Confronting the Non-Conformist A Conversation With Dmitry Borshch

Dmitry Borshch, "Mining Archer"
“Mining Archer”

Your pictures in Psychology Tomorrow belong to a series. What is its title and why?

“Exiled from Truth: Nine Allegories by Dmitry Borshch” is the title under which some allegorical pictures are collected, possibly more than nine: the series continues to develop.  They are united by color, style, and technique, so I view them as a homogeneous collection of drawings. Allegory, drawn or written, is a product of that mind which regards truth as existing-in-absence: it does exist yet is absent from our view. Allegories like mine would not be needed if truth were openly present.

What motivated you to make these works?

I distinguish between narrow and broad motivations, which may not always interact. The second type of motivation is a desire to speak as an artist – silence, especially artistic, is painful. The first involves being challenged by narrower, often technical problems – arranging successfully a group or one-figure portrait, succeeding as a landscapist, still-life painter.

Why do you label them narrow or broad?

I view expression of one’s artistic feeling as broader, more significant than technique.

What moves you as an artist?  

I find moving whatever helps me to begin or finish a picture.  It may cease to move me tomorrow, be totally unmoving to someone else today, but I am always willing to be moved by anything that contributes to the picture-making effort.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Art books offer many valuable advices; I cannot place one of them above others.  They mostly confirm what I feel instinctively.  

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.

I admire certain drawings of Michelangelo, Dürer, and Leonardo, but no contemporary artist should be compared to them.  Among contemporaries, I find Semyon Faibisovich, Boris Mikhailov, and Chuck Close admirable.  Not being a photographer or photorealist, I doubt anyone would compare me to them.  It would be pleasing if someone did.

How do you find a subject or theme to draw?

Good, timely themes for a picture are found everywhere – internet, newspapers, food bills.  I make written notes regarding a possible theme on the back of those bills, and usually accompany them with a little sketch.  After a period, which could last weeks or months, I go over what was sketched and all the writing.  Whatever excites me the most then is developed into a fuller work.

Which of your pictures would you like to work on some more?

I continuously work on all of them, improving lines and background stippling.

Why are they blue and white?

Blue harmonizes with the very white paper I like to draw on better than other colors.  But “Odalisque in Red Satin Pantaloons (after Matisse)” and some prints of mine are red.  I have drawn with black ink on yellowish paper too.

Why is Odalisque red and white?

I tried to connect this picture not only with Odalisque à la culotte de satin rouge, Matisse’s lithograph, but also his famous painting L’Atelier Rouge, both in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Hopefully, the red I chose for this drawing will be seen as harmonious with the paper’s white.

Dmitry Borshch, "Making of Brothers"
“Making of Brothers”

Please describe The Making of Brothers.

This drawing is an allegorical interpretation of the ceremony of adelphopoiesis, which I translate as “the making of brothers”, hence the drawing’s name. I started drawing it in ninety-eight simply as a ceremonial double portrait with a reptile; two Polish youngsters posed for this as yet unnamed ceremony during one afternoon. Unsure of the ceremony’s name and purpose, I left the drawing unfinished for about five months. When something reminded me of adelphopoiesis, which I read about in the book called “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe”, probably in late ninety-five, I rushed to finish the drawing. It was finished in January of last year and is about forty-two by thirty-seven inches.  The reptile, which could be a crocodile or an alligator, symbolizes homoerotic yearning.

Was this double portrait commissioned? How did it come about?

Two thoughts led me to draw The Making of Brothers, which was not commissioned.  Firstly, I saw a yellowish nineteen-fifties photograph on eBay of a preteen girl riding a wooden crocodile. It reminded me of my being photographed by somebody in Yevpatoria on a similar photographer’s prop when I was four or five. Such reminders are valuable because they allow one to personalize a found image.  Secondly, I was challenged by some technical difficulties: the youngsters were sketched at different scales, one sketch was nearly twice as large as the other. “If I can organize them into a coherent portrait,” I thought, “my abilities as a portraitist would be strengthened.”

What can you tell us about the text in Wildbirds?

The text in Wildbirds Among Branches is Matthew 6:26, “Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” or “See how the birds of the air never sow, or reap, or gather grain into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them; have you not an excellence beyond theirs?”  From King James and Knox Bibles respectively.  When this drawing was made, for about one year, I considered it my style to attach written statements to drawings.  Now I avoid this but may return to the practice, having always loved calligraphy.

"Koch" by Dmitry Borshch

What made you decide on ink as a medium?  What draws you towards this medium?

Precision of the ink line.  I love precise lines and was able to show that even in my first independent works.  They were abstract, probably influenced by Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, and Soviet Nonconformists, many of whom were abstractionists.  I saw their work at various apartment exhibitions in Dnepropetrovsk and Moscow that I participated in.

The mood of the images, a certain wintry bleakness, is evocative of Soviet Russia. What role, if any, does your national background play in your work?

Dnepropetrovsk was certainly bleak, Soviet Moscow even bleaker and wintrier.  My background plays every role in these pictures.  Although I call myself an American or Russian-American artist, they are neither Russian nor American.  If one calls them Soviet Nonconformist pictures, I would accept the label.  USSR is no more but my art still lives there, “nonconforming” to the state’s cultural dictates and proscriptions.

This interview was conducted by curator Matthew Kyba.

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