– Zinaida, would you please tell us how you ended up at Lotos?
– I went to the Astrakhan region to picture steps, poppies, salt lakes, Astrakhan’s architecture. I roamed over the entire city, capturing various sites. Collected a book of pictures. But then it occurred to me that there was nothing about the Volga river in it. It was not good, since the city and river are an item. During my third trip there I ended up at Lotos. It opened a different city to me: Astrakhan Diesel Locomotive Repair Plant, Gazprom Dobycha Astrakhan, Lukoil-Nizhnevolzhskneft, Zavodskaya Solar Power Station. These started my industrial endeavor. Painted nine facilities in Astrakhan, each of them done in a different style with different techniques applied. All in all, including pictures of the city, I had 150 graphic drawings and 30 paintings.
Lotos gave me the first impression of a real and functioning industry. At the time the plant was engaged in the construction of an RST27 chemical tanker and PV300VD cruise ship. They had just started the latter when I came. It was the very birth of the ship. Having been granted access to the plant, it dawned on me that the Russian industry was entering a new huge loop of its development. It comes in various shapes and colors at different facilities, but the magnitude and scale are always great.
My series of paintings expanded, encompassing other facilities, including those of Lukoil and Gazprom. I saw fields of solar panels, food industry enterprises, canning plants, saw how they grew young sturgeons to let them go into the river. Then all that I managed to capture in the city – impressed by everything I saw there – paved the way for an exhibition, hosted by the Astrakhan State Art Gallery.
What other cities did you go?
– St. Petersburg. There I went to the Baltic Shipyard, saw the launch of the Ural icebreaker. Visited the construction site of the Nord Stream project. Went to a compressor plant, hydroelectric plant, nuclear power plant... I have been to around 60 facilities in the past two years. In Tyumen, I pictured a dozen ZapSibNeftekhim’s facilities and a plywood manufacturing plant. Wherever I go, I do my best to explore the place meticulously. I have also been to the Far East at Zvezda and Blagoveshchensk at one of Gazprom’s plats there.
– Does anybody else in Russia do things like what you do?
– I think I am the first modern artist in the world, who have been to so many complex and functioning facilities. Since all of them are off-limits to outsiders, it is quite a challenge to get inside. I guess the endeavor already invoked some disciples.
– What makes you travel to other parts of Russia? You are a Muscovite, aren’t you?
– True, I am also with the Moscow Union of Artists. Finished a regular high school and a school of art, where I was invited to teach immediately afterwards. I am a teacher by my first training. Over the 21 years that I spent there I taught painting, drawing, design, graphic art – quite a variety of subjects.
– Why then is you interest in industry?
– Having finished school, I joined the Aerospace Department of the Moscow Aviation Institute and an art college simultaneously. Ultimately, I settled for the art training with an emphasis made on pedagogical skills, since I wanted to teach.
However, I have always been attracted by equipment. I am a designer by my second training. I also finished the Academy of Arts. Taught 10 years at the Balakirev Children School of Arts. Being the largest in Europe, it trains 300 children in the painting section. Add their parents and try to imagine the magnitude of the community! At 18, I had 1,000 trainees, whom I met and was responsible for. Then I went on to lecture at a higher education institution for another 10 years. In the past three years, I have been into painting and drawing industrial pictures, which took me a bit off the teaching path. But this aspect is not abandoned by any means, for time and again it emerges at exhibitions, since I believe it is essential not only to show industry to people, who are fond of art, but tell our younger generation about professions, which are not much talked about but still very important. I take pleasure in running workshops to children and taking them on tours of exhibitions.
– Well then there is an educational aspect to the project, isn’t it?
– It is indeed. And to this end, the essential thing is to cooperate with facilities and enterprises, since for every new picture that I take up drawing or painting I ask professionals to tell me about their trade. In the USSR we used to have a separate trend, namely industrial painting. However, when we come across pieces of art, created by Soviet artists, they offer just enough information to guess what facility is depicted without any further detail whatsoever. What is going inside, what kind of a project is apace – these are left beyond the picture. Meanwhile, there are some incredible industrial installations, one might find it great to learn more about them. Say, a water-cooling tower. At first, when you come across it looks like an unbelievably heavy facility. But then you find out that it rests on 2m metal legs and has nothing inside. But it supports all this hulk of equipment and gear, holding various pipes, through which steam is fed and cooled, and condensed into water, which then falls down to a huge basin.
– Yes, a very illustrative example of how what we think of things around us may not correspond to the real state of affairs.
– Exactly what happened to my imagination of Russia. The Internet is abundant with pictures of once powerful, but already derelict plants. Seems that everything is broken here, the whole place is coming apart. But as soon as you get to an industrial facility, it starts dawning on you that everything is absolutely different. To give you an example, once I went to Gazprom’s installation in the Kapotnya area, Moscow, where a new oil refinery is being erected. Though it is going to be the most compact in Russia, the plant will replace its predecessor entirely. When you get there, everything is comfortable and convenient. It is far more ecological. Interestingly, but a nuclear power plant can go through almost the same transformation. While its old reactor is shut down and cooling, a new one, based on different technologies and processes, is already up and running. That is a huge step forward and several years into the future another one will be made, taking them even further.
– Do you find it interesting watching it happen?
– It is fascinating! At the beginning I did not work on the premises, but now I try to make arrangements to paint right there at the shop. It is very important, for no media can replace a real thing.
– People go about their business at the shop and you work alongside, something like that?
– Yes, but you have to go through a complex process making necessary arrangements. And then you will have three to four of the staff assigned to you at all times. It is more about my safety. Off-limit places always remain that even for me. Thus, on day one I ask to have a tour of the entire operation and then the next two-three days I paint from life. Time is luxury in such matters, because I have to capture the colors, feel them, prepare the right mix to carry on to the canvas a specific moment. Give it 15 minutes and you face a different frame – lighting conditions are different, colors are different, etc. In a sense I do more of sketching. It is essential for an artist to capture a moment fast because it will not last forever. You freeze it. I draw first, but then I also have to pick right colors, otherwise I will have to commit them to my memory and reproduce later. There are pictures, which take you years to finish, keeping this feeling of colors all this time...
– Painting industrial facilities, is it more a trade or art?
– An artist needs to fall in love with what he or she does. For example, if you want to draw an aluminum cup. You won’t be able to, unless you fall in love with it. You have to feel it first. Why is it important to find the right angle, lighting conditions, capture feeling? Because without these you will produce a photo, not even an art photo. Lack of emotions turns you into a “dead” artist. If you are not interested, why observers would be. And one can feel it right away. It is not catchy, simple as that. Of course, you can’t do without professionalism, it has to be in the hands. Practice is of the essence.
– Is it difficult to fall in love with a nuclear reactor?
– I feel all right about it, have no qualms if you will. For example, when I came to Lotos, where I had a sheet of metal for a canvas, I cast my look at the machine, cutting it as if it were paper, and it brought up handicraft in my memory. I had a pattern, and this machine cut it similar to what happened at garment manufacturing plants. The only difference is that there pieces are stitched together, while here they are welded.
I can weld and actually do it when I make sculptures. But this cutting technology, it was something new for me. I was introduced to the specialist, operating the plant. explained him what I wanted. I thought vectors, which I mastered working in photo-editing apps, would do fine here. But I was told that it would not work here, that I needed a more complex drawing, done in AutoCAD, a professional computer-aided drafting system, of which I knew nothing at all. I approached my brother, who happened to be an engineer. He looked at my sketches and shook his head, “Zina, it is impossible!” But I did not give up. Having summoned my brother for help, I managed to figure out how to work the app. I spent a whole day in front of the computer, did not even wake up, and I created my first AutoCAD image.
It was not all. We were limited by the standard 1,600х6,000mm page. But I wanted to go beyond it to get an ultimate authentic image. Having obtained revised specs, I prepared another drawing. After getting my AutoCAD drawing, engineers started looking for ways to help me. They got genuinely involved, everybody came to my assistance.
When it was finished and exposed to the light at the right angle, the picture took shape. We were overwhelmed. After lunch, workers passed the bent sheet, looked at it, discussing what was it and how it had been done.
Here, you do not just see you endeavor, but rather become part of a process. What really matters is that you can see the feedback of those, working with you... Then electricians stepped in. It took them two whole days to figure out the right illumination. Needless to say, that we needed crane operators as well for it was extremely heavy. Turned out that we constructed the piece almost like a ship. Almost the entire plant was involved!
– I saw wonderful porcelain services of the Imperial Porcelain Factory of St. Petersburg, decorated with your industrial scapes.
– Yes, it is the Paradny set, manufactured for the exhibition in Astrakhan. Now it consists of 15 plates and I keep adding more pieces to it for the exhibition. Painted on them are the PV300 cruise ship, RST27 tanker, and a wellhead platform still in production at the Astrakhan Shipbuilding Production Association.
Recently, I finished another two paintings dedicated to the launch of the icebreaker Ural, but they will be unveiled when I finish the set.
– Where do the finished pieces end up?
– I let the museum have some of them and keep the others for myself as I want to set up a huge exhibition in Moscow.
Besides, I started getting invitations from plants. They want me as an artist. Took me two years to carve a name here, gain reputation.
Now it is easier, more interesting. I get something new every time. I am also fond of telling people about regions, strong points, industry making a comeback and developing at an astonishing pace, showing Russia strong and modern.