The artist Andrey Remnev


Interview for magazine Anthology
Andrey Remnev talks about his inspiration, his meticulous process and his unique style that is positioned somewhere between past and present.

2018, spring
Inspired by ancient icon painting, eighteenth-century Russian art, the compositional innovations of the World of Art group, and Russian Constructivism, the work of artist Andrey Remnev lies somewhere between the distant past and modern day.

Yakhroma, a small town situated on high hills north of Moscow, is home to contemporary Russian artist Andrey Remnev who uses traditional techniques with his own distinctive, fairy tale-like, surreal style to create unique works of art.

His paintings are distinguished by attention to detail and meticulous decoration in the style of Russian iconography painting, which, on closer inspection, reveal idiosyncratic features that propel each piece right into the twenty-first century.

The popular Spanish luxury fashion brand Delpozo created a collection based on his paintings. And Vivetta Ponti, the creator of the new Italian fashion label Vivetta, was inspired by the artist's drawings for her recent spring collection, translating them into whimsical embroideries and appliqués.

Here, in conversation with Edel Cassidy, Andrey Remnev talks about his inspiration, his meticulous process and his unique style that is positioned somewhere between past and present.
What inspired you to become an artist?

The desire to express the thrill I experienced about all sorts of things in life – the time of the day, the state of nature, the mystery of the space that lies beyond the horizon. When I started painting, I realised that I could communicate my feelings through art and that was the main impetus for my desire to paint.

Tell me about your art education.

My first professional teacher (in the sense that he earned his living as an artist) was Fyodor Vasilievich Shapaev. When I was twelve years old, he approached my parents with an offer to teach me. At that age I felt like I was a normal child, I was no different from any others. Later, I asked him why he'd decided to teach me. He said, 'I saw that you have a strong desire to draw.'
From the age of seven, I attended a children's art studio, and at twelve I started drawing every Saturday and Sunday with my professional teacher. I went to art college when I was seventeen, where I studied for four years. After that I completed two years of military service, and then I got into the Academy (Moscow State Academic Art Institute named after V. I. Surikov), a higher education institute, where I was a student for six years. After graduating, I studied icon painting under the guidance of Father Vyacheslav Savinykh from 1994 to 2000. I worked in a studio at the temple of the Andronikov Monastery, the same temple where Andrei Rublev worked and was buried.
You've developed a very unique style. Did you go through many changes before finding it?

My style has developed naturally. I haven't invented anything specific.
I only drew what I wanted to draw. I have always wanted to create interesting compositions, to convey my feelings and create strong images – these are the two factors that have shaped my style. But in terms of technique and visual language, I did not invent anything – I was taught everything at university. I think that composition is the most recognisable element of my style. My technique is certainly complex, but not unique; many artists in the past worked in the same way I do. My technique combines Italian Renaissance and eighteenth-century painting styles with compositions inspired by artists of the Art Deco period and Mir Iskusstva (World of Art).
My most successful works have been first created intuitively. Now I rely more on logic. I understand what I want.
The wish not to repeat myself is a driving force. I am always looking for something new. I use a lot of the same techniques, but there is no repetition in terms of the ideas and thoughts behind every picture. With each painting I take a step forward; I solve a new challenge.

Very few contemporary painters work with egg tempera. Can you explain the preparation of materials and your application process?

Egg tempera is a material that requires strict discipline; you must follow a sequence of steps exactly and consistently. Unlike working in oils, if something goes wrong at an early stage of egg tempera work, it cannot be fixed later. The technique itself requires a rational and consistent approach to colour and shape. Working with egg tempera has shaped my approach to colour and colour quality; this technique suits my personality and is the best way for me to implement my creative ideas. I take a great deal of pleasure in working with egg tempera.
I believe that an artist chooses a material based on their own character, their motility and their skills. An artist who enjoys the physical movement of strokes of paint will most likely prefer to work with oil paints.

Do you paint on wood or some other surface? What is involved in the preparation?

I work on different surfaces and foundations – sometimes on canvas that is only glued but not covered with foundation, and sometimes on a very dense foundation similar to gesso. In order to resolve certain problems I also work on wood or plywood. Tempera allows you to work on virtually any surface.
Your figurative painting is beautiful. Do you use live models?

I don't work with models. I never paint from life. If I need objects or people, I refer to them only while I'm doing preparatory work. I lead the painting process, guided by my sensations. I am not led by the objects/figures I am painting. I produce the characters myself.
Initially, I choose my favourite images – for instance, drawings by Jean Clouet from the sixteenth century – but I never copy; they just inspire me to create my own.
But there are times when images can be observed in real life, or when a drawing or photo might be seen by chance. For example, the painting "High Water" is a portrait of my daughter, but I didn't initially intend it to be.

Both the preparation and the work itself obviously demand patience. Is this something you find challenging?

Self-mastery is very important. Human beings are by nature quite passive, but self-discipline forces the artist to create and overcome that passivity. The anticipation of work is a very sweet feeling, and when you start working, when you take a pencil or some paint, when you feel the resistance of the material, you have to will yourself to make an effort.

Have other artists influenced your work? Which other artists do you admire?

I'm inspired by many artists, but there are some who are especially dear to me. Among the Old Masters are Jan van Eyck and Piero della Francesca.
I am fuelled by the energy and charisma of contemporary artists too. I understand their ambition and desire for success, artists like Pierre Bonnard, Jan Fabre, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst. The language of the director Robert Wilson is close to me. I am also inspired by modern designers, especially the work of Josep Font; I identify with his attitude to shape and colour. From the fashion classics I admire Yves Saint Laurent, his mastery and sense of proportion.