Aydyn Zeynalov, artist

Aydyn Zeynalov is a very Russian artist with a very un-Russian name. A native of Moscow with roots in Azerbaidzhan, Zeynalov’s family history is typical of many former Soviet “subjects.” His father moved to Leningrad at age 17 for his studies in Arabic language and culture, then went to work for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has since made Russia his home and now holds the rank of Senior Counselor.

While Zeynalov’s father was on long business trips abroad with the rest of the family, the young boy’s babushka often kept him busy with modeling clay. And so his interest in the arts began. When Zeynalov was older, he accompanied his parents on a five year posting in Cairo. “I continued to work on sculpting,” Zeynalov recalled. “I even met with a local sculptor who had a gigantic workshop not far from the Pyramids. So I went there to sculpt as well. These were my first serious works.

“Thus, when I returned to Moscow, I was 13 and faced a serious dilemma: shall I follow in my father’s footsteps or, let loose what [talent] I have in me?” Luckily for Aydyn, his father did not try to influence his decision (as it turned out, Aydyn’s sister Maria decided to carry on “the family business”).

“I just loved sculpture too much,” Zeynalov said. So, in 1991, he entered the Art Lyceum attached to Moscow’s Surikov Art Institute. In 1996, he enrolled in the Institute itself (now called the Surikov Art Academy).

In the second year of his studies, Zeynalov’s teacher, the renowned sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov, singled him out and made him his apprentice in his public sculptures—e.g. his monuments to Yuri Nikulin and Mikhail Bulgakov (see Russian Life Aug/Sept 1999, Jan/Feb 2000).

This is not to say Zeynalov did not create anything of his own. In fact, last summer, in his fourth year of studies, he won the Academy’s Diploma for the Best Female Portrait of 2000. It was quite a prestigious award: only one or two students receive it each year.

“It was a rather tough year for me,” Zeynalov recalled. “I was working on my Little Diploma at the time, and I just wanted some relaxation. So I picked up some clay and did this sculpture of a woman in three hours.”

This past March the 22-year-old sculptor passed a major milestone: he was invited to participate in the prestigious International Moscow Art Salon, which features artists from throughout the former USSR. Art scholar Margarita Karlova, who says she had a hard time convincing the modest Aydyn to exhibit  his works, remarked: “Zeynalov knows how to convey the spiritual and energetic essence of what he sees,” and she praised his “genre experiments, his sketches from nature, the unity of the figures’ composition, the search for more convincing lines of the silhouette, the preserved proportions … All of this conveys a feeling of freshness … Aydyn tells the story of the heroes of his times. One can tell his models don’t come from the 19th century, they are our contemporaries.”

Unfortunately, the exhibit did not result in any sales of Zeynalov’s works. “I am afraid my works have no commercial character,” he says with no tinge of regret.

Ideally, the artist is “free of influences” and dedicates himself to the pursuit of his art. But, as Zeynalov admits, “this is probably not realistic—I mean I need to earn my living and all.” So, from time to time he does private commissions to earn some pocket money. “A student who really wants to can earn good money [on private commissions] now,” Zeynalov said. “But I am trying to stay away from it, as it spoils your artistic taste.”

And so far no rich benefactor is ready to hand the young sculptor carte blanche. “Total creative freedom is possible only when the customer totally trusts the sculptor,” Zeynalov says. “But then you need to build a name for yourself.”

Surely that day is not far off.

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