An introduction to one of my favorite contemporary Impressionist painters. Bato Dugarzhapov has a fearless style of painting we can all learn from.
Contemporary Impressionism, New-Impressionism, Painterly style - whatever description you use the expectation remains the same. You expect a style of painting that is bold, packed with big juicy brushwork, suggested details, simplification of shapes and a little mystery too. These paintings are representational, but often flirt close to abstraction.
This approach to painting has been my guiding light for the past ten years or more. The loose, painterly approach is exciting, different and often frustratingly elusive. One of the artists that is pushing the boundaries of Neo-Impressionism is Russian artist Bato Dugarzhapov.
In this article I want to introduce you to this artist's work. Take time to look up his paintings and study his style. Bato's painting may seem wild at times, but at others it is gentle and evocative too. Certainly difficult to emulate, but inspirational too.
The first video is a compilation of photos showing some of his paintings. In the second video, an interview, you will discover more about the man, his beginnings and his motivations as a painter. A transcript has kindly been provided by Marina Shaduri, one of your fellow students in my online school. A BIG thank you to Marina for taking the time to translate and type out the transcript 🙏
PS: In the interview you will notice that Bato sports an unusual mustache/beard. Marina confirms that this is part of Bato's sense of humour at work 😄
Below is the interview with Bato and the transcript.
Interview with Bato (the most important/interesting information is translated).
- Is it true that you choose your future profession because of the smell?
- Smell played an important role. Turpentine’s smell is “yummy”.
- Is it true that in childhood you liked the TV-project “Health” the most?
- That’s true.
- In your book you wrote that your dream was to become a medical doctor.
-Yes, it was.
-And the most vivid memory from your childhood is the portrait of Lenin painted on the wall of your school?
- Correct. I was the second grade student when I saw several adults working on the 3 sq. m painting “Uljanov” in the school hall…
- You were 12 y old when your mother sent you to Moscow. Could you imagine back then that you will become a world-renown artist
-No, of course, not, but I was glad to study in Moscow.
-You are still securely keeping your oldest paintings…
- I burned half of them, the rest is archived, so yes.
- Market experts state that joyful and sunny paintings are much more popular than the mid-tone and “sad” ones.
- Yes, the ratio is approximately 70% to 30%
- You did paint a fresco at Cathedral of Christ the Savior (central dome and dome above altar). Was it a significant stage in your artistic life?
- Sure. The most important one.
-Did the patriarch of Russia Alexey the second give you any reward for this work?
- Yes, I’ve got the medaland the diploma.
- Do you paint any commissioned paintings?
-Rarely. I don’t like commissions and I always warn people that I’ll paint this and like that…. Nothing would be changed/reworked.
- Auctions in Paris stimulated the rise of your paintings’ prices. Some of them today cost up to a million dollars…
- Well, any painting might be priced either high or low…
Narrator: Bato is today’s world-renown impressionist. His works are delicate and solemn. He enriched impressionism by adding some ideas of 21 century to it, where both - realism and abstraction took their proper positions. Viewers freeze looking at Bato’s paintings – his incredible colors and the light that encounters paintings induce real admiration in people.
Do you remember yourself in childhood? What kind of person was Bato as a kid?
My parents left for khabarovsk (Siberia, town), so I stayed with my grandmother for several months. Granny had many friends, who were gathering in house playing cards and smoking. The smoke smelled great (Makhorka – homemade tobacco) and it was floating among the dancing rays of sun coming from the window… Incredible, fascinating scene!
Narrator: Bato’s mom wanted one of her sons to become a painter. She sent her middle son Bair to an art-school. But an accident that brought badly injured Bair to the hospital, drastically changed his plans. Bair decided to become a surgeon, while Bato, who was an excellent archer dreaming about a medical career became a very successful artist. Such a metamorphosis…
Bato started to study painting in his homeland, at the small art school in his village.
Go to this school and study the culture – they said. I’ve been independent and free in my choice.
So, you, yourself went to the children art-school’s chief and said that you wanted to paint…
Yes. He knew who I was; so he gave me a sheet of paper and said: go ahead – paint this. There was a corner with a pot and also the paints smelling so yummy! Something like that…
Is the smell of these paints really good?
Incredibly yummy! I could eat them. Paints, turpentine.
…I liked the smell of Zinc white in the room. There was also something blue and an enormous round palette… We were not forced to paint altogether. I now realize that the separation from other students during painting classes is very important and more effective.
When did they say that you need to move forward and go somewhere else for professional studies?
I’ve been ill and had to be admitted at a hospital – some problems with my lungs. When they discharged me from the clinic, I was walking along the corridor and accidentally glanced at the table, where a magazine with Lenin’s photo was laying; or, maybe it was his painted portrait – I don’t recall now. I felt something like a craving for drawing, so I briefly drew the portrait and then threw it away.
My father saw my drawing, took it and decided to show my sketch to the school art teachers. When the teachers looked at it, they said that even the students that study art for 3 years are not able to draw so well. So they recommended me for the Moscow art-college. I gathered my best paintings and we sent the enveloped package to Moscow. Time passed but we got no feedback. June, July, August, entrance exams have passed – still no reply.
My parents addressed our relative in Moscow asking him to clarify the situation. He went to the art-college at the Tretjakov Gallery, where a young man (passing by) asked him what he was looking for. The art-college – the man replied. You are in an art-college. What’s the matter? I need to see the chief. It’s me – said the young man. It turned out that the chief came there for an hour to check the situation before leaving for vacation. When the relative of Bato explained the situation, the chief took him into the cabinet and soon they realized that the dusty package of drawings was put aside. It was not even opened. Shortly, the chief said that I can enter the school for 1 year (probation period) and then they’ll decide what to do next. Everything depends on my achievements.
You were both - studying and also leaving in the same building?
Yes, on the fourth floor. On the fifth floor there were studios and general education classes. Best place for work – high ceilings, rooms for sport, dining room, living rooms for kids and teenagers from other regions of Russia… Extremely convenient – everything that you might need was next to your door, so time was not spent in vain. Besides, the art gallery was next to our college. Bolshoj (Famous Opera Theater in Russia) was nearby as well. When teachers realized that many of us never visited the theater, they organized a special event for us – the Ballet in Bolshoj, the concert in Kremlin... My life was full and busy back then.
Did you miss your home, parents?
Guess what? I did not. I had no time for that being so overwhelmed with the novelty and emotions. It was like impressionism… You know, Impressionism is an emotionally choking art.
Who were the people that inspired you? Who was your compass in art?
Usually the friends have a major influence on people – the social environment where one grows. Around me there were so many genial students (Bato names several (famous) Russian painters). We were visiting Tretjakovskij Gallery every now and then. Unique collection was gathered in the college too. Many incredible post-war paintings are outstanding. Some are even better than in Tretjakovka. In the cabinet of our chief there are such masterpieces! Titian, Rembrandt… very high quality copies painted by students!
After college you had to return home. What plan did you have? What you were hoping for?
I went to Paris right after graduation.
Was it in 1992?
Yes. In Paris the galleries were buying soviet art in bulk. It was easy to export, so many boats and trains quitting Russia were loaded with soviet art pieces.
You arrived in France and you were told that it is necessary to sign a contract?
We were inexperienced and so we signed the contract not understanding that it is a trap. There was a word “exclusive” written, but we (silly guys) foolishly signed this contract becoming beggars because of it.
Narrator: French Galleries quickly understood that the painter they trapped is incredibly talented. Bato from hungry Russia was not aware that he was worth much more than he himself could imagine. Young man was naively happy that people like his art and that he has the chance to be in Paris, so lovable by his favorite impressionists.
We were painting everything. Sometimes 50-70 paintings per month. Ready for an exhibition!
How did they pay for 70 paintings in such a short time?
We needed money for living and meals. They were buying our work giving us 5% of paintings’ price. For example, a painting was sold for 7000 $ and we got only 100 $. So, the contract was violated and after 2-3 seasons we departed from there.
Were you feeling insulted? What was your emotion on the way back home?
Not really. We did good work. It’s a pleasant feeling. When you leave a place, you usually feel both – guilt and gratefulness. That’s normal.
Narrator: In 1992 Bato met his future wife Ajuna (pre-arranged marriage by their parents, but they liked one another. In 1994 their son was born and the same year Bato was invited to paint at Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The whole family started to live and work in Moscow since then. Today they have a son, who wants to become a master-chief in culinary and a daughter, who is talented in music – both are shown by the end of this video.
What was the most interesting or exciting when you painted at the Cathedral?
Say, the height of the archangel's face is 2 meters. We used big rollers instead of brushes there. We were painting with raw umber and then added a layer of golden ochre. Ochre covered previous layers – nothing could be seen, so many of us started to panic. But 2 days passed and the number became visible.
What happened after the Cathedral painting?
We purchased a house and decided to live in Moscow.
Voice: Bato fell in love with Russian nature.
Middle Russia is beautiful. When I return here from other countries, I understand that it’s the best with its springs, snow… He describes nature in various Russian places, especially in Gurzuph (black sea).
How do you begin your day?
First my eyes. They open with a click and then I start to think – where am I (joking, laughing). For me a good night's sleep is important. Actually I devote myself to pure drawing and painting only 20-25 days per year. The rest is for galleries, churches, social life, home.
How can you describe the birth of your new painting?
I start with the preparation stage. I clean the palette, squeeze the paint-tubes… When I stop in a place, something touches my soul, eyes. Something, like a picturesque combination of shapes, figures, birds in the sand or people working nearby… When I start to prepare my painting tools, palette, clean something with a rag, my fingers are massaging, excited. And during this process of fingers’ activation I usually have an enlightenment. The decision does not come per se. At the moment when the brush touches the canvas, the inner processes are accelerated. Everything goes faster, clearer and not as was planned beforehand. It happens independently and only now, at this particular moment. Ideas, scenery, colors – everything starts to appear and take their proper place only when my brush and the canvas meet one another. All previous plans and decisions become trash.
Is the music of any help for you?
Well, I compose sometimes, then listen to its recording while painting
Is the writing music somehow similar to the creation of a painting?
Both have some features of impressionism
Many of your paintings radiate the atmosphere of joy and happiness. What would you like to do for a happier, better world?
Never change my profession. Continue to paint. I know many artists, e.g., singers, who stop to sing and open restaurants… They cease to be interesting because of the profession change. They lose their individuality.
What do you wish for yourself?
I don’t know… When I think about it an empty volume appears. Maybe the salvation for everybody…