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27123c8bad56c0c583e10dfc59c47a63Interviewer: Joanne Callahan, radio host
Interviewee: Simon Smith, artist

Woman shrugging
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Q. Let us get back to your oeuvre. You are famous for your outstanding manner of painting. While many artists try to shock their audience with their techniques, or the stories they depict, or by other means, your paintings are calm, and yet innovative. What are your sources of inspiration? Were there any famous artists who influenced your style?

A. The source of inspiration for me is life itself. Every new day I wake up grateful for the fact that I am alive. Gratitude is a strong stimulation to do anything; it fills you with joy and energy. Painting is just one of my ways to express this condition of mine. I don’t wait for days or weeks for inspiration to come; I just live inspired. I guess I’m lucky (laughs). As for my technique… well, it is difficult to name a few people and say “They influenced me.” I like many artists: Mondrian, van Gogh, Courbet, Matisse, Picasso, Roerich, and so on, but I don’t know whom to point at. Art never stays at one place, it absorbs the surrounding reality, transforms it, and develops.

Q. Do you have a dominating idea you would like to convey to people who see your pictures? What do you want to tell them with your art?

A. I want to tell them that though life can sometimes literally throw people into the grinder, it is still amazing. It is not what happens to you, but what you do with things that happen—this is what I can claim with full responsibility. I mean, look at me.

Q. You are really amazing! Many people don’t look even half as cheerful and happy as you do. What is your secret? And, by the way, could you tell our readers what happened to you?

A. Well, I used to be an office worker at one company in New York. All I did was move papers from one place to another and write useless reports. On my 30th birthday, I felt completely miserable and depressed. I took a look at the mirror in the bathroom, and suddenly realized that the grim man looking at me was no one else but myself. It gave me chills.

Q. Yes, I think we all have horrible moments like that.

A. We need such critical moments. They can either evoke changes in ourselves, or bury us deeper.

Q. So what happened next?

A. I felt scared. Suddenly I saw my whole life from a different perspective, and understood that I never actually lived. And then I felt a strong motivation for a change; I decided to do something that I’ve never done before, something that would shift my perception of life.

Q. And what did you do?

A. I went to Tibet for answers: I guess many western people do. But I found pain. It is funny and strange, how the Lord teaches us sometimes. I fell in a deep cleft in the mountains, and had to wait for ten hours to be rescued. A can remember the falling itself; it felt like my body disappeared for a second, as if I became a pure spirit. But the next moment, I returned on Earth—literally. I hit the ground and broke 42 bones, including my spine.

Q. It is incredible that you are able to walk and move now. People with such traumas usually become disabled…

A. Doctors kept telling me the same. Their advice was to accept my situation and give up. I could hardly move my head, all other body parts were paralyzed. This was when I started to value my previous life. I was so rich back then—I could move! But I didn’t realize it. At first, I was desperate. Every day I did nothing but remember how I walked, ran, waved my arms. I imagined how I could pick up objects, touch them, throw them, and it comforted me a little bit. One day I noticed that I could move my right wrist, and a desire to live a normal life despite all medical diagnosis fulfilled me again. In a month, I could already sit in my bed. My legs still wouldn’t obey me, but the upper body was all mine. Back then I drew my first sketch: a man flying out of an abyss with big wings behind his back. Drawing helped me overcome periods of uncertainty and fear. I kept drawing, trying to imprint my joy of being alive. In three months, I could move my legs, and in half a year after falling, I made my first steps.

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