15 years, you see.  When it comes to technique, it appears automatically once the intention is clear.  To be sure, the aesthetics of the brushstrokes are important for me, but they are not the goal in and of themselves.

Head Shot, 2010, 150 x 125 cm (incomplete)

The painting which I am producing at this time (Head Shot) represents something of a continuation of the theme of terrorism, global governance, behind-the-scenes politics, etc. These are all things which shape and determine our reality, but we know little about them.  Perhaps we sense something; perhaps we are misled in this regard.  The same is true for me.  I don’t know much, and I take a slightly ironic approach in imagining the way in which things happen.  There is an ornate office with two ornate chairs in which two grandees are sitting.  Hmm.  It seems that one of them has been shot. Such an intimate atmosphere!  Who could have been the shooter?  Surely not the elegantly dressed gentleman with his fine shoes and his teacup in hand.  His status would not allow him to do anything like that ... by his own hand.  And, yet, does that have any effect on the final result?