From Russian winters to Hawaiian seas, New York’s concrete jungle to Australia’s mountains, Ilya Volykhine is as seasoned a traveller as he is an artist. Now based in New Zealand, we caught up with the painter to gain insight into how different places have influenced his identity and art.
How does your hometown inform your art?
Just like the best writers: Tolstoy, Pushkin and Dostoevsky, Russian culture is strong in me. St. Petersburg holds such beauty for me in my memories: my grandmother’s garden, the good old days, family and friends around the garden table, outside under the grapevine tunnel. Beautiful…
What was it like growing up there?
There were cold, harsh, long and bitter winters, but it was safe, fun and full of experiences that form a strong person. Lots of travel across Russia – which is so vast – to visit relatives in far-off regions. Different foods, and people, from tundra to palm trees, the landscape changing before your eyes…
What led you away from it? Was there any particular turning point in your life?
Yes. I left when I realised there was a greater world outside, and took advantage of the time of freedom during Gorbachev’s leadership, who let the curtain down so we could leave.
What’s your favourite thing about your home country, or its art? Or your favourite thing about each place you’ve lived in?
The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is one of the main reasons that I love art. In NYC, I love the amazing museums, people watching in the parks, the freedom… you can find the whole world in NYC. In Hawaii I loved the ocean and the warm smiles of the locals; in Sydney the Blue Mountains, the birds, the bats, the fireworks over Balmain… in New Zealand – my current home – the warm, genuine people. It’s empty and there are still places where there is no one – just beauty and space.
Do you have any particularly artistic memories or moments of inspiration from your many travels?
In NYC I met Tony Shafrazi – a huge art collector. It was very influential to me, sitting in his house looking at amazing art. In Sydney, I got to know Ken Unsworth and do his portrait, and I also met Bruce Beresford and did his portrait, too. More recently I did a three-month artist residency in Estonia and met amazing poets and musicians. I’m attracted to creatives.
Where do you call ‘home’ now?
New Zealand is my home. I’ve lived on Waiheke Island, in Queenstown, and now in Devonport.
Any must-visit art addresses you can recommend in New Zealand?
Gibbs Farm for sculpture, Auckland Art Gallery, and the many art trails you can do. All around the country, you can meet artists in their studios. New Zealand is full of very talented people.
Thank you, Ilya! Discover his current catalogue of contemplative works.