Guest Post, Dmitry Borshch: Ways of Drawing

Loaded Kiss
Loaded Kiss

Ways of drawing: philosopher Patrick Maynard and artist Dmitry Borshch in conversation on art


Patrick Maynard describes his work thus: “Most of my publications and talks concern the nature, function, and perception of pictorial representations and similar expressive forms. They are theoretical, but argued from ‘real world’ engagement with things that matter to people, from the prehistoric to our own times. These discussions not only feature a broad variety of illustrations, but, as ‘substantive’ philosophy, are typically based on them. They are of interest not only to philosophers but also to artists, art critics and historians.” Dr. Maynard is the author of Drawing Distinctions (Cornell University Press, 2005), The Engine of Visualization (Cornell University Press, 1997), and other works.

Here is an excerpt from his conversation with Dmitry Borshch, a contributor to the twelfth issue of Superstition Review:

PM: To set some questions, may I begin by congratulating you on your work: that is, you have found a successful way of working. I think what we mean by “self-expression,” a term closely related to art, is one’s own way of making things which can somehow deal with unlimited ranges of life experience. That provides a basic freedom, one we associate with composers, poets, novelists. It is good to see it in drawing these days where you seem to have found a distinctive style.

Wildbirds Among Branches
Wildbirds Among Branches

DB: About finding one’s way… Many children are fearless drawers but they encounter professional illustrators in children’s books, become intimidated, and abandon drawing. I remember this intimidation; it drew me to writing and acting as a substitute for those illustrations – I was a teenage writer and tweenage actor. Frustrated with not being able to publish my writings, in English or Russian, I resumed drawing at twenty-seven. About four years later my first independent styles emerged – a drawing style first, then a sculpting one. They were both abstract, as I mentioned before, and influenced by Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, and Soviet Nonconformists. I was able to develop a style in two photographic series that followed those abstractions. Then another graphic series, closer to representational way of depicting but still abstract. While not monochromatic, its palette was restricted to three (a primary and two non-primary) colors. Maybe in 2006 I finally reached my current blue-ink style: “Will it contain you, this house I have built?” and “Wildbirds Among Branches” were the first to be drawn in it. So I moved from pure abstraction to balancing between the abstract and figurative, representational. For what period this balance will continue is unclear but in 20 years I may abandon figuration and return to geometric designs I started with.

PM: In contrast with traditional artists just mentioned, contemporary visual artists rarely work from direct assignments which provide specific context (and sustenance): jobs to do. Also they exist in an extremely heterogeneous sea of visual forms, including much marketing – the like of which had never been encountered – a daunting situation. Do you have advice for young artists, notably those who draw, regarding their finding their own ways, as you have done?

DB: The first advice to an artist who draws is to clarify his relationship to drawing: is he using it to record, visualize ideas that may later be translated into painting – as many painters do – or is he primarily a draftsman, someone for whom drawing is a “terminal” activity, no progress beyond which is anticipated? The second and final advice is to strive for coherence of his drawings’ message, style, geometry, lines’ phrasing, interaction among lines. That will enhance their presence: if a drawing is coherently drawn, it becomes present and available to the viewer for extended contemplation, but not yet as an artwork unless coherent matter is united with poetry. So, to younger and older artists, draftsmen or not, I wish many a contemplative viewer – who will be gained only if he perceives aesthetic, intellectual, sentimental or some other value in their drawing.


More of Dmitry’s drawings can be found here.

Guest Post, Dmitry Borshch: Regina Granne Interviews Dmitry Borshch

Doctor KissingerI met Regina at Brooklyn’s A.I.R. Gallery in May of 2009, when her pencil drawings were being exhibited there in a one-person retrospective exhibition called “Increments.”  We became friendly and about six months after our first meeting she sent me the questions below.  I rewrote some of my answers after she passed in January of 2013.

Regina Granne: How has your art changed over time?

Dmitry Borshch: My earliest drawings 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.  My current drawings try to balance between abstraction and figurative, representational art.  I am fascinated by artistic trajectories, so your question is a fitting one to begin our interview with.

RG: What work do you most enjoy doing?

DB: First marks, which establish the structure of the image, are thrilling!  And last ones; they give relative completeness to that image.  It will never be complete, but may become acceptably so to warrant exhibition.

RG: What is your dream project?

DB: I am working on such a project now.  It’s called Iconography.  Inspired by prints after Anthony van Dyck’s drawings which collectively bear the same name, it includes portraits of living artists, writers, politicians, distinguished soldiers.  ‘Koch – Mayor of the City of New York’ and ‘Doctor Kissinger’, also called ‘In seine Hand die Macht gegeben’ belong to this project.

RG: I did some research on you, not too much because I was hoping to find an understanding of your art through this conversation.  Are you a ‘mixed-media artist’?

DB: ULAN, a project of the Getty Research Institute, classifies me as a ‘mixed-media artist’ because I photograph drawings and exhibit these photographs instead of drawings themselves.  They feel the marriage of photography and draughtsmanship justifies such a classification.

Fencing on the Gallows TreeRG: Have you done photographic series unrelated to drawing?

DB: Yes, one of them was described thus: “I realized after completing much of the series – “When girls meet, hearts warm!” is an unwitting response to Diane Arbus’s “Girls in matching swimsuits.”  The delay is understandable as her picture and mine are not directly connected. What I hope connects them is a feeling the viewer gets of strong poetic exchange between their subjects’ faces – an interplay of facial movements, heightened by framing and vignetting.  Often a certain ludicrous quality attracts me to one subject or another, expressed in overapplied makeup (the most made up faces are the most revealing, I find), overbleached teeth or hairdos that are ludicrously overdone. After expanding the series to include males I renamed it “When friends meet, hearts warm!” or “Friend, you are my second self!” I view these pictures as manipulated found objects, shot with a disposable camera by some “disposable” photographer – me, subjects themselves whom I directed, a bystander…”

RG: What motivated you to make drawings like The Undertaker’s Pale Children?

DB: 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.

RG: What would you like us to know about Betrothal of the Virgins?

DB: The word on male figure’s cap means groom, on female’s — bride.

RG: Blue Architects, The Undertaker’s Pale Children, Fencing on the Gallows Tree belong to a series.  What is its title and why?

DB: ‘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.

RG: What is the best advice you’ve been given?

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

RG: What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

DB: I was a student — at universities, never art schools — then became a self-taught printmaker, draughtsman, sculptor. No other jobs.

Koch - Mayor of the City of New YorkRG: Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.

DB: 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, Chuck Close admirable. Not being a photographer or photorealist, I doubt anyone would compare me to them. It would be pleasing if someone did.

RG: What’s your favorite art work?

DB: No favorites. I return to many works for reasons that continually change.

About Regina Granne: