Dmitry Samarov: Concrete Jungle
DMITRY SAMAROV was born in Moscow in 1970. He immigrated to the United States in 1978. He attended Parsons School of Design and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. To make ends meet he began driving a cab in 1993. Dmitry is a very mutli-faceted creative, he expresses himself via a wide-range of mediums. His book HACK: Stories from a Chicago Cab, published in 2011 paints an ” entertaining, poignant, and unforgettable vision of Chicago and its people.”
Despite giving up the life of a cabbie in June 2012, Dmitry is still very much in the driver’s seat.
Interview by Will Kitson
How did you discover your passion for art?
No discovery required. Drawing and painting have always been my primary ways of dealing with the world. I don’t ever remember not doing it. Words like “passion” and “discover” don’t ever seem to apply because it wasn’t anything that I ever looked for or fell in love with; it’s just always been there. If anything, there have been times when I’ve tried to get away from it because it’s something that’s nearly impossible to make a living at and often leads to strained relationships and many other kinds of misery. I’ve never succeeded at getting away though…
I’m going on thirty years now of serious involvement with visual art of one kind or another so I don’t see any way out at this point.
Your work is heavily city-centric. What is it about urban space that appeals to you the most?
I’ve lived most of my life in cities so it’s really all I know. I’ve never been able to form much of a connection, relationship, or dialogue with nature. It doesn’t seem to need any response. It’s just there. Whereas a building, a car, or a street are all put there by people and so there’s an instant identification. The only time I can really paint a tree is if it’s next to a building.
I recognize sometimes that there is an ugliness to the city, but it’s our ugliness so I enter into some sort of push-pull conversation with it. The beauty of nature is something I just can’t appreciate correctly. I can agree when someone points it out to me but I don’t truly feel it.
As a cab-driver, you must experience a wide spectrum of different people. How has this filtered into your work?
Well, I quit driving in June, 2012, but, yeah, one of the best parts of that job was seeing and hearing every kind of person that a city has. I did many drawings and paintings in cabs over the twelve years I drove in Chicago and Boston. I got to see those cities in a way few people have a chance to. Every neighborhood, at every time of day or night, at every time of year. It’s left me with more bits and pieces of visual memories than I’ll ever have the chance to use for anything creative.
The other thing about driving a cab is that it made me a writer. Because people would get in and launch into their life stories over and over again, I began to write. I couldn’t ask them all to pose for portraits; they had places to go and things to do, and, besides, had many of them found out that I was really listening and filing what they said away, they might’ve told me a lot less. I never had any intention to be a writer. I never kept a journal or took any classes or any of it. That job made me have to do it.
Tell us about a memorable experience you’ve had driving the cab that sparked your imagination or stimulated your creativity.
Well, I did write a whole book from my time behind the wheel and will actually be putting out a second one next year through the Chicago publisher Curbside Splendor.
I never tire of looking and listening to people, so driving people around provided an endless source of subject-matter for writing and painting. It’s hard to point up one isolated instance because there are so many and they’re really best experienced cumulatively rather than on their own. I often only witnessed fragments of people’s lives so these little scenes might seem special or remarkable in and of themselves, but taken together over a span of years they start to add up to something significant, I think.
Where do you paint? Where do you write?
I paint mostly at home these days. I live in a big house in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago with my girlfriend, Shay. We have a studio in the attic and I’m often to be found up there.
Because I like painting directly from the subject best, I’ll draw or paint wherever that subject may be. A coffee shop, a bar, a music club, a parking lot, whatever.
I can write just about anywhere but lately I’ve done most of my writing in a ripped-up armchair in the studio. As long as there’s a way to listen to music, I can write just about anywhere.
Do you prefer to work on your art by day or by night?
I usually like daylight for painting because I work from observation and the changing natural light is a lot more interesting than anything light bulbs can do. When I’m working on illustrations or writing it makes no difference. I just have to fit it around my day-job and other household chores. Sometimes you have to get the work done in whatever time’s available rather than having the luxury to choose.
Where’s your favourite place to take a break?
I like taking a bike ride around the neighborhood sometimes. After so many years of driving, just sitting on the train or bus and looking out the window is a pleasure. The idea of “a break” is a little hard to grasp because basically anytime I’m not at the day-job—be it driving a cab, working in an art supply store, a bar, a restaurant, or a coffee shop like I do now—is a time that I want to be working on all that other stuff that I rarely get paid for.
Tell us a secret …
Can’t. Don’t think I have any. This is one of those vague questions that always stumps me. There are probably things that I keep to myself but without a bit more specific prodding I can’t really call anything to mind. Sorry.
Published: October 1st, 2013