Maxim Kantor at Kunsthalle Emden (Germany), the best museum in Germany!
The Groningen Report
„Europe is a very fragile structure – but there is nothing better in the world“.
in Emden (Germany) during our Interview, february 2017.
Friday february 3rd – 2017 I had an amazing Interview with the very famous Russian painter, drawer, educator, essayist, writer and social commentator with an openly philosophical turn, Maxim Kantor, at Kunsthalle Emden (Germany). He works in Oxford, Berlin and the Île de Ré in France.
Kantor: „We all thought that fascism was bound to a specific time in the past, but now, today, we are witnesses that fascism is something that is not only an event of the 20th century, it is a kind of disease, which appears from time to time, and there is not a single place that is protected.“
“The son of noted Soviet art historian and philosopher Karl Kantor, Maxim established himself with paintings that did not fit with the socialist realism of the Soviet regime, making it difficult for him to start his career. In 1977, Kantor organized the independent group of painters known as Krasny Dom (Red House) that sponsored exhibitions of the Moscow underground, the most resounding of which took place in 1982 at the Moscow Institute of Philosophy. Soon after he was discovered by Western art critics and became influential in Russia and other countries.” (University of Notre Dame).
“His major solo exhibitions were in 1997 ‚Criminal Chronicle‘ at the Russian Pavilion at XLVII Biennale di Venezia, Venice (Italy) and ‚Maxim Kantor, Paintings and Etchings at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow (Russia). From then on his work was showed in European and United States museums, such as: Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (Germany); Northern Illinois University Art Gallery (Chicago, United States); Ulster Museum, Belfast (Ireland); Staedel Museum, Frankfurt (Germany), State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow (Russia); Academy of Arts, Berlin (Germany); British Museum, London (UK); Musée du Montparnasse, Paris (France); Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (UK). His works are parts of many private and public collections such as in the Russian Federation, Germany, Belgium, United Kingdom, United States, Australia and the Vatican.” (Wikipedia).
He created great portfolios of etchings and prints since 2000: Wasteland. Atlas (2001), Metropolis. Atlas (2004), Vulcanus. Atlas (2010), Die Hermannsschlacht (2013), The Ballads of Robin Hood (2014). “These works offer a moral interpretation of the most momentous political changes of the twentieth century.” (University of Notre Dame).
As a writer Maxim Kantor published since 1993 many works of fiction, including the monumental novel ‚Textbook of Drawing‘ (2006). The Washington Post wrote in a review: “The book landed like a brick on the desks of Moscow’s lierary elite”.
In 2013 he published the novel ‚Red Light‘ which was in the short list of the Russian literary awards “National Bestseller” and “Big Book”. Since the end of January 2018 the German translation of ‚Red Light‘ is published by Paul Zsolnay Verlag with the title “Rotes Licht”. (Wikipedia).
“In 2008 Kantor published the collection of plays “An Evening with a Baboon”, some of which have been staged in a number of theaters in Russia. In 2014 he produced a puppet satire “Robin Hood and Spiritual Buckles”. Kantor was not only the author of the play, but also designed and built the puppets.
Maxim Kantor’s articles and essays are permanently published on ‚Le Monde Diplomatique‘ (Paris) and on a number of Russian newspapers and magazines, such as Rossijskaja Gazeta, Novaya Gazeta, Expert, and the Prime Russian Magazine. He writes regularly on the portal ‚Open Democracy‘ (London). In 2013 he founded the independent publishing house ‚Robin Hood‘.
Maxim Kantor is a member of the Senior Council of the following Oxford Colleges: St. Antony’s College, Wolfson College and Pembroke College. In 2015 he became a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, United States.” (Wikipedia).
His exhibition with the title „The New Bestiary – Das neue Bestiarum“ was to see in the Kunsthalle Emden in Germany (February – May 2017). There he showed many new paintings, lithographies and drawings as well as older works. In 1988 his work was part of the very famous „GLASNOST and Perestroijka“ exhibition. Henri Nannen (1913 – 1996), founder of the Kunsthalle in Emden and also founder of Gruner + Jahr and the German news magazine Der STERN, invited Maxim Kantor to Emden in that period and helped him in his international career that followed after.
“Kantors Art is deeply humanistic and frequently focuses on human suffering and the opportunity to overcome it through solidary and love”.
(University of Notre Dame)
Interview: Bernd Ihno Eilts.
Photography at Kunsthalle Emden (Germany): Zoltan Acs.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Many thanks for accepting my invitation! We both know the Kunsthalle Emden and its family for a long time now, you at least since the famous GLASNOST (1988) exhibition and your friendship with Henri Nannen and his wife Eske and of course, Ilka Erdwiens (head of press and marketing). Are you happy with this exhibition here in Emden?
Maxim Kantor: Yes, I am very happy. I am very happy for various reasons. The first one is my very long connection with Emden. I am a member of the Emden Kunsthalle family. I love them and I do hope they love me too. We are more than friends here with each other, we call each other sister and brother and I really feel like this. So, this is the reason why I am happy to be here. For the last six or seven years I have told my family here: Look, now the hard times are back. In the 25 years before that, you probably didn’t need me and my work here. It was a challenging time while democracy promised only good things. You should not invite a black raven who makes only dark prognoses. For the good circumstances you didn’t need me. But now, regretfully, my prognosis and my doubts and my fears became true. So you probably need me again. We spoke several times about my next exhibition, in the 35 years that passed in between. But still we didn’t find a real reason for doing this collaboration. Then we said to each other: now we have a real reason. You came to us, we passed the cold war with much hope and now the problems come back. It was a very significant meeting for us, even though we had continued to meet during the last 30 years.
The second reason is just this statement I told you now. Then, third reason, during this time I became an Emder, a citizen of Germany and I became a citizen of this beautiful city Emden. It was a very logical choice and a very strict decision. When I started to see Putin and the new Fascism, I received a lot of threat letters and I decided, we really do not need to have all this back again. When we had the Soviet Union and all this idiocy, but to compare with Putin, those times were not threatening dangerous. That time I was thirty years old, now I am 59. I really do not wish to have this all coming back again. I had already lived half a year or 8 months abroad, I had a place in Berlin and also in Oxford at the Oxford College. Then I decided to move to Germany, I became a citizen of Germany. And I am very proud of my new home country Deutschland, which now, almost alone, lives a great historical metamorphosis. A country, which was so dangerous 80 years ago, in the 30’s of the previous century. Now it is the only one which is a fortress against the new way of Fascism, and which still resists Fascism. And that proves such a dignity and noble character of the German culture, that I admire it as my country.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: I have questions about moments of your lifetime. But right now I want to ask you, are you afraid of being a citizen in a world that still is very harsh, explosive and dangerous?
Maxim Kantor: What do you mean by the word ‚afraid‘? Am I afraid to live in such a world? I think, I am not more afraid than any of us. We all seem to be afraid somehow. It happened that we appeared not to be very prepared even to the word ‚war‘. We all saw and still see that war happens for example in Africa, in Latin America, or in the deep past of European history. But to say that war can be in Europe is something very ridiculous. And what is going on now in Ukraine is not only dangerous in itself, not only a tragedy in itself, it is also a kind of symbolic tragedy. The first time after the second world war they changed the borders, they attacked different countries under the same logic as Hitler attacked the Sudeten or even the Danzig corridor. That is exactly the same logic and the same method of ruling the moods of masses, and it is the first time that this happened after the 40’s of the last century. So this of course is very dangerous.
What is also dangerous for all Europe, not only for the Ukraine, is a second thing. We need to understand more. I think, I am coming to a deeper reason of what had happened to Europe, more than just the refugees. This second thing happened was when this big and weak empire of Soviet Union was destroyed, collapsed by itself, with the help of many forces around it. I do remember those times, it’s not only my memory, you can look it up in documents. Many business-men from all over the world came to Russia, it was very attractive, it was like Klondike (gold rush 1897-98 in NW Canada). They came there to share a big cake which suddenly belonged to nobody. Or almost nobody, if don’t count the Russian people. They probably had some hope that something of this big cake would be theirs too, but that wasn’t the plan. So, they created a new federal system in Russia, they created a new type of Verdun, instead of Socialism, which was bad, with all its dark and idiotic sides. But still it was not federalism, it was something different and I think something better. I didn’t like the Soviet Union, I was against the Soviet ideology, I did many things against it, but still it was not federalism. And on the ruins of this system they built a truly medieval federal state with a gap between rich and poor, which can be compared to systems in Africa, if not be beaten by African standards. The differences between poor old women in Russian villages and multi billionaires who lives on their boats in the Atlantic Ocean, each one having even three boats, flying from one boat to the other. I think they do this for a good reason as not to be caught by any bombs and to escape from any possible war. They create a new ocean of civilization. The difference between them is incomparable even to countries created in Latin America. Let me ask you and let me ask even myself and even everybody on the street: who created this new federal system? Not only the Russians themselves, somehow they were helped by many rich people all over the world.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: I would like to continue now with the beginning of your life. I was reading you started painting when you were 6 years old. That was 1963. From the age of 13 you became a professional painter. Then you went to Art school. You said, it was an interesting time, because all was not allowed and you didn’t know about the existence of other worlds. I think, this is a really interesting situation. You might live the life of a prisoner, or maybe a life on an island. And then there is no escape possible. You are lost in a way.
Maxim Kantor: It’s true.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: But then, in 1977 you were 20 years old, you founded the Red House, an underground group in Moscow. There you organized these amazing and sometimes dangerous one-day-shows. When you think back from now, what did your life look like in that period?
Maxim Kantor: It’s not really correct to say that I did not know about the existence of other worlds. Of course I did know. I had a very special father, Karl Kantor, who was a highly educated man and he introduced to me world literature and world classics also in art from my very early years on. The other thing is, I never visited a museum except the museums in Moscow. I couldn’t see any pictures and there were no foreign movies and so on. Not many translated books were available in the Russian language and not many books were published. It was not easy at that time, it was a war. It was very hopeless, in terms that I thought this would never stop. But on the other side it was not that dangerous, because of a certain stability and an egalitarian society. It was a society of equal people. People were not enemies to each other.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Did it feel like family?
Maxim Kantor: It was kind of family, who lives in very bad conditions. But still people were together. Right now in the new federal systems people are not together anymore. Society is different. When they say, times repeat itself now, that’s untrue. It’s not like that. The times are much more dangerous now. We did not had an aggressive society at that time. Now we have an aggressive society.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: It’s a big difference!
Maxim Kantor: Yes. At that time people were afraid of war. Now Russian people are voting for war.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: They are even at war.
Maxim Kantor: Yes. They are at war and they have to be at war. I remember a time, we had a war in Afghanistan. But who knew where Afghanistan on the map was. Nearly nobody. If at that time you asked people on the street, is there a war in Afghanistan, they even didn’t know which language they were speaking there. Yes, we have the right to protect them, but whom? Who is their president? That was it. It was a very unpleasant expedition to an unknown North Pole. But the war in Ukraine is something different. It is really society which chose it themselves. Once the Soviet Union/Russia was a nation which now kills itself. It started to kill itself in Chechnya, then it was Georgia, it was Pridnestrovie, Moldova and now it is Ukraine. It is very awful to say, but this is true, that so called Soviet society which at least exist since 30 years, now kills itself. And this is something different from one organism. And more than that, people in Russia start to be aggressive and they have nostalgia, but not for the past of the Soviet Union, for the empire past. They are dreaming about the glory of the Russian empire, not about the Soviet power.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Like a kingdom.
Maxim Kantor: Yes, like a kingdom. Like a big powerful kingdom, which overpowers its neighbors. They truly say, all you create is ours. This word ‚ours‘ should have a nonsense meaning. But for aggressive crowds this cannot be questioned. It is ours! It is part of the Russian world. Then you can ask, what is the Russian world. Is it the world where the gap between the rich and the poor is like in Africa? Is this you mean by the Russian world? You want to protect the world where all oligarchs receives one million a day, and your mother receives zero point zero? This world you wish to protect? To die for it and to kill your neighbor to let this world be everywhere? Normally, to this answer they say, it’s not your business. It will count, when we win. Then this will be a question we can care about. But first we have to conquer them. Just let’s organize this. Don’t ask questions about how family our family is. It’s our family, not yours. Who are you, you are Jewish. Go. We are Russians. We are okay. It is our orthodox Russian world and we protect it. You protect it from what? We protect it from the West, from the western type of democracy, which conquered us. But look, it’s not the western type of democracy, it is you, you yourself who created these oligarchs which split countries in pieces. Putin is not from the west. Of course, when I answer in this way, if I’m honest I would say, there are also some rich oligarchs from the west. But in the end what is true now, they throw all their western partners out of the country and now they have their own strategy. Strangely enough people are not offended. Putin can be the king, he has the right. But we will not allow other kings to beat us. For him it’s not a question, it’s absolutely allowed.
This is a very federal type of thinking, like: I belong to my master. He may cure me, he may hurt me, he may do whatever he wishes, that’s fine. And that’s federal. With who am I going to fight to protect my world. In my world I am a little slave of the master, but I am proud to be his slave. Together with him we are one family. Of course he is my father and if needed, I will go and die for him. And this is much more dangerous than it was in Soviet Union. If your question was, how I would compare it, I can say, it was better, it were at the same time very good days to prepare yourself. It gave me time to read, it gave me time to study. But this time today is much much more sad and now we are even closer to war then we were in that period. In that period war was very very far away. Now it’s next door. I’m sorry it sounds not so fine.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: In 1987 you were 30 years old, Henri and Eske Nannen came to visit you in Moscow in your studio. How did you meet, how did you come together and what did you like about them? How important was this visit for you and your career and your life?
Maxim Kantor: I met Henri and Eske through my friend Mario Dederichs (1949 – 2004), who was a correspondent of the German magazine Stern in Moscow. I think it was kind of a job for Mario to walk around artist studios, it was his obligation as a journalist and he liked this. He made a lot of friendships, we became friends and unfortunately he died. He reported about Tschernobyl which was a huge mistake, he got cancer. Very regretful this man passed away. He introduced me to Henri Nannen and all the other artists around me in that period. Later Henri visited all the studios of these artists. I was not his special artist, but when he came to visit it came he liked my pictures more than probably others. I was selected by Henri and invited for the Glasnost exhibition here in Emden, with many other artists too. But here I was a special artist because I could show many more pictures than other artists could. Later I became a friend of Henri. He was a very special man. He was a very strong man and a very noble man with his feelings and his sense. He had a great wish to protect everybody around him. Not only me, he protected all museums, he behaved like a father. It was his true behavior. I was lucky to be inside of the family of his protection. For me it was more than important, it changed my life. I think, Henri’s family was a little bit proud of me, I became known in many countries and I was able to sell my work very well, like in The Vatican, the British Museum and so on. They probably sometimes smiled about me, for them I was like a little grown up baby. But my friendship with Henri, this first love never changed. It was a very big and very strong event in my life, it remains as a very big event in my life, even one of the biggest events.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Henri Nannen also bought some of your paintings?
Maxim Kantor: Yes.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: In 1988 you were 31 years old and you celebrated this beautiful Glasnost exhibition here in Emden. When you think back, how did you feel about this open way to show your art in museums all around the world from that moment on? After Glasnost you really became a very special international successful artist. When we just talked about your youth period, you didn’t know about the other world, but suddenly you became a part of it. For sure, it was a huge jump!
Maxim Kantor: It was indeed a very big jump, it was accidental of course. I understood it was big luck. Many things came together, it was a coincidence of several factors. Of course number one was a wish and the great will and a great character of Henri Nannen. But I believe, it would not work that well if I would just be a worse artist. I do not know if I am a good artist. But if I would work less… I mean some artists are dreamers, but I worked a lot. I really worked like a machine. I had hundreds of exhibitions and painted thousands of pictures and had many exhibitions even simultaneously, even today. One exhibition here in Emden, another one in Nationalmuseum Gdansk (Poland), another one in Luxembourg (Centre Culturel de Rencontre, Abbaye de Neumunster), in two months I open an exhibition in Berlin (Hans-Dietrich-Genscher-Hall, Ministry of foreign Affairs of Germany), in two months I open another exhibition in Paris („De l’autre côté. Merry Symbolism“, church Saint Merri) and all of them have different pictures.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: So you have a really huge collection!
Maxim Kantor: I work every day, so if Henri Nannen would choose an artist who produced less, it would be much less successful. Secondly it was rather helpful that I speak English und ich verstehe und spreche auch Deutsch. Mein Wörterbuch ist nicht so groß und meine Grammatik ist schlecht, aber ich kann Deutsch. I even speak Spanish, it is my second language. If I wouldn’t speak languages, it would be much more difficult. I know many people who came from other countries but they couldn’t make any steps because of a lack of other languages. For me, it wasn’t a problem from the first moment on. Thanks to my father Karl Kantor, he gave me a lot of education, a lot of information in books, in literature, in history, so I was prepared to many things. I did not have many illusions, which was very very helpful. My family is from Argentinia. My father was born in Buenos Aires. They came when he was 7 years old, and he called himself a parteño, means one who is born in Buenos Aires. When he was in Russia and 85 years old, he asked me to bring him to Buenos Aires.
But of course, me, I will remain Russian. I speak Russian, my books are written in Russian, I do love many many things in Russia. But from the other side, we were never those very pure Russians. It’s a strange history of family. In a way we are refugees. I shouldn’t deny it when they speak about refugees, I would say I’m a refugee myself. Of course, I am a little bit more lucky than many refugees today, but I do not know which is my home country. By the way, it’s not a very beautiful feeling. When I had to leave Russia I understood the hardness of this choice. But I had to do it and I did it. When we choose were to live we decided to live in a French village. Because in a village you know everybody, everybody knows you, and you are not like in Paris. There are fifty houses at the sea, we lived in the woods and everybody knows this crazy artist. There I am not an immigrant, I am just Maxim. For my idea that was the right choice. We lived in a village and we were just normal people from a village, nothing special. Now it became my home and my second home is Emden. But I think, if we would choose Paris as a home, I would never feel home there. My choice was the little French village at the bank of the ocean. That is a very simple house, the only big treasure of this house is the gigantic atelier.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You also speak French?
Maxim Kantor: Yes. I speak all languages very badly as you can hear, but I do speak many languages. I love to read languages, I love to read Shakespeare in English and Goethe in Deutsch. But we were speaking about choosing the place of living. It was very important to find a place, where you are not a guest. Where you are not a stranger, who comes and people talk to him like to a stranger.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: And then they might ask you: when are you going back?
Maxim Kantor: Exactly. When are you going back, and: do you like it here? There are 50 people living in my little village and now I think of myself like one of them. Together we are fishing, together we take the boats, to go tuna fishing, we do it all together and also me, the idiotical artist (laughing out loud)!
We found the place by accident. Once somebody advised me, do you know this little island, it’s beautiful and cozy, it’s very close to Paris and close to London, it’s only three hours by train to Paris. Of course three hours are a lot, it’s about 700 kilometers. But then you can be in Paris and it’s only one hour to fly to London. There is a little airport very close by. Nobody knows you there, it is a very secret island. Later I discovered it is a very fashionable place. But in the first moment I did not know about a fashionable place. Then I told my wife not to tell this anybody, it should be our secret. If we would tell this around, there would be crowds coming around. And then we found a very nice and good house there, not really big, not something special. We got permission to build a big studio, a real good studio, it’s my achievement (laughing). We bought the house and we are still happy there.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: After the Glasnost exhibition you went to America.
Maxim Kantor: Yes, I went to the United States and lived there for several months. I am still very often in America, I am a visiting professor at the Notre Dame University in Indiana. They write me from time to time. But again, how did this all happen? One of my very close friends, I know him since thirty years, is a very well know German philosopher who now teaches at the Notre Dame University, College of Arts and Letters in Indiana. His name is Vittorio Hösle, he is very known. We became very close friends. As he said, in a very German way, he told me: after thirty years of friendship Maxim, I think we might dare to say that we became close friends (laughing). He is a very good philosopher. He started to write me since he knows that I also write, he started to invite me to his lectures and each second year I come for one semester. Last time we taught about Joseph Beuys, and it was minus 32 C. I will not forget it and they will not forget it too. It was really cold there.
I love America and I love this special part of America in a forest, which is not far from New York, not far from Washington, even not far from Chicago. They say Chicago is the next city, but it is a three hours drive from Chicago. It is a place where Ernest Hemmingway was born. All what he described in his early stories is there. All these forests and lakes, it’s wonderful there. I like this University there. I also like it’s a catholic university, I converted myself to Catholicism, I am a catholic. I do think that everybody would like it there, because the place is in the middle of almost nowhere. There is no downtown, there is no discotheque, there is no big hotel, just nothing there (laughing). You have a library and a studio. I am happy with this. I am sure my children will not be happy there in 10 years from now, they would probably love Paris or London or Berlin much more, but I like it.
I do not like Trump, it’s crazy that such a country elected this man. It is grotesque. I know many many people in this beautiful country and all of them voted against Trump. But also the Brexit was a big shock. I love England, I work at the Oxford University but everybody in Oxford who I know voted against the Brexit, but we got it. Again, this power of the crowd, it is the same as it is in Russia now. 86% support Putin. A normal answer should be: so what? If you see, that 86% are less educated than 14%, it’s unfortunately and weird. Even more weird is, they made this 86% poor, sent them to wars, squeezed these 86% like a lemon, so what are you proud about? You foolish 86%, you milk the 86% each day and you are still proud of this? The same happened to England, people in Oxford and many other little towns in the UK voted for the Brexit, and if you ask English people in the villages, why they did this, they say they want to get rid of refugees. The next lie normally is, they don’t have many refugees. The UK only accepted 20.000 refugees and Germany accepted one million. Yes, and we don’t want to be a part of Europe, we don’t want to have this problem at all, then the Brexit is the best. But it is all wrong, you received much more refugees then Germany. You didn’t receive 20.000 refugees from Syria, but you received about 3 million of rich groups from Russia and India and China. All rich robbers, if not to say murderers. They came to London, they were accepted and they never got any question from the law. Don’t you all know that their money was stolen from the people? Don’t you know that he’s not the owner of this oil region and you receive him as a member of the society, because he is a billonaire? Don’t say, you are against refugees. You are against poor refugees. But you want rich murderers and rich bandits in your country. That makes the statement really different. Then you should say openly yes, we split with Europe, because we don’t like poor people, we like only rich bandits. That’s a wonderful statement. It’s like discussing morality. But that is how it goes.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Then you went to the 47th Biennale di Venezia in 1997. Did you like it there?
Maxim Kantor: Yes, it was a big event. To be honest, sometimes I remember this, but normally I forget it. It was twenty years ago. Yes, in that time it was still a different country, it was a country of some hopes, a country of big changes. On the Biennale I represented Russia in a big Russian Pavillion, it was a solo exhibition of my work. Later on I had three exhibitions in the Royal College Of Art in London, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg and I am a member of the Academy of Art in Russia. They even offered me to become a minister of culture in Russia, but I refused. In that time, Russia and when I say Russia, I mean the new Russian masters of life, former KGB officers, who became billionaires all of a sudden. They decided to behave like civilized people, to be friends with not only Le Pen and Gerhard Schröder like now. But in that time they had very nice contacts with Clinton, with everybody. With Mitterand, they wanted to copy all these European standards. They were in need to find nice looking Pro-European persons who maybe represent Russia in Europe. Now they need absolutely different persons. But that time they tried to look nice, they learned how to drink champagne, how to speak, how to dress. It was a time, when Russia pretended to be westernized. Now it turned around.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: When you were there in Venice during this months long exhibition, did you stay there all the time?
Maxim Kantor: No. I was there for two weeks during the opening. But I’m quite often in Venice, I have had three exhibitions in Venice. In Palazzo Zenobio, Fondazione Querini Stampalia and two other Palazzo’s, which are in total even four big exhibitions. Three or four years ago I had a project with the title „Atlantis“ there. Then I had a big exhibition in Milan, in the Fondazione Stellini. Right now another one will come next year in Rome. So, I have some connections with museums in Italy. I visited Venice many times. I remember the first time, when I went there, 88 or 89, after my first visit to Emden I went to Italy. My second exhibition was in Milan. From Milan I took the train and went to Venice. Of course, how could I miss Venice? Venice was my dream. I arrived at the square in Venice and was running around! Just to look at all the places and faces! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I was running like crazy, I was so excited to be there! I couldn’t believe to see all this beauty. All these museums, all these galleries, all these squares, all these Pallazzo’s, they are so beautiful!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: It has a beautiful atmosphere!
Maxim Kantor: It is fantastic beautiful there, even all Italy, even all Europe. Europe is an endless museum.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: And a lot of universities!
Maxim Kantor: That’s true, and a lot of universities. Such a great tradition of universities in Europe.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You were also invited to the Vatican in Rome in 2014, at the St. Thomas Academy. You were working in their churches there?
Maxim Kantor: St. Thomas Aquinas Academy is a separate building, it is in the Vatican. It is one of the wings of the papal casino. Casino means house, it’s not a place where to play cards in the Vatican (laughing)! Casa means a house, casino is a smaller house. The director of the Pontifical St. Thomas Aquinas Academy is the Argentinian bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, whom I know through three sources. I started to work for churches by the Dominican monastery in Brussels. There was a very interesting writer, theologist and a smart person. He recognized my pictures but I don’t know where. He just found them. His name is Ignace Berten, a Dominican. He is a true religious person. Last year he went to Rwanda, he goes to very special and even dangerous places all over the world. From him I learned how to go to bad places, once or twice I went to bad places, but not now. He wrote me a letter and invited me to paint a church. This I did. I worked there and in my studio in Berlin. Then I sent some pictures to him, I came for the opening. Actually, this place in Brussels is a fantastic monastery with a fantastic church. They have a great library.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: And you love libraries!
Maxim Kantor: Of course I love libraries! I am addicted to libraries. I grew up in a library. I’m drunk in libraries. But there in the monastery they didn’t had any shelf to put clothes. When I was in my room there in this monastery, in my cell, I came with my suitcase, was well dressed and looked around, where to put my jacket. I asked Ignace: where do you put your clothes, your jacket? He said: which jacket? He only has the clothes which are on his body. When they are destroyed by time or wind or weather, he buys another one. But he does not need two shirts, if he has one shirt it is enough. He thinks, it is a very idiotic idea to have three shirts (laughing). It was such a great example of behavior. Through him I entered this world of people devoted to religion, to those people who are thinkers. At that time I was already connected with the Notre Dame University in Indiana and Marcelo Sánchez knows him too. Through these two sources I came to him and he told me, did you ever think about an image of St. Thomas? I told him I love St. Thomas. Then I painted three big pictures, they were blessed by the pope.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You met the pope?
Maxim Kantor: I didn’t met Francesco, I made portraits of three of the popes and I met John Paul. I really would appreciate to meet Francesco, whom I respect a lot. What I hear and what I watch in Vatican, I was a couple of times in the Vatican, I can say I am friends with the Vatican. Also Vittorio Hösle, who is my close friend, he is a member of the Academy of St. Thomas. So, there were three links to this. I am very glad to work for them and to be with them. The fourth connection is, I am working already for a long time for L‘ Église Saint Merri in Paris. I do paint for this church and I work with this community. And you know, in this world I’m very happy to be connected with churches and with universities. I think those two have a great power nowadays, like two anchors which hold society. I feel happy in universities and I feel happy in churches. Not in all churches. There were a lot of intrigues of course in churches. There are even a lot of intrigues in universities, really a lot. But still it can’t be compared with dirty political games and stupid organized wars like in Ukraine. Still they do not lie in such dimensions and still they do not rule a crowd to attack another crowd. Universities are something else.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: So, it really touched you, it made something awake inside.
Maxim Kantor: Yes.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Did what happened change you? Did you became more spiritual?
Maxim Kantor: I can’t say so. I had a very special father. He introduced me to the world of culture when I was a boy. I am not an autodidact. I was a pupil of my father. He told me many many good things which I start to understand only now. I probably would say, after meeting other smart people like Marcelo, or Ignace, or the Father in Oxford. Through their influences something did really open in me. With them I touched for the second time this innocent feeling, when I had been a boy, listening to my father. When I was a boy, like my son Peter now, who is 6 years old and probably he will keep this innocence until he becomes 8 or 9 years old. It was a very special open and innocent feeling listening to my father and being open to all the essential things he told me. Later I became an adult and very much involved in adult life. I became not hypocrite of course. I say to myself, the 20 years between my twentieth and my forties I was completely dead. Especially from 30 to 45 I was very hectic with my career, I was very hectic to become famous, very busy to run all these exhibitions and so on.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: The international life!
Maxim Kantor: Yes. Kind of a sweet life by the way. Of course I was not really selfish or I tried to behave in a moral way, I didn’t make stupid things like crimes or other things, of course not. But to be very honest and precise I could be better. I wasn’t brave enough. I wasn’t that clearly against fashion and power. Then, later, something had happened, even many things had happened. My father died, and I started to feel a great shame for my own self. Not the bad things, which I did, because I did not do really bad things. I didn’t betray anyone, I didn’t steal. But for those good things which I was able to do and which I did not do, which I did not do because I was sitting there for my career and all these exhibitions, because I was trained to organize this and that, it was in my opinion a very normal life for an artist. But it was such a shameful life. I remember this time, the beginning, how brave I was, after my father’s lessons during the Soviet period. But then I got into another breeze. It was like you were ill for many years and then you receive very good medicine and stand up again. It was such a great thing to become brave again. To become healthy again. And to do only what I wish, what I thought was right. That was a very special moment. I don’t know how long I have to live still, I hope for another 10 years, until my children are entering university. But what I have ahead of me is a great happiness to do only what I think is right. And not a single move towards fashion or success or career. I cannot return to those twenty years. And, by the way, being honest, I can not even divide those twenty years from the rest of my life. It’s not possible to take them away. It was a part of my life and it’s done and what is also just honest to say, I don’t know if I would be able to be so honest now without this kind of protection. I bought a house on the French island ÎIe de Ré but without this career I wouldn’t be able to buy it. I don’t know if I would be so brave living in a two rooms flat in a little district of Moscow, it’s different of course. I simply cannot blame these twenty years. No, it was like it was. It was not that bad, but I could have been better.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: It’s great you have the ability to grow.
Maxim Kantor: I think so.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: And to continue your life in a better way.
Maxim Kantor: I hope so.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You have a good life, a productive life and you know about it.
Maxim Kantor: Right now we are on the border of very bad things I’m afraid. Right now a time come when we all will be checked for our ability to resist and to behave. I don’t know if a new war will happen, but certainly we are not going to see anything good. I do not believe in a combination Putin – Trump – Le Pen and the Brexit, I don’t believe that something good will appear of this combination. How we will be able to survive and what kind of laws will appear, what kind of poverty may come.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: And this is really happening everywhere. It’s not just happening there and you can be happy you are here. It’s even here. It’s everywhere.
Maxim Kantor: Yes, yes. It’s everywhere.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: It’s growing and even fast and it’s becoming more aggressive. Sometimes I wonder, am I dreaming? Is this all true? Every day you read the newspapers and magazines we read about these strategies more and more and more. We do not hear anymore about good situations, about good news, about hope, about just in general what is good. We all know this is not good. The good things are not interesting people any more. It’s crazy! We talk about IS, the war in Syrie and really no one needs to end it there, about the catastrophic situations of refugees, all these topics are just daily available food for us. We are even parts of these news today, we all together share this way of life. It’s even more worse today than after 9/11.
Maxim Kantor: It’s crazy. And it’s more dangerous today than it was for us 9/11. 9/11 was just a single moment, a single item, which of course had a huge impact on all our lives.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: This is also why I asked you in the beginning of our talk, are you afraid to live in a situation like this? Are you afraid that you might loose hope?
Maxim Kantor: I’m afraid for my children. Do you have children?
Bernd Ihno Eilts: No.
Maxim Kantor: Maybe you will have one day. Being a father you feel twice or three times more sharp, because little things like how you grow up, what you will face.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: I just want to talk about the puppets we can see here in your exhibition. You started to design and build these puppets in 2008. And you also wrote the plays, which is very special.
Maxim Kantor: Yes, I wrote quite a lot of plays, about 15. Some of them are staged in Moscow in 4 different theatres. Once I started to write little funny plays, which are more related to puppets.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: So, you can create also funny things!
Maxim Kantor: Yes, of course. I also write novels and in these novels are a lot of jokes. In a way, they are funny. Just right now I have one big novel translated to German, the title is ‚Rotes Licht‚, which is very important for me. It will be edited in Vienna in Austria through the publisher Paul Zsolnay and it will be published in Germany on January 29, 2018.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Let’s come back to your puppets. In 2014 you found a permanent traveling puppet theatre.
Maxim Kantor: Unfortunately not permanent. It will go further to a permanent stage, but it’s not right now. If I would have more time! We had one performance since than in Moscow, made another one in Berlin, we made one performance in Oxford at my college and I do hope, if it will not be bombed by Russian forces. In St. Merri they offered me make two performances in the church for the audience on Easter. When it’s really crowded. Me and my little crew organize shows with dragons and other figures. I also play these puppets myself. We make curtains, painted by myself, we are staying behind these curtains with the puppets on sticks. These puppets are able to move then, they can touch each other, we use our voices and each voice of us plays one puppet. Then we have a musician who plays piano behind us and another one plays the violin. Sometimes we are 5 players, sometimes 7 and we always have great sweet fun. Adults and children like the plays very much.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you get nervous before the show?
Maxim Kantor: No. I love playing with the puppets and I love to have fun but I am never nervous. From the very beginning I thought so seriously about this and no one expected me to be a great puppet player. So, it’s really much fun!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: What are these plays about?
Maxim Kantor: We are trying to create a mix of fairy tale, satire. Sometimes we use moments from Robin Hood and transform it into today’s life. It’s really funny, you should come and watch it!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: I would love to! In your paintings you nearly always start with a drawing. You always draw first, because you are a drawer.
Maxim Kantor: Yes, that’s right.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: And right now you are even a good one.
Maxim Kantor: I hope so. After fifty years I finally learned how to draw, not before. And it’s of course really nice, that humans are able to grow. When I met Henri Nannen and he appreciated my pictures, I could not draw at all.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: But you didn’t tell him?
Maxim Kantor: I didn’t tell him, of course not. Maybe he noticed, but he was very polite not to talk about it.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: He had to!
Maxim Kantor: I couldn’t draw at all. I learned it after my 50th birthday. When I started to work precisely making etchings, when I started to study medieval art, sometimes I even copied medieval art, I learned to draw. Now I am a rather good draftsman. I can draw portraits in 10 minutes, I even could work on the beach. You know, there are some artists working on the beach drawing the guests, drawing fast, very fast, with a black silhouette. Now I can do it. Twenty years ago I couldn’t do it, not at all. I simply had a very bad hand. But now it’s relative good.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: The new catalogue says that, when you start painting, you think it’s like writing a book. Is it still like that? Is it the other way around too? That when you write and think you are painting?
Maxim Kantor: Yes, it’s still like that. It’s all combined and even sometimes I do not see any difference if I paint or if I write. It just goes somehow, I cannot even control when I stop this or that.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You work in Berlin in your studio, in Oxford and on the Île de Ré.
Maxim Kantor: Mostly I work on the island in France, painting and writing. I have another little nice studio in Oxford which the College gave to me. It is proper of quality and I work, when I’m there. I keep some pictures there, some paintings, but the studio there is not that big, especially not for my pictures. In Berlin we have a flat where I also work, but it’s not a studio. On the island I built a proper studio for the first time in my life. Now I am an artist with a studio. I can say, now I have a studio. It is very big, very high, with big windows. It’s perfect and I don’t want to go anywhere, so I stay and work there.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you work alone or do you have an assistant?
Maxim Kantor: I work alone, of course I do not have any assistant. But two times in my life I had assistants. When I worked for a London studio doing many carvings I had a crew of workers, printers who helped me. That continued for five years, working with a team. They didn’t draw, they printed. But they were very good specialists and sometimes they gave me technical advice. In Moscow, twenty or thirty years ago, I gave private lessons and I had pupils for about one year long. They were not assistants, they didn’t help me to draw, but somehow they helped me to prepare covers, stretch canvasses. This lasted for about 7 months. These are the two experiences with assistents I had.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: To create a painting, it’s just the action between you and the canvas or the paper. How does it start? What do you need to start with a work? Do you have a ritual for this? Do you always know, when you are ready, when you can start?
Maxim Kantor: This is difficult to answer. It is a very difficult moment to start. As I talked to my wife, now I have everything. A really beautiful house, I have a great studio, I have wonderful materials, I have great white canvas, only things I miss now is talent and time. (Laughing out loud)!!!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You should better stop now!
Maxim Kantor: Yes, it’s really difficult to start. There are new methods I discovered for myself to start. Now I’m working for big canvasses for the German Bundestag. The exhibition will be open the 31st of march 2017, which is very soon, actually much to soon.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: But you didn’t start yet?
Maxim Kantor: No. (Laughing). It would be a nightmare if I start too late (laughing). There are two canvasses 4 by 5 meter. It’s hard to start. A very good method to start, normally I prepare the ground by myself. When you buy canvas with ground, it’s even worse when you buy canvas which is already stretched, then it’s really really bad. Then you really have to start at once, there are no other excuses. But when you prepare all yourself, I order it from a carpenter I know. He comes to me and we discuss methods of stretches or constructions. Then I choose canvas without ground, just this rough canvas, it’s the medieval way. Then I stretch it myself. I prepare the ground in a very very old way and this takes time. And this actually is the time when you touch your canvas. You get accustomed to the canvas. You touch it a thousand times when you prepare it all with your hands. Then, after a while, something appears from this canvas, little by little. You touch it that many times but certain images, not literally images, but some shapes, some shadows appear. Then something is starting. It is the real step inside. You kind of step inside. That helps. And then you have to jump further. Now I have three days off, I am very nervous but I will return on the 5th. Then I have nearly two months to finish.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Is this time enough?
Maxim Kantor: How can I answer this question? (Laughing)!!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: In a normal situation, how much time do you need to create and to finish? You are working very hard and a lot.
Maxim Kantor: Normally I am working 12 hours a day. This time I have to quit my writings. Normally I would paint 4 hours, write 3 or 4 hours, read 3 or 4 hours, drink wine 3 or 4 hours (laughing).
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you paint on 2 or 3 paintings at the same time?
Maxim Kantor: Yes. Always. So this time I do not write, I do not read that much, just during the night. Normally I spend 3 hours reading but now I have to quit it. When you finish the day you will drink some wine of course, otherwise all that work will not be possible (laughing). You know, I always say to my wife, its hypocritical to live in France and not to drink wine. Do you think I am a hypocrite? She says: no, you are not. How can I stay without a glass of wine in France, it’s not possible.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: What actually inspires you? When you are in the studio, do you listen to music, what’s going on during the work process?
Maxim Kantor: I have a lot of things that inspire me. Memories about my father, even my own thoughts of course. I never had situations when I do not know what to paint. I don’t have always time enough to paint, I do not have talent enough to paint, that’s another question, but all the rest is there. I have really a lot of inspirations.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you question yourself during the process? Like: Am I good enough?
Maxim Kantor: Of course. And the answer is always ’no‘.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you throw work away?
Maxim Kantor: When I’m not happy, I sometimes take color away from the canvas, sometimes I throw canvasses away, but it’s not easy to throw 5 meters of canvas away (we all laugh out very loud!!!). When I am not happy I just use a knife and delete the colors, and leave the naked canvas. That is a normal process. There is always a moment in the work process, after one month of work, you feel that you are completely dirty, then I have ideas like: How can I make such a crazyness? It is a complete desaster! (Laughing out loud)! Which idiot will think that this work is nice? (Laughing)!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you then wish to be a doctor or an astronaut?
Maxim Kantor: If I would be a doctor, how many people I would have killed already? (We all laugh loud)!!!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Maybe a different doctor! But it’s okay that you are an artist?
Maxim Kantor: Mostly well. Just imagine a doctor who during surgery decides to take start all over again (Laughing)!!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: My next question is about painting people, portraits. I read, you paint people you love, you also paint people you hate. That inspiration comes from Goya. But you never paint portraits of people who maybe ask you to do.
Maxim Kantor: No, never.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You still don’t do that. Not even on the beach?
Maxim Kantor: Not yet.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You’d never accept, even Henri Nannen would ask you?
Maxim Kantor: I asked him once to sit for me to paint him. I thought it would be a good move from my side and I would celebrate our friendship to paint him. And there is this picture, it is somewhere. But unfortunately that time I was not able to draw. I was a very bad draftsman. If I would paint him now, I would make it excellent. That moment I suggest many painted portaits to him. And he agreed. I made his portrait and I am not very happy with it. I am not happy at all. I am happy I left it for him for his private life. He was glad.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: But now mostly people you paint are family?
Maxim Kantor: People from my family, my friends, if it’s not a grotesque face or some kind of mask. My friends and my family. I painted group portraits of my college, because I love my college and it became my family. With all these contradictions, some of them are funny, some of them not, but most of them are very very nice, sincere people and they became another family. So, I decided to celebrate this through painting them.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you then need time to see them often until you reach a moment that you think, now I could draw or paint them? To understand them better?
Maxim Kantor: Yes, of course.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: If I would ask you, for example, could you make a portrait of mine? Just a fast drawing, could you do that or is it too fast?
Maxim Kantor: Of course I could do that. It takes maybe 5 minutes.
Then Maxim picked some few pencils from his jacket, I gave him a piece of paper and he started to draw me!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: So, I am the first one who asks you and you accept?
And he started!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Thank you very much! It is very beautiful!
Maxim Kantor: Was it 5 minutes or 4?
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Between 4 and 5 minutes if I’m right. Are you happy with the result?
Maxim Kantor: If I would have ten minutes and normal pencils, I could make it three times better. But for a little pen and for 5 minutes it’s really good!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Could I become a figure in one of your paintings?
Maxim Kantor: Yes!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Are you teaching in Oxford?
Maxim Kantor: No, I am not teaching. I make public lectures occasionally, not many but it’s not teaching. And I organize conferences. I already organized several conferences there.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: What are the conferences about?
Maxim Kantor: It’s a combination of history of culture and history of politics. I am interested in both and it’s very curious not only to absorb politics nowadays. Also to see some parallels and to see influences of politics and culture in previous centuries and to see how it combines all together. There are a lot of questions which can maybe solved only with combinations of different fuels of knowledge. Sometimes we are victims of the fact that science nowadays, is very much split into disciplines. Historians of art are not well informed about history itself. Even inside history there is a big gap between classical History of Art and Contemporary Art. Contemporary Art is a field which is untouchable for classical historians. They are not allowed to put feet on the border of Contemporary Art. And also the other way around. It’s funny, because History of Art is one process which flow and any borders that you make will be not natural. But it so happens that there are two institutions. To say nothing about political science and about sociology, it’s all different. Sometimes we see in Oxford, that the dialogue between discipline is the only thing that may solve questions. The dialogue itself may even give rise to questions. Nowadays, and that is very curious, I know many people in my college which combine disciplines. When you ask my colleague what he’s doing, he says, he’s doing economical history or historical economy. He is not a communist, he is not a historian. But he started history from the point of economy and he studies economy from the point of history. Which is curious. It makes him an unique specialist. What I am trying to do, I invite very good people for the conferences, we all write papers for it and we make it very serious. I’m trying to combine knowledge of Art History and changes in the history of art with special terms of the political life. For example: avant-garde which follows of course political changes, to link these terms and find out how one influences another one and so on. This is the field which is not very developed. I do believe in a certain future with such kind of exploration, which may combine several disciplines together. That’s what we are trying to do.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: There in Oxford, you love very much to eat with your colleagues together. In a big room, big table, it’s almost a family experience. There you share a nice meal all together.
Maxim Kantor: For me, it was never that important. For some of course, it’s a nice moment then, when we all eat together, this is indeed quite nice. Yes.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: I just recently read an article in the catalogue which mentioned this.
Maxim Kantor: It’s an expression, it’s how they make family family. This all happens twice a week. When I am in Oxford, they go for this family dinner, it is of course a special experience, I love this experience. But I am not addicted to it.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: What is a good meal for you, what do you really like to eat?
Maxim Kantor: (Laughing)! What a question! This question after art and politics! A good meal for me is when at the table I have everybody whom I love, my children, my wife, and my previous wife whom I love and we are good friends, hopefully they are healthy, hopefully they are around, and I have a good bottle of Bordeaux. I do not even need to talk to all of them, I can concentrate on my work and I can have a good meal, then I can be happy (laughing).
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You became a German citizen. Do you have some contemporary artists, German ones, you like?
Maxim Kantor: Yes, I like Anselm Kiefer. He’s a great artist that I like.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you have some more connections with Germany? A deeper connection?
Maxim Kantor: Of course, Germany is very important for me. Like I told you about my addiction to Goethe, I love Goethe, I truly love Goethe. I do love Heinrich Böll. He was my favorite writer since my childhood. And still I do love him, no question. German culture, German philosophy always interested me highly, I always loved it. Because of my father, he was a philosopher, I was always very much attracted to philosophy. My father read more Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristoteles. I love the German romanticism, but not that much. I always prefer Goethe, I always love him, no doubt. I love Erich Maria Remarque, especially now when I became a refugee myself. I started reading Remarque with a different eye.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you feel like a refugee?
Maxim Kantor: The answer is difficult. I cannot say I am a refugee, while working as an artist world-wide known and respected. But on the other hand, who I am, I am a refugee.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You are not allowed to live where you come from anymore.
Maxim Kantor: I am one of the 100 enemies of Russia on an existing list.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How does this feel?
Maxim Kantor: To be honest, very badly. I feel badly. Okay, I can say I am proud to be an enemy. Of course, I am proud. I am proud, that I am recognized, that my voice is strong enough to be heard. But on the other hand, all such answers will be not true. No, I really feel badly. I am not an enemy of my country. I love my country. I love Russian culture much more than Putin. Putin and his servants which tell me, that I am an enemy of Russia. I believe they are enemies of Russia, not me. I am one who defends the real Russia. It’s me who defended it, not they. And who are they to judge me, to call me an enemy of Russia. I am very sorry that hundreds of thousands of people who read this stupid paper, who think about me like an official enemy, of course, this makes me sad. Not just sad, more than sad.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: What does it mean that you are now on this list. In real life, for you now, today. Are you afraid they get you in prison maybe? Or that someone comes and takes you?
Maxim Kantor: I don’t know.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Are you afraid of something like this could happen?
Maxim Kantor: Literally they cannot take me back, because I am a citizen of Germany. They cannot take you for example. Of course, they can do whatever. We are not protected from crime. Also I can be killed by a man on the street or by being drunk. But if I was to say whether I am afraid of violence which this paper may produce, then I have to say, yes, I am afraid. Of course. I am afraid. And if somebody will tell you that I died from a sudden heart attack, I can show you, they checked me in Berlin, two months ago and I am absolutely healthy. I do not take any medicine. The doctor asked me: how much wine do you drink per day? Some glasses? No, I told him, about one bottle. He told me, this is not traceable, so I do not drink enough. I told him, I am going to work on this (laughing). So, I am healthy. If I die tomorrow, it’s not because of an usual heart attack. That means that something happened.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: But you don’t have a bodyguard?
Maxim Kantor: The strange thing is, I am not a politician. I am not a man of whom people have to be afraid. I am not a politician, I do not have a party, I am not even a political journalist. I do not have secret materials of whatever. I am only an artist who paint pictures. If this message of pictures is enough to be included in a list of 100 enemies, what does it mean? It means that pictures are working. But again, I am not a politician. I wrote and write novels, but they are fiction. I do not know any of Putins secrets that he hid, so he should not be afraid that I know where he put his billions. It’s not because of this he wants me to be killed. I do not know such secrets. I only have novels and pictures that made them to see me as an enemy. I even cannot say I am afraid. But I am afraid of some idiots, some Russian patriots, who maybe get the idea to kill me.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: But there are more people on this list. Who are these people? Are they intellectuals? Artists?
Maxim Kantor: They are different. Some are intellectuals, some are politicians, some are journalists.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: In 2015 you started to work with Gideon Kremer, the world famous violin virtuoso. He is a very special musician. You created pictures for ‚The Pictures Of An Exhibition‘ (Mussorgsky). So you made pictures from another exhibition, these are the words of Gideon Kremer himself. There is a video called „Masks and Faces“. I even brought some CD’s today, because I was thinking about Arvo Pärt, another very special composer. Also Valentin Silvestrov.
Maxim Kantor: I don’t know him that well. I only heard about him, but I never heard him.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Silvestrov is in the program you have together with Gideon Kremer.
Maxim Kantor: I know, I know, I know.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How did you both meet and how did you start this special collaboration? Just to bring it back to more peaceful waters.
Maxim Kantor: Yes. Gideon never allows himself anything, not even very strict statements. He only plays music. I am an idiot for the open mouth. Always when I wish to say something, I always just say it.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Really? Directly?
Maxim Kantor: Yes, almost always directly (laughing). And it was him who found me. Once I got a letter from him, suddenly. But that happened several times in my life. I got a letter from the bishop of the Vatican.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: But I couldn’t write you a letter, even I wanted to ask you to have this interview. I asked Ilka, our both long time friend. She is the head of press and marketing at Kunsthalle Emden.
Maxim Kantor: You even can write me a letter, ask me for a portrait, come to Île de Ré and I will paint your portrait. Now I say this, just to make sure. Now we may fix it. And it will be really important. Yes, I got a nice letter saying, why don’t we think about a collaboration? Which collaboration we didn’t know that moment, he had no idea, he just said, we should meet and talk. We had some mutual friends in the very past, friends from immigration. But we never met. Gideon is about ten or eleven years older, he is 70 years old now. We decided to meet, I forgot where we met. Not at his home, not at mine. We met at a place in between. We spent one whole evening together, speaking and we came to this idea, to make this mixed show, where I show certain pictures in a certain order. He played with his orchestra, the Kremerata Baltica and also solo violin. So this is how this performance was created. Now we are thinking about probably something else, but first we have to finish this one. And I have to finish another big job for the Bundestag!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Thank you very very much!!
Maxim Kantor: It was my pleasure! Come to France! Let’s go now and have a glass of wine!
Interview: Bernd Ihno Eilts
Photography during the interview at Kunsthalle Emden (Germany): Zoltan Acs
Many thanks to Ilka Erdwiens from the Kunsthalle in Emden (Germany) for making this interview possible and for all her kindness and amazing support!
Cover picture of this article: Maxim Kantor, Brown Springs, 2016, Oil on canvas, 200 x 220 cm, Collection of the artist © Maxim Kantor.
For more information, please visit: www.maximkantor.com