Meet Anton – citizen of the world
DENVER – When Anton Arkhipov woke up to the world at age 3, he was in his father’s studio taking in the sights and smells. Forty years later, he’s got his own studios – three of them. It’s a good thing, because no single studio could contain the energy and fierce work ethic that is Arkhipov. The painter, sculptor and woodworker is the official Taste of Vail artist, and will be at Masters Gallery Friday from 4-8 p.m. for a reception in honor of him and his art.
“For me, the mountains aren’t about skiing – they’re about apres ski: romance, food, wine,” he said. “When you’re going to the mountains, you’re lost in a strange world.”Arkhipov lives in Denver, with the mountains on his horizon. He works seven days a week: Monday through Friday because art is his job, Saturday and Sunday because it’s his hobby. His paintings celebrate life. Large, round figures are portrayed in a variety of locations, all beautiful. Classic cars, wine, fine food, musical instruments – these are the building blocks of a day well lived. “I don’t consider my characters as actual people, but as the Soul, the Spirit,” he said. “They’re so baby-faced and happy and round, almost like children.”And like children, there’s a sense of pragmatic enjoyment: These are our lives, and this is how we live them. Arkhipov has created his own symbolism on canvas. Candles represent the force of life, while fruit signals sensuality. Wine symbolizes creativity. If he weren’t an aritst, Arkhipov would be a chef. But winemaking shares much with his artistic process.”To make wine, it takes both knowledge and creativity,” he said. “There’s the science of it, and the art of it. They go together.”Often, his canvasses portray both the sun and the moon, lighting the scene simultaneously. “That’s just time and change,” he said. “Day, night – they’re happy all the time. Life goes on and certain things, certain values, stay the same.”n n nAfter scribbling out a grouping of lines on a scrap of paper, the painter can stand before an empty canvas and see more than half of the completed work in his head.
“It’s bad to see too much of it,” he said. “And it’s bad if you don’t see enough. Somewhere in the process the painting starts talking to me, and I listen. Then I talk back.”But if he started listening too early, the composition would suffer. He works his canvasses until he feels there’s no possible way to improve upon them. And then he builds it a house: a frame. The frames, intricate and handmade, have become integral extensions of the art. He looks queasy at the idea of someone else framing his work.Arkhipov often plans his days by the hour, and sometimes even the half hour. “Painting is like chess: You have to plan 10 moves ahead,” he said. He’ll paint for a few hours in one studio, and then go to another to rip wood for frames for an hour. Then he might pop over to another studio and check on the prints made from his original canvasses, or to a foundry where they’re casting some of his sculptures. Each day is different, but they all start the same:”The first thought in my head is coffee,” he said. “And it takes me 30 minutes to wake up to it.”But after that, don’t get in his way. He’s a blur of action.”People think painting is all inspiration and bliss, that you put on the music, start painting, and suddenly you’re flying. But it’s work,” he said. “I’d say 90 percent of being an artist is labor and craftsmanship. The other 10 percent is inspiration.” n n nArkhipov was born and raised in the Soviet Union, and started his career as a “typical Russian artist.” All artists are expected to work for the good of the country, and only after they’ve been given permission by the government. The art schools are some of the strictest in the world. “You might spend six months making a white pyramid in plaster,” Arkhipov said. “Then they let you draw an apple.”After graduating, aspiring artists submit their work to juries and committees, who then decide if they’re allowed to be artists. Arkhipov was put to work restoring Russian icons, when he was “discovered” by an art dealer in Italy. So began an international journey that led him to Italy, France, Spain and eventually America, where he’s been for the last 15 years.
He never intended to move permanently to the States, but one thing led to another. “Drinking is a big deal in Russia,” he said.” My friends would ask, ‘Why did you stay?’ And I always told them, ‘I got drunk.'”They accepted such an explanation. As for Arkhipov, he became a U.S. citizen last year. “I realized I grew up in this country, I have a family in this country,” he said, referring to his wife, three dogs and two cats. “And I wanted to vote, because I care about this country more than I ever cared about the Soviet Union. Living in Russia, America was always in my house. We listened to ‘Voices from America,’ and it seemed like everyone was smart, everyone was educated. Everything was possible in America.”Though the foundations of his education came from Russia, and what he creates now is within the context of the U.S., he considers himself neither a Russian artist nor an American artist. “I grew up on Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “My father taught me to hate labels, and I do. As an artist, I’m a citizen of the world. I don’t belong to a specific time or movement. Am I a Russian artist? An American one? I’m Anton. My style is my style. I’m trying to have the hands of a master craftsman with the eyes and soul of a child.”Likewise, he doesn’t pay much credence to the accepted ists and isms of the art world. “You can’t reference something already approved just to feel good about your art,” he said. “You have to be open minded.”He freely admits he doesn’t like to be among other artists, who sometimes have a tendency to make things up on the spot to explain a piece.”It’s simple: either it’s good or bad,” he said. “You like it or you don’t. For a viewer, you have to feel a piece before you start digesting it and explaining it to yourself.”Though it’s tempting to think the artist lives within a world of his own making, the one his paintings depict, Arkhipov is firmly rooted in the present and aware of his surroundings.”I’m a politics freak,” he said unabashedly. “Growing up in the Soviet Union, politics were a matter of life and death. Although my paintings look so full of fun and love, there’s a lot of struggle in everyday life. So maybe they’re an escape, something to make you smile.”There’s nothing subtle about Arkhipov’s work, which tends to be unapologetically THERE. Big canvasses, big people, big colors. Seen through the artist’s eyes, there’s virtue in living the good life. And according to the creators of the wine and food festival, the good life begins in Vail.