What follows is the interview I’ve had the pleasure to have with Joni Belaruski, great artist and musician. You can find more artworks and informations on the artist’s website.
Renton: Having a look at your recent and past works it’s easy to spot you master different media and techniques: do you come from a traditional/academic art background or are you a self-taught artist? Tell us a bit more about your creative background.
Joni Belaruski: I’ve been doing art forever, like since I was a little kid and then I went back to it at University, but it really didn’t work for me. It was a fine art course so I studied painting and drawing but it wasn’t for me: they were trying to push me down a road I didn’t really want to go down. I knew I liked to paint people and I knew I liked to draw; I knew the way I liked to paint and I remember my teacher said to me at college “if you would just add a bit more paint on the canvas it could be really good”, and I didn’t really want to do that: it’s not what I do, it’s not the way I want to paint. I left after two years and since then I’ve just been trying to develop a style which I think is almost there but I’m not gonna stop learning I don’t think. You never do, you never stop. My style has changed so much even in the last year: I used to use a lot of colour in my work but I don’t use any colour anymore…
R: Yes, I’ve noticed that: your early works were characterised by a little more illustrative style and by the use of colours, now instead you paint and draw mainly with black. You also started using a moniker instead of your real name and you abandoned your old online blog, website and social profiles. Is this related to a radical changing in your artistic vision and inspiration?
JB: No, I tell you why I’ve changed! The name was a kind of stage name for the bands: I was reinventing myself a bit after coming through a difficult time and I thought I’m just gonna change my name, but it hadn’t anything to do with art at that point. “Belaruski” was the stage name for the bands and I was using my real surname for my art, but then it got a little bit confusing: people were doing searches online for me and they didn’t know if I was the same person or not so I had to decide and I went for Belaruski because more people knew me as Belaruski.
R: Some artists use preparatory drawings, others photographs as reference, others again just paint on canvas from imagination: what’s your approach to a new artwork? Tell us a bit more about your creative process.
JB: Most of my drawings are quite small: they are A3, maybe some A2, and that’s because of space, I don’t have a studio at moment. It’s also because of time: I’ve so much else going on at the moment. I have a lot of ideas in my head so I like to have a lot of reference points: I gather a lot of pictures and download a lot of things from the Internet just to have something to work from until an idea comes into my head. I compose everything in Photoshop and then I draw from that, and if lately I want to do a painting, I do it from the drawing. I think some of my drawings are a little bit like “drunk texting”, have you ever done that? I would do something really quickly and without thinking because I have a feeling at the time: I get the idea and I draw, although in the end it takes few hours to do it! Then I get up the next day and looking back to it I think “What was I doing? What was I thinking?, (yeah like a drunk text.)
R: And would you adjust the drawing in that case?
JB: No, I will leave it like that. Some of the drawings I will retouch in Photoshop adding some levels or other bits and pieces, but not always: I like the spontaneity, I like the fact they are quite instant.
Someone once said to me my drawings are too wild to be done so small, and I’d really love to take them to a much larger scale but that’s a problem for me: I don’t have the patience to work slowly. I try when I paint a canvas, but I get bored half way through it.
R: So I can assume you usually work on one painting or drawing at time, not on a series of pieces simultaneously…
JB: No, I don’t have the patience for it!
R: You said much of your work “finds its core in the concept of obsession and fixation as twisted manifestations of our most basic primal urges: Sex and Hunger”. Can you go a bit deeper into this concept?
JB: The series I’ve been working on I’ve called it “Survival” and it’s about the absurdity of that word and what it means today: to survive in the 21st Century doesn’t mean what it used to mean. Our primal urges, what drives us, sex and hunger and shelter and everything else, are not that these days: we are forced to do things we don’t want to do, we are forced to work, we are forced to be in relationships with people we don’t want to be in. And I guess it’s about neurosis because they bring you to a state you look for in drugs and alcohol, and it’s all about that conflict and tension you have in your head.
R: You also said you often think about the “unnecessary complexity of 21st Century mentality”: is this, together with what you just told me, something really struggling you and in that sense art is helping you, like a “therapy”?
JB: It’s a massive cathartic process for me. I don’t know if I like that fact, but generally I work better if I’m not in a good place. I wish it wasn’t like that but, like what I was saying to you before, when something emotional happens to me I have to get it on paper and once it’s done I’m fine. This is also a bit of a struggle because I’m not happy when I’m doing it.
JB: I don’t know if it does… I don’t think it does! The two bands are very different: The Great Malarkey is a gypsy-punk band and Deadcuts is a bit darker and I think the two bands express two different sides of my personality, but I don’t think they have got anything to do with the Art. They are completely separate: when I play the drums it’s the only time I’m completely happy because it’s instant and I don’t have to think about doing it, I’m there in the moment; the Art is the other side of me, it’s something more internal. Maybe the Art influences the way I play, but I don’t know that.
R: And now the “difficult” part of the interview! I will ask you 10 questions: you have to answer with the first thing coming into mind, no time to think!
R: 1- Your art in three words
JB: Dark, passionate, painful.
R: 2- The art market in three words
JB: Saturated, difficult and exciting.
R: 3- One reason to buy your art
R: 4- One word to describe what you feel when you paint
JB: I’m going to say angry but I don’t want to say angry! That’s the first word coming into my head but it’s not what I wanted to say!Can I change it with hopeful? I think that was what I’ve meant!
R: 5- And when you play
R: 6- Having an exhibition in your favourite gallery together with your favourite artist and with with your favourite band playing
JB: Signal Gallery, Guy Denning and Gogol Bordello.
R: 7- The best compliment received about your art
JB: Somebody said it “made him feel”.
R: 8- And the more severe criticism
JB: Somebody once said to me “why don’t you ever paint anything happy?”
R: 9- What lesson do you wish you’d been taught before you started doing art?
JB: Not to give a F..K what anybody thinks.
R: 10- What one piece of advise would you give to someone starting a career in art or music?
JB: Don’t do things for other people and don’t do it for money: do it for yourself. It’s such a cliché but it’s so true…
R: I’ve few more questions if you fancy!
R: 11- The best moment/achievement in your career so far
JB: Dropping out Art College.
R: 12- Yourself, in three years time
JB: I am gonna be touring with my bands and while doing that, in my down time, I will be working on ideas for exhibitions. And when I’ll come off my six-month tour I will be showing work. And that’s what I intend to be doing for the rest of my life.
A huge thanks to Joni Belaruski for her time with us.