Sayan Baigaliyev won the Scenes of Everyday Life Category Award in the Jackson’s Painting Prize this year with their work Purple dialogue. This category definition couldn’t have been any more suitable for his works, which are daily observations of the people and objects that inhabit the interior of his Moscow apartment. Here, Sayan shares his obsessive painting practice, his thoughts on facing a blank canvas, and the artists who have inspired him throughout his painting studies.
Above image: Sayan Baigaliyev in his home studio
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Sayan: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, since I was a child. I grew up in the small village of Betkuduk in Kazakhstan. My mother saw that I needed a professional education, so we moved to the nearest big city, Oskemen, where I studied at an art school. Then, at the age of 12, I entered a boarding school in Almaty, KAZNAI named after T. Zhurgenov. There I was taught the basics of drawing and sculpture. Then I went to college to study painting. That’s where I first started painting in oil. It introduced me to real painting. After graduating from college, I moved to Moscow where I continued my studies at the MGAHI named after V. I. Surikov. I am studying at the contemporary art workshop under the guidance of Aidan Salakhova. This year is my graduation. I realised that I have been studying for 16 years and I hope that my studies will never end because there are still a lot of interesting things to learn. For example, now I have started making objects and I paint them with oil paints like on canvas.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Sayan: The beginning of a painting for me is always a battle with a white canvas. It is so perfect and beautiful, and the first stroke of paint seems to break it’s ideality. I need to gather my courage and follow the process. I fill the canvas with paint in order to create space, depth and atmosphere – and I’m always in a hurry to cover its whiteness as soon as possible. I always start a liquid drawing, often with just one colour, then refine it by dividing the image into lights and shadows. Then I add other colours to this drawing, very liquid at first. With each next layer, I apply the paint pastier and thicker, but at the same time I leave some pieces of the previous layers unchanged. Because of this, in the finished work I keep both light thin strokes and pasty thick strokes of paint. I like it, there’s a kind of rhythm in it that will never be repeated in the next picture, and that’s why I can’t make copies of my works.
Clare: At home, do you paint from life or do you take photos of moments you want to paint and work from those?
Sayan: I draw every day and therefore I draw exactly what surrounds me because it is always near me. Most of my paintings are references to a lot of my drawings. It is most convenient to draw in your apartment, this is something native, so most often the hero of the picture becomes the interior and the scenes of everyday life that are peeped at. And I really like to take something very ordinary and give it character and life. I have been working from nature for so long and a lot that now it helps me when I have to use photos. This experience has come into my life right now. The last two years I started drawing with photos because my son was born. And mostly I work at night from 10 pm to 4 am. It would be impossible to work without photos, but I never copy photos, I just use a lot of them as material. Because I’m painting a familiar interior, I already know by heart how it works and where the things are.
Clare: Your brushwork looks very distinctive and intentional throughout all your work. What are your favourite kind of brushes to work with? What are your preferred paints and canvases?
Sayan: For large works I buy a linen canvas of medium grain without a primer with a density of 235 g / m2. I stretch the canvas myself, glue it with fish gelatinous glue, then I myself prepare the primer and the ground surface of the canvas. Sometimes I purchase a primed canvas because I don’t have the patience to wait for all the stages of preparing the canvas, and I need to start painting something new, right now.
I like soft big brushes – synthetics, big flutes, I also use different palette knives. I also enjoy experimenting and I think I can work with any tool. But I always work only with oil. The oil paints I prefer are St. Petersburg Master Class. I begin to paint a picture with a thin layer of paints and use pinene thinner – this is turpentine purified from resin and with it the painting practically does not turn yellow.
Clare: What would you consider is the greatest source of frustration in your creative life and do you have any tried and tested ways of overcoming this challenge?
Sayan: I rarely have frustrations in my creative life. Maybe because I always work. The only thing when I have to not work for a long time – because of travel, moving etc. then it is more difficult for me to get back to work. Too many ideas are pushed around in my head and it’s hard for me to choose which one to start with. And then I just take a small canvas and paint a few objects in front of my eyes. For me, still life painting is a rest and a chance to work with the composition of spots and colour relationships. And the small canvas size allows me to quickly get stuck in painting and I paint in one session.
Clare: Do you have a drawing practice? If so, what materials do you use? How often and where do you go to draw?
Sayan: To be honest, I do not like long drawings. Although I have been painting since early childhood, I was always more attracted to coloured paints. When I look around me, I always imagine exactly how it looks in colour. Therefore, academic drawing is a challenge for me. But I really like to do quick sketches. I have huge stacks of them. I draw on A4 paper with a soft pencil.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Sayan: I like working with a palette knife because it is a versatile tool in my work – with this tool I can either erase all the oil colours or put a thick layer of paint. With this tool, you can erase too sharp boundaries between objects, you can remove the rattling of individual parts.
Clare: Can you tell us about your studio? Where is it? What does is look like and often do you paint?
Sayan: I never had a workshop, I always worked at home in the same place where I lived whether that be a dormitory or a room in a boarding school. Perhaps that’s why I paint what surrounds me. Probably if I had a workshop, I would have moved there to live. It’s convenient when all things are in one place, I don’t like going out.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Sayan: When I was in college in Almaty, I attended a personal exhibition of Kenzhebay Duisenbaevich. He painted still life for most of his life and through this seemingly simple theme shows what was happening in the country and in his soul at that time. He has an incredible painting style and taste. He subtly feels the relationship between colour and composition. This year I managed to get into his workshop and talk to him personally. It is a great happiness to see how the artist lives and works.
I trained in Paris and there I saw the paintings of Edouard Vuillard for the first time. As if I felt a kindred spirit. I like the atmosphere of warmth and comfort in his paintings, the sincerity, the ordinariness of his subjects, the rhythm of the composition. The heroes of his paintings are his family. I was amazed – it turns out that an artist can just paint what surrounds him. An artist is not obliged to invent something, to develop historical and philosophical themes. Art can be simple. It sunk into my soul.
Another artist I admire lately is David Hockney. His paintings have very interesting compositions, I admire how much he works, he experiments with different materials and media. I would love to see his paintings live. Or visit his workshop, although this is of course impossible. But for now, I can just look at the details of his work on the screen.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Sayan: My productivity, how much I was able to work. If I’m not working, it’s like I’m not really living this day.
Clare: Can you tell us where we can see more of your work online or in the flesh?
Sayan: I have an Instagram account that I try to update regularly. I have some projects that are in limbo, but I will definitely cover them on my instagram when they for sure.