Originally published in Lokkal magazine.
Andrew Osta is an international artist born in the Ukraine, raised in Canada, and now living in San Miguel de Allende. He started painting professionally in 2005 and exhibiting his work in galleries in 2006. His work is currently on display at gallery Relox 46, at the Hecho en Mexico restaurant, and in his studio.
Q: What would you say are the key aspects or characteristics that distinguish good art from mediocre art? How do you put value on art?
A: Some people say that art is completely subjective, but if I was asked to judge a piece of art, I would look at originality, composition, technique, and also at whether or not I can connect with that painting and feel something, but at the same time, I am not interested in shock value. As to putting value on art, some people count the hours they put into a painting and multiply that by some number. For me, value has more to do with the years a painter has already put into his or her practice, and it’s something you can see when you look at an artwork.
Q: How many hours a day do you paint?
A: In an atmosphere free from distractions, I can go on for 8 hours, and I have done 12 hours from time to time. Three hours would probably be the minimum. If I don’t work, I feel that my day is incomplete, so my inspiration often comes from the feeling I get after a good day’s work. It’s like a vicious circle, except it’s actually good.
Q: How long have you been an artist?
A: I have been artistic for as long as I can remember. When I was six or seven, I used to carve things out of wood. I made satirical drawings of my primary school teachers. In high school, I taught myself piano and drums, and started writing songs. I also wrote nonfiction and poetry. The first time I painted was in 2005, when I discovered I had a natural talent for it. My first paintings were exhibited in Toronto the following year.
Q: Local artist Henry Vermillion once wrote that you paint in a style called Magical Realism. What does that term mean?
A: Magical realism places fantastic or impossible elements in an otherwise realistic setting, with the objective of offering a fresher and deeper view of reality. Very often, human beings can get accustomed to a situation and become immune to it. Magical realism can present that situation from a different angle. I think that artists in general help people gain a deeper appreciation of reality, but with people working in the Magical Realism style, that objective is usually more conscious.
Q: Would your famous paintings of cats at the dinner table be an example of Magical Realism?
A: Yes, because I have kept certain rules of logic and perspective, but replaced people with cats. In the middle is the black and white cat that I adopted from the street. When the late Toller Cranston was alive, he and I used to have lunch several times a week, during which we often discussed ideas for paintings. He suggested I do a series of dinner party paintings, but I put the magical touch into the idea and did those parties with cats instead. Those paintings are metaphors for how I often felt when Toller invited me to his fancy parties – sort of out of place but happy, like a street cat at a dinner table.
Q: What kind of a person was Toller?
A: Toller was a very talented and complex individual who could only be fully appreciated once you saw beyond the surface, so to speak. He was actually the closest friend I had in San Miguel, despite our age difference, because the two of us had a lot in common. I feel very grateful because I was so close to him for three years or so, until his untimely death. Now that he’s gone, I still have projects that aim to capture a bit of his spirit – paintings, songs, and writings that I intend to put out.
Q: Before moving to San Miguel, you spent 8 months studying to be a shaman in Peru. Can you say a few words about that?
A: I was very much into shamanism and other mystical practices for over 15 years, but l have renounced all of that in 2010 after my experiences in Peru. The shaman I was with was very powerful, but he ended up stealing 21 hectares of land from me and later threatened to kill me. So I found out the hard way that not all spiritual teachers are good people. It wasn’t the best time of my life, but I wrote a book about it, so something good came out of it. That book is available on Amazon, it’s called “Shamans and Healers”. Four years later, I wrote the follow-up, “Walk in the Light”.
Q: Before we wrap this up, would you have any advice to new artists? It’s a very difficult career, isn’t it?
A: Artists have to deal with a lot of instability. There is no regular paycheck coming in, so one has to be ready for stretches of time without any income. Nevertheless, I think that this is the best period in history for visual artists. Few people realize that so any great artists – like Van Gogh, Gauguin, Modigliani, Egon Schiele, and even Rembrandt and Vermeer – died alone in total poverty. In that sense, any artist who can make ends meet is doing well. Also, modern technology has expanded the reach an artist can have, and the Internet can help almost anyone find his or her audience. To me, population growth translates into more potential customers. You can put your work online and sell it to people on the other side of the globe. Rembrandt and Vermeer couldn’t do that. So, I think if you have a little bit of talent, some common sense, and a lot of determination, you can make it as an artist in today’s world.