'Painting is a way of discovering myself'

The Local Austria
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'Painting is a way of discovering myself'
Mikhail Evstafiev. Photo: Eric Gourlan

Mikhail Evstafiev is a Russian artist, writer, journalist, and photographer, who has lived in Vienna for the past ten years. He was born in Moscow but has lived in many different places. He spoke to The Local about his new exhibition Lines of Life, and how Vienna has started to feel like home.


What brought you to Austria?

I came to Vienna for work in 2003 - advising international organizations on communication and PR - but I’ve also devoted much of my time here to painting and writing. I live here with my French wife, who works at the IAEA, and our nine-year-old son who thinks of himself as a Franco-Russian but considers Vienna to be his home. He goes to a French school and speaks four languages.

How’s your German?

It’s basic, but I really don’t need to speak much German, Vienna has become so cosmopolitan. There’s a growing Russian community in Vienna, but English is my daily language. And we know many families, like ours, who are mixed nationalities.

What drew you to painting?

My mother, grandmother and great grandfather are all Russian sculptors - and since I was a child I’ve drawn, worked with clay and mixed oil colours on canvases. Now I’ve developed my own style where I use palette knives to merge the paint directly on the canvas, and then scratch the finished painting. I studied journalism and worked for TASS news agency and later AFP and Reuters. I never studied art - I’m self-taught - and for me painting is a way of digesting human life, including my own.

Do you have any influences?

I have never been drawn by any particular art trend, never had the urge to be part of an art community or to copy someone’s style… My paintings are not calculated. I prefer untidiness on the canvas. Painting is a way of discovering myself… describing, conveying and sharing the world inside.

Is it easy to sell your work in Vienna?

It’s a small market for modern art, and there seems to be some resistance to new art here. Culturally, Vienna can feel weighed down by the past, but we need to move on. Once mainstream modern art starts to sell here it will become easier for artists.

Is there anything that makes living in Austria difficult?

The culture is very distinctly Austrian - it’s not multicultural and the Viennese do not accept foreigners easily. It can also be hard to break into the establishment as a foreigner. But we have many expat friends, and a good community. The complexities of written German can make life difficult, it’s a very bureaucratic language - which means even a simple parking ticket can take a while to figure out.

But Vienna is a great place to live, compared to Moscow or London it feels very peaceful and the pace is slower. It’s also cheaper to rent property here. Much of my new work is a reflection of my life in Vienna - certain streets have a special meaning and significance to me, I love looking up and seeing the wonderful roof terraces and beautiful apartments.

And having access to the internet has liberated us to the extent that it’s now possible to live and work anywhere and stay connected. We plan to stay here, the climate is great, and the schools are very good. It takes two hours to fly to Moscow or Paris - and as a place which is in between our two worlds it is very hard to match.

Evstafiev’s exhibition Lines of Life is being shown at the Galerie Am Roten Hof in Vienna’s 8th district until December 27th.


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