About my art

Most of this art I made in my early twenties, when I still lived in the Soviet Union. I used oil, pastels, watercolor, gouache, ink, as well as rusty nails, cigarette ashes, matchsticks, and whatever else came in handy on my travels through Ukraine, Siberia, Caucasus, and Central Asia.

To buy professional art supplies in the USSR one needed to be a member of the Artists Union. Our centrally planned economy assigned quotas to most products, especially those imported from the West; those had to be state-subsidized to match our low incomes. Since massive state subsidies were unaffordable, the state limited certain products to select groups of people. These limits were also a convenient tool of attitude control and adjustment. In this case, the limits on art supplies encouraged the Artists Union members to stay within defined creative boundaries, lest they be denied paint. Having no art school diploma, I was by default a non-artist without the ability to paint, exhibit, or sell my work.

Young and reckless, I thought I could beat the system and spent several years creating the artwork within these pages. When I ran out of youthful enthusiasm, I realized that I’d only been beating my head against an impenetrable wall. I gave up painting and moved on to writing, which I thought only required a pen and paper. I was wrong there, too, but that story is for another day.

I now live in Florida, making digital graphics. On a recent trip to my Ukrainian hometown, I found my old artwork stored in my parents’ closet, in various stages of deterioration. I took digital photos and later restored all of it on my computer. Then I built an online gallery where I can now exhibit my art and sell prints without bureaucratic approval.

Restoring these pictures also helped to remember those years and all the stories behind making them. I first started to write them down as blog posts, but my notes soon began to resemble pieces of a jigsaw puzzle I felt needed to become parts of a larger story. Before I knew what that story was, I spent a couple of months putting the pieces together and filling in the parts where no pictures existed.

I’m now putting it together into a book, which is coming soon.

Oleg Atbashian