Author: Salatyn MIRZAYEVA
Our conversation with a famous sculptor, academician, and rector of the Azerbaijan State Academy of Arts Omar Eldarov began with his kind and sparkling smile, which helped to set up a friendly environment before we even started. His reception was crowded with visitors, whom the rector was willingly accepting one by one trying to help each of them as much as he could within a limited period of time. His vigour, kindness, good sense of humour, and simplicity do not quite match with a character of a giant, who has contributed a lot to the history of Azerbaijani art. As soon as we mentioned our intention to visit his most revered sanctuary, the workshop, he immediately responded with pleasure. That is where we have discovered the talent of Omar Eldarov from a completely different angle. A place where the master turns his inspiration into masterpieces is not far from the academy and more favourable to hold a conversation. Apart from a delight of examining so many works of the master around us, it was a real pleasure to look at his hands, which he was using to gesticulate expressively, like a burning fire. These hands created the sculptures that surrounded us like living people, in whom the master breathed a part of his soul.
“It’s a summer time but you are still working. Do you prefer work to rest?”
“It may sound a bit uppity but it's my curse.” It so happened that I always have to create something in the summer, albeit it is easier for me to work in autumn or early spring. But sometimes the work must be completed in time. I am working on the sculptures of Natavan, Fuzuli, and Lutfi Zadeh now, and the last one must be ready before October, when the anniversary of the great mathematician is celebrated. So, I really have a lot to do.”
“Where do you feel the most comfortable, in the workshop or in your office at the academy?”
“Frankly, each place has its pros and cons. But it’s difficult to compare them. In the academy, I can meet many beautiful and young people. They all smile at me broadly and quite sincerely. It’s a wonderful experience. Also, I can meet different people there, like you for example, to discuss something. In the workshop though, I don’t have a luxury of encountering beautiful young men and women, or having a conversation.”
“It’s you and your world only…”
“Yes, my inanimate world. For years, I have developed a habit of being alone. Especially, when I am here, in my workshop. I try to do everything myself, like cleaning up my workspace when necessary. If I need any technical or physical assistance, I invite someone and either leave or sit next to him watching, not working. As soon as the workshop is once again at my disposal, I continue my work. Because professional ideas and thoughts come to my mind only in complete silence and solitude. It happens all of a sudden, insensibly. It may sound strange but my fellow colleagues work by intuition. That’s how we add some strokes or, on the contrary, remove bits and pieces here and there.”
“What about your models? Do you talk with them or still prefer working in complete silence?”
“It depends. For example, I can feel distracted when my model is a person. But I try to think of him or her as a frozen, arbitrary form.
“I seldom use models. And I even consider this as a drawback of many modern sculptors. If the earlier sculptors were mostly drawing artists, I, like many others, use drawing only as a first step for my new work. I just take a piece of paper sketching out the contours and quickly move on to modelling from wax or playdough. And I do not go back to my original drawing, as it was done before. Why did the sculptors use drawings a lot? The answer is simple: there was no photography at that time. There are things that are difficult to remember, because the pleats on clothes may vary depending on body movements. That’s why you need to quickly sketch the appearance of pleats, and only then start sculpting. Now you can take a camera, click it and you’re done! I do not do this either, I just try to remember the texture. After all, each artist develops a working style on his own.”
“So, do you think the art is changing, although it looks seemingly static? Do you prefer old-school methods to the new ones?”
“I was actively trying to stay away from the established norms when I was young. But I do not do this now. Although in my time, it was not as radical as it is now. Installation or conceptual art are trending genres now. In the installation, for example, there is no sculpture in traditional sense. No image or molding either. Only a nail hammered into something that is spattering on the floor. And they say it means something. I don’t want to talk about conceptual art, which is even worse. I do not stand by such innovative positions, but I do realize that improvisation is in everything. Let's take, for example, a beautiful, young, and charming human face. We are millions but none of us repeats the other. It’s true for the art, too. There are millions of improvisations, even if they stand on a rigid academic basis. As for sculpture, this is a very stingy kind of art, if you will. There is a small number of tools, especially when it concerns a person's image. After all, we all have two legs, two arms, a trunk, and a head. You can use only a few tools to improvise. No colours, plot, landscape… It is also difficult to portray many people at once.”
“How do sculptors express themselves in this case?”
“Your only choice is to improvise with the composition. For instance, you can take a look at my sketch of Huseyn Arablinsky, the greatest pre-revolutionary actor, who for the first time played a female role on the Azerbaijani stage. As you know, he was killed on the stage. And I decided to make his tombstone, where Arablinsky was hanging on to the curtain when he fell down.
“Currently, I'm working on the monument to Lutfi Zadeh. Many believed that I would portray him holding his chin and looking into the distance. But this great mathematician, who turned the science in a completely different direction, was an entirely different person in artistic sense. He was so alive in his shirt without a tie, with an open jacket and an apparatus in his hands. Thanks to his theory, Japanese and Korean technological achievements are ten steps ahead of other countries. Thinking about his image, I have decided to reveal this side of Lutfi Zadeh. In my composition, he stands between two stone steles, meaning the doors to the unknown, and opens them.”
“What does inspire you the most?”
“Beautiful women (laughs). They always inspired me. No women – no pleasure! A woman is the top of natural creativity. I'm not talking about life models. Take, for example, Venus of Milo, whose sculpture is in the Louvre. She is considered the top of female beauty, and beauty in general. But this is an arguable issue. Russian artist Isaak Levitan considered the Nature as the incarnation of beauty. It’s enough to look at his Golden Autumn, Evening Bells or Autumn Morning. Fog. And it's not alien to me. But each has its own niche, as it is customary to say today. You see, sometimes I also try to use all sorts of new words (laughs).”
“How is it easier to work: by order or at your own will?”
“It is physically easier when the work is paid. It is easier to find the necessary materials and stuff. But there would be no sculptors and artists at all if they worked only for money.”
“As a rector, what is the most important for you in communicating with your students? What do you do when you feel that a student is not talented and creative?”
“Our courses are very small, 10-15 people each, so the admission rate is also relatively small. I think I’m not competent to determine whether a student should study or not. They need to pass the exams, to pay for studies, and to pass all these exciting processes to start learning. Fortunately, only one or two of ten students are not talented. But whatever it is, I try to make everything for them to graduate. The remaining eight students are indeed gifted. By the way, half of these eight often have excessive abilities. After all, our people are genetically very talented. This is so obvious. We have students from rural areas, who come to us at absolute zero. They cannot do anything. But as soon as they touch the clay, you start getting amazed by their achievements within a year. After three years, you think that what they did is absolutely mind blowing. To be honest with you, I would not create such a thing.”
“Do you mean that we can learn much from the young people?”
“No, it’s just nice to see and know this. Were there a demand for creative youth, it would have great prospects. You can see many monuments around that have appeared recently. These are not high-quality works and our graduates did not make them. You can see easily that our students would have done this job much better if you look at their graduation works. But young people are not considered seriously. They prefer to trust these works to so-called connoisseurs.”
“What can young people do in this case?”
“I understand that we are living in circumstances, which are not very favourable. There are many people full of energy, talent, and creativity. But after graduating from college, their skills remain unclaimed. Masters such as Van Gogh, who was a beggar, or Rembrandt, who became unclaimed after changing his style, did not need feeling the demand. They continued working as long as their soul was in demand. There are few such people now. But still, I would advise our young people to perform courageous deeds and to fight till the end. I understand that the time is different than it was before. I can imagine how a young wants to invite a beautiful girl to a cafe, but he doesn’t have money. Our country is very small. Having many theatres, operas, dramas, conservatoires, academies is very difficult here, because the market is shrinking every year. On the other hand, this country means nothing without these schools. If we had a market like in Europe, there would be a demand for creativity too.”
“Many of your works are represented outside Azerbaijan. How is our art received abroad?”
“Again, it depends. I and others like me are experiencing a tragic and acute crisis in the modern world. Art is vanishing largely. Professional elite prefers conceptual art. In the West, there are very few people who appreciate academic art. And there are very few exhibitions of such art. I would not say that the attendance of exhibitions of conceptual art is at a high level, but they have a press that chooses a figure and promotes it. It's an industry. Business, if you can express yourself in an accessible language.”
“Berthold Brecht once said: “All kinds of art serve the greatest of the arts - the art of living on earth.” Most recently, you celebrated the 90th anniversary. Can you tell us about your art of living.”
“Hm, I was never asked this question before... In a broad sense, the Jewish king Solomon said that it is still unknown who is happier: a man who was born or was not yet born. The birth of a man begins with crying. In this case, crying can be regarded as a sign of life. And then crying accompanies him for the rest of his life. You see, in life there is so much unpleasant and wrong. Man lives one life. Prior to that, he did not have two or three lives, so he does not know how to act in this or that situation. This leads him to endless mistakes: he did not set priorities, he chose the wrong profession and so on. Priorities of my life were not set by me. Call it fate or some other way, but the events are so formed that I today became what I am. I was born in a very difficult time in 1927, when there was a terrible famine and war. Life was hard, but the child does not understand this. The first year at school seemed like a lifetime, and then life accelerated and began to move faster and faster.”
“So, do you think that life is more a combination of circumstances, even when we choose a profession?”
“What does choosing a profession really mean? I took a pencil and began drawing when I was three years old, like all other children of my time. My parents, especially my father, have always encouraged my drawing skills. I remember that my father was very serious about my future as an artist because he brought me from Moscow a two-volume book of an Italian painter, architect and writer Giorgio Vasari, where he describes the entire period of Renaissance. He also brought me various paints, an album, talked a lot about Leningrad, where he studied. Then my mother took me to a drawing circle for gifted children. But they refused to take me, because the group was overcrowded. We already wanted to leave and return the next year, but then a tall Russian woman, Anna Ivanovna Kazartseva, approached us and said: “Boy, would you mind sculpting? We'll give you some clay, and you can model whatever you like: an apple, a little rabbit...” That’s how I was admitted to the sculpture class. I remember when I showed her the figure that I made, Anna Ivanovna told me: “When you grow up, you'll walk around the city and see your sculptures.” Her words encouraged me for the rest of my life. Here is a perfect example of accident.”
“Prophecy has come true. What do you feel? Pride?”
“It seemed that there would be pride. But the fact is that the work in the studio and outside is quite different. After all, the lighting changes, the sun is constantly moving, the seasons are changing. There are many unexpected moments. I wish I could predict them if I could. What can I do? The fact that the great masters were also wrong is the thing that calms me down. For example, Michelangelo’s David looks great only when you look at him at close range, but the master did not consider the effect from a distant look. Now, when you study his work from a distance, the entire plasticity and aesthetics of the sculpture changes for the worse. On the other hand, it's not my fault that Natavan's sculpture remains in the shadows all the time. When I sculpted Huseyin Javid, I created many details expecting that there will be many lights and shades. But when the sculpture is hit by sunshine, it becomes a completely different something.”
“Your workshop... it's very interesting...”
“I built a new workshop paying from my own money. It has accommodation rooms and an exhibition hall. It’s cool! I’m happy to own such a workshop, which has nothing similar in Baku. I will bequeath it to my grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Although all of my great-grandchildren live abroad. In London, I have three granddaughters and now my grandson was born. My grandchildren are in France. They are actually my great-grandchildren. I intentionally call them my grandchildren so that people do not think that I'm completely old (laughs).
“My old workshop fascinated foreign journalists. Everyone was trying to take a photo of it. I remember that once, before one of the important events in Baku, a team of people was sent to me to clean up my workshop before the German delegation arrived. I did not agree and said that the Germans would leave my workshop happy. As soon as the Germans opened the door, they were delighted seeing so many bottles of paint everywhere, sculpting materials, pieces of iron, and so on... Yes, it was tight, but it smelled of creativity. But now it’s more comfortable here, which journalists do not like obviously (laughs).”
“You are the creator of psychological sculptures of many famous personalities. What about individuals in everyday life?
“I have many such works. Four Colours of Time is a composition representing four women that symbolise the seasons. Summer is a young girl of about 14-15 years old. This is an image of my daughter. Now look at this sculpture. And here too (points to different works). My daughter is 50 years old now. When she was young, I liked her texture very much. In my understanding, she was a prototype of beauty. Therefore, she appears almost in all my works.”
“It is known that Heydar Aliyev himself posed for you. What were you talking during the sessions?”
“Heydar Aliyev was a person that you could talk a lot about different things. I was told that he chose my candidacy for this work himself. I remember that our work lasted for two hours: he sat for an hour, and for the second hour, I asked him to stand up. He agreed. As I said before, the wrinkles of a person vary depending on one’s position. That work became a basis of all that I did on Heydar Aliyev.”
“Baku is rapidly changing and mesmerises the tourists. Is there something you would not like to change in your hometown?”
“I have built a house, which also accommodates my workshop. I have worked hard and saved money for this project. I swear that this house was built on my money that I have earned honestly. I am very comfortable here. The rooms and corridors are wide. I have a spacious workshop. But my wife does not like it. She says that it was nice in the old apartment where each room was in ‘a walking distance’. In this new house, we have beautiful and wider halls on each floor.
“I feel the same about my city. Baku was the only city in Soviet times, where you couldn’t see building roofs due to strong winds. In architectural science, it was even officially called ‘a city of roofless renaissance’. Some buildings had roofs but they very small and covered with brea. Certainly, I long for Baku, where there were no cars, where I could see the whole panorama of the city from a roof of a small two-story house. But now you can see only high-rise buildings from your window. Many say it was necessary to leave the two-story buildings instead of replacing them with skyscrapers. But this does not depend on whether it is right or wrong.”
“Thank you for an interesting conversation. We wish you good health, interesting and fruitful work.”