Last fall, finding myself unemployed and not wanting to return to the rat race anytime soon, I started spending many nights going on insane Google image journeys, starting off with the spiritualist art of Augustine Lesange to taking in the whole the Chicago Imagists, 80s LA airbrush artists, and the many other kinds of art that were conspicuously absent from the countless museum visits and art books that populated my childhood. Comic books and sci-fi book covers always offered a window into something I've only recently started looking through and as such, I find myself increasingly gravitating to quasi-figurative work that has a strong narrative or literary bent.
I came across the work of Oleg Buevskii via the Leif Podhajksy-founded site Visual Melt, "an archive of esoteric and culture" that I kept stumbling across on my Google expeditions that is one of my go-to resources for finding the type of art I want to find. For a site that specializes in covering often labor-intensive and highly-detailed art, Buevskii's art seemed to leap out from the other thumbnail-linked profile and I couldn't resist using it to illustrate a recent singles round-up. An artist I greatly enjoy following on Instagram, each day seems to bring a new Buevskii image, art that evokes a brilliant marriage of Russian Constructivism-derived angles, comic book-like paneling whose arcane content feels not far from the spiritualist architecture of Paul Laffoley, and ineffable noirish, dystopian quality gleaned from Buevskii's quasi-narrative images. Over all of this hangs the spectre of modernism, whether in the styling of Buevskii's lines or the abstract sculptures, busts, and items that are on inexplicably on display as well in his portraits that reimagine humanity as a system of valves, tubes, and processes. Indeed, in the latter pieces one often gets the feeling of looking at an interpretation of Deleuze & Guattari's notion of desiring machines.
As famously introduced in the two's Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze not so much as assfucks the ideas of Freud as he did in his books on Kant, Leibniz, and many other as he and Guattari take to blowing up psychic and social representation, doing away with the Oedipus narrative as a means of explaining familial dynamic in favor of a mechanic unconscious. Ignoring any "any distinction between man and nature" as "production as process takes overtakes all idealistic categories," they make immanent the notion of desire and desiring-production as the principal concern of their materialist psychiatry (AO, 4-5). When they talk about machines, they are not doing so at all metaphorically but rather putting forth an ontology of immanence as they write so beautifully in the following passage:
Desiring machines are binary machines, obeying a binary law or set of rules governing associations: one machine is always coupled with another. The productive synthesis, the production of production, is inherently connective in nature: "and..." "and then...." This is beause there is always a flow producing machine, and another machine connected to it that interrupts or draws off part of this flow (the breast--the mouth). And because the first machine is in turn connected to another flow it interrupts or partially drains off, the binary series is linear in every direction. Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows."
In his illustrations of humans--or humanoids--Buevskii can't seem to resist cracking open that most elegant of machines, the mind, constructing an elaborate depiction of the flows and machinery that arguably exists within us all. The body is a complex system all its own, one we feel both at one with and continually betrayed by as parts of it break down, seemingly of its own volition or due to another machinic process acting upon the body, reconfiguring its order in a way that can prove deadly as cancers and viruses unleash their own deleterious flows of energy.
So while the philosophy of D+G might not be the motor behind Buevskii's work, his pieces capture the processual and productive nature of the universe, how one element can entirely reconfigure a human or social body. In one of my favorite piece, we see an orb hovering above a cavernous abyss in the middle of a town, yet the streets are empty and the homes and places of business seem relatively unaffected. Nonetheless, we know something is on the horizon; be it the hole expanding to engulf the entire town or the orb letting forth a cosmic energy, leveling everything in its path. Or perhaps it's a far more benign situation, the sphere bringing harmony to this snow-bedecked society. Many of Buevskii's pieces feel like a single panel within a graphic novel, inciting the reader to theorize what may have led to that box of treasure being found or the greed and betrayal that will likely follow due to that most predictable machine of all: human nature.
The act of discovery often seems at the heart of Buesvkii's work, whether it's getting to take a look beyond artifice into the processes that lurk beneath or the introduction of a foreign element in an otherwise banal/bucolic landscape. As he himself puts it, his paintings function like self-contained universes in which he's set his various mechanisms in place and can just watch them unfold. He's an artist who draws you in with the promise of a story and leaves you hanging without a sense of resolution--or rather, it is the viewer who must complete the image-story in order to make sense of the curious scenes being played out in front of them. And though an explorative sensibility pervades his work, so does an ominous feeling of dread, as if we are viewing a dystopian near-future or a darkly surreal present moment. Another piece I always return to is a tableau of a driverless car passing over a child-sized sewer pipe out of which extends a multi-pronged branch, each tip seeming as if it could pierce skin, or even the tires of the car. The combination of the single ghost car and pipe designed to expunge waste casts a sinister pall over the entirety of the image, yet one soon realizes there is very little to suggest that such forces are at work going off what Buevskii has judiciously chosen to include in his night drive.
As we discuss below, Oleg makes no qualms about being drawn to what lies behind, or perhaps beneath a seemingly placid visage and makes sure to bring the viewer along for the journey. While the air of mystery will likely still remain around many of these images, he was kind enough to shed a deeper light on just what is going on with both himself and within his world of bleak, mechanistic noir and never-ending questions.
Z: First, could you just give us a bit of background information on your personal background? What was your childhood like and when did you first find yourself drawn to art?
OB:I am from Russia. I grew up in a small town with a rather dark atmosphere, but in general, my childhood was very common. I don't remember of course when I started drawing, but I think it happened pretty early. As a child, I attended the art and the music school, but the drawing won.
Z: You have a very distinctive style. What influences in art and in the world around you have helped you to shape your voice as an artist? What compels you to start a piece? Do you have a particular idea or concept in mind or do the works create themselves in a way?
OB: Speaking of the classic arts, then these are probably the Northern Renaissance and everything what happened in the art of Russia in the early 20th century what influenced the work. Add my rather bleak view of the world, and the combination of all these factors works out my pictures:-) My creative process is quite spontaneous, I usually don’t draw sketches, it all starts with a fairly general idea and it can change significantly during the process. I really like this process because I can never know precisely what would happen in the end.
Z: What is your toolset as an artist? Is your process primarily digital or do you sketch by hand as well? How does your education inform your approach or methodology, if at all? Were digital tools taught when you were in school or is that something you came into on your own?
OB: This year I draw only on the computer, the computer graphics is perfect for my purposes. At school and at University they didn’t teach us that, in this regard, I'm a complete autodidact. I use a fairly limited set of tools, so I can do my works without computer assistance, but at the moment I prefer to work this way. Now I have more time for drawing, so I think I will try other techniques. I think I will start making prints soon too.
Z: Part of what I love about your art is that it at once looks very sleek and almost like it could be a poster or ad, but when I start getting into the details, I find myself getting lost, like in a wonderful constructivist-like maze of geometry. Your work both reminds me of early 20th century Russian constructivist and super-constructivist artists filtered through a healthy familiarity with the language of comics. What draws you to such an angular, geometric style? What films and books do you find yourself coming back to or perhaps subconsciously drawing upon, if any?
OB: I think this is due to the fact that I learnt to be a drawing teacher and my love of engineering graphics. Of course I like constructivism, and also I love comics. I'd like someday to do a comic, until then, let's just say, I draw only the cover of them. It’s hard to say about movies but there is probably one book that inspires me, The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, I’m fascinated by the force which affects the life of the protagonist which is merely an illusion, I'm trying to achieve the same effect in my works. I hope one day to come out and to draw illustrations for this book.
Z: One aspect I love about your style is you can draw a relatively simple image like a box of open treasure or a sculptural bust but then they starts to elicit all these questions, like why is it there? Whose is it? Why is it surrounded by weapons and thorns? Do you feel that storytelling is a part of your process? What role does narrative have in your work?
OB: Of course, I think the storytelling is one of the main tasks for the Illustrator and all the pieces taken out of any stories, that haven’t still worked out. Lately they begin to grow into something more, but this is only an outline.
Z: On the flipside, when painting a portrait of the human mind or a complex city scene, you're able to capture the often hidden details and invisible energy that pulses through humans and society. But there does seem to be an interest in processes and systems that are both complex and relatively simple. What ideas do you find yourself coming back to and exploring through your imagery?
OB: I find it interesting to imagine what might be hiding behind simple things, that things, events, phenomena which we encounter, can be more interesting every day, than it is at first glance. I think it's interesting to create a kind of universe where the action of my works is set and so the technique may vary, it remains a common tone I think.
Z: Lastly, do you do art full time and how are you able to do that if so? Have you shown in a gallery or have any gallery shows coming up? Do you sell your work and how so? What does the future hold for you, or what do you hope to achieve as an artist?
OB: I have been recently able to devote myself entirely to painting, so until recently, my development as an artist progressed sufficiently slowly, so now I'm trying to catch up and draw as much as possible. Unfortunately I have not had the exhibitions and I don't sell my works at the moment, but I’m going to do it in the near future. So I want to work in another formats, murals or something like this, also I want to make prints as I already wrote. Generally I want to try my art in other areas and maybe try some new techniques.