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Monday, February 3, 2014

Mikhail Evstafiev

Red Avenue, 2005, Mikhail Evstafiev.
Mikhail Evstafiev "Selfie"
Whenever I find an interesting artist to write about, the first thing I do is search for a self-portrait. Nothing is more telling of the way artists see themselves than how they paint themselves. Often I have three or four to choose from done over the course of an entire lifetimes, which are likewise quite telling of how various artists' images of themselves change over time. As difficult as it might be to believe, there are times when a chosen artist simply has never painted a self-portrait. It's then I have to rely on photos taken by others. When I decided to write about the Russian artist, photographer, and journalist, Mikhail Evstafiev, I was dismayed to find no self-portraits, no photo portraits, and only one image at all of the man. The Internet yielded up dozens of portrait photos by Mikhail Evstafiev (mostly Russian or international newsmakers) but only a single snapshot "selfie" of the artist--a cellphone mirror shot both by and of Mikhail Evstafiev (above, right).
The Red Syndrome, Moscow, 1990s, Mikhail Evstafiev--Communism dying hard.
I have not chosen to highlight Mikhail Evstafiev as a painter. In that regard, he's no rank amateur, but works such as his Abstract Expressionist urban landscape, Red Avenue (top) from 2005, could have been (and were) painted by hundreds of other artists more than fifty years ago so, he's by no means cutting-edge. In today's international world of art there is no acute shortage of abstract expressionists. As an artists, Mikhail Evstafiev is much more outstanding as a photographer--an art he learned from his father. As a journalist, Evstafiev has lived amidst, and seen up close, one of the most historic eras in his nation's history--the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the war in the Balkans, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rebirth of the Russian nation--all in just the past forty years. His photography is about one-third news, one-third history, and one-third art. The list of those coming before his camera includes Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Kerry, and Dmitry Medvedev, not to mention those fighting daily in the seemingly unending conflicts he's witnessed during his career.
God decides how long your life is, but you decide how wide it is.--Mikhail Evstafiev

Sarajevo, 1992, Mikhail Evstafiev

Born in 1963 into a Moscow family of Russian sculptors (his mother, grandmother, and great grandfather), young Mikhail grew up steeped in the fine arts, his hands stained with clay and oil paints. But it was photography and writing that captured his youthful ambitions. In the mid-1980s, Evstafiev graduated from the Moscow State University with a Master’s degree in International Journalism. He caught a job working the TASS News Agency. From there, the action took him to the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan where he spent two years treading the dangerous line between the Soviet, generals, Russian troops, and the various warring factions on the other side of the street. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Evstafiev returned home to write a novel about the experience, Two Steps from Heaven.

Vedran Smailovic, Sarajevo, 1992, Mikhail Evstafiev
Barocoa School, Cuba, Mikhail Evstafiev
In the years that followed, Evstafiev was on the journalistic front lines during the early 1990s as the Soviet Union ripped itself apart at the seams, followed by conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Tajikistan and Transdniestria (wherever that might be). In his spare time he wrote more books and painted pictures while writing and directing documentaries, including an ongoing film project "painting" a portrait of Cuba (left). Now living in Vienna, Austria, with his family in semi-retirement, Evstafiev gives most of his time to the career he might have had as a painter had he not found more interesting things to do watching wars snapping politicians.

Me, Studio, Mikhail Evstafiev. Photographers are often camera shy.

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