John Varoli

During his 15 years as a journalist, John Varoli wrote about art and culture for New York Times, Bloomberg News and The Art Newspaper.

Today, he continues to write as a sharp observer of the art scene in New York City, always keen to discover new and exciting talent. In his free time, he is an amateur historian who researches and documents the forgotten history of New York.

"Chimpanzee – Music Lover" (2019)

Yuri Ulyashev with notebook and sketches,
in a New York City restaurant.

"Bee" from sketchbook

When did you decide to become an artist?

I'm an artist at heart, so I probably made this decision at the time of my birth. This desire has long matured in my soul, and I consciously came to being an artist at the age of 38.

Fine Art in a Time of Viral Fear

A few days before our current viral madness, I was fortunate to have the chance to meet up with with a talented artist and interesting personality from Moscow, Yuri Ulyashev. His art works are in private collections in Russia and the USA. He's been displayed at the International Art Festival in New York, the Texas Contemporary Exhibition in Houston, Margo Gallery in New York, the Russian Art Museum in New Jersey, and the Moscow Skolkovo Business School.

I previously only knew Yuri's works from group exhibitions — he was last shown in Manhattan in November, at a large art festival in Chelsea. While touring that exhibition, my saturated eyes easily gravitated to Yuri's painting, "Chimpanzee Music Lover".

While Yuri was not at that opening night, little did I know that a few months later I'd have the chance to meet him in person when a friend let me know that Yuri was on his way to New York in early March.

Yuri is a former advertising executive, but he has always had a love and talent for art. I wanted to get to know Yuri better, so we had a nice walk around Chelsea in New York City. This was before a state of emergency was declared. His words, especially about slowing down to appreciate the world around us, are eerily prescient to the madness that we now find ourselves in.

What inspires you as an artist?

Usually very unexpected things that rush into my surroundings: a bright color spot, a bright beautiful decoration on a woman; a beautiful dress or an interesting combination of colors on something. Inspiration comes from absolutely different places; sometimes it's just something bright against the background of something standard and classic.

What is your philosophy?

The world of the artist is a world of something real and non-invented. Something that can stop us on our course of life and make us think. If we talk about craft or philosophy, I do not want to provoke anyone, I want to use color in relation to the thoughts and events that surround me. Every day we run around, and don't have time to look around and see what's beautiful.

Art is a way to freeze a moment in life, and experience and appreciate the essence of life. As urban residents, we see thousands of images a day. Our senses are oversaturated. I want people to understand that it's important to stop and enjoy a moment's beauty.

In this age of conceptual art, why is color still important?

Through my artistic vision and my exquisite use of color, I like to bring out the essence of an object. I want to create something that people will appreciate and enjoy. There is a moment in an artist's life when you simply want to enjoy the beauty of a moment. Take Monet who painted many different versions of the sun over the Thames. He didn't want to make a philosophical statement. He wanted to capture a moment of beauty.

What is the role of the artist in society?

The artist is a person who looks at things from a different angle and he does so within the framework of his transformative vision to convey to people important ideas that surround us in everyday life.

What do you think of New York?

New York is a city of contrasts. There are luxury boutiques and then in front of the window might be a homeless man sleeping. Lots of dirt, but lots of people well-dressed. You feel like an ant amid the skyscrapers. A person doesn't really feel a part of the city, but rather a unit in this city. New York has grown naturally and there are many buildings from older periods and you see this in the architecture.

What artists do you like?

Oddly enough, my favorite artist is Vasily Kandinsky. I really love his work because he knows how to distinguish something important from a series of ordinary things. He knows how to demonstrate the energy that he puts into his works by using a combination of colors. And, of course, I really like the works of Van Gogh, Monet and Yakovlev.

My final thoughts:

Our conversation ended. Yuri and I finished our lunch at a cozy French restaurant in Chelsea. Around the block were some of the leading art galleries. We popped inside a few them. As usual, the selection on display was mixed. Some were gems; otherwise left you incredulous, wondering how and why they were even on display. Nevertheless, outside a storm was brewing and we had little idea how intense it would get. And that it would shut down the entire city and the world for 2 months. Once this is over, we all need to heed Yuri's advice, and find the time to appreciate the beauty and finer things in life.

"Owl" (2019)

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