Creativity, by definition, is a phenomenon in which something new is formed. I would like you to meet a true creator—an individual whose mind functions in a unique way. On a daily basis, he produces works of novelty, including paintings, sculptures, prose, costumes and masks, wooden and bronze sculptures, and theatrical performances.
Professor Grigory Gurevich (Grigur)—sculptor, painter, graphic artist, printmaker, actor, writer, and inventor—has had more than four hundred exhibitions in the United States and Europe and conducted hundreds of sculpture workshops in Italy, Denmark, and the US. His award-winning paintings, drawings, and sculptures can be found in public and private collections in the US, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Croatia, Slovakia, Switzerland, and France.
His bronze tableau of seven life-size figures entitled "The Commuters", sculpted in 1985, is permanently installed in Newark Penn Station. His book Reflections, which features seventeen linocuts, etchings, and mixed media prints, has been included in the print collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, his four art books are in collection of Library of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the New York Public Library, the Newark Public Library, and the Rare Book Collection of Library of Saint Bonaventure University.
In 1966, Grigur created the first professional pantomime theater in Russia. As an actor, Grigory has appeared in TV shows including Law and Order and movies including Lady and the Hooligan.
I first met Grigory in 1999 when we performed at the same concert in Manhattan. I was truly excited to meet this legend, who had emigrated from his birthplace of St. Petersburg, Russia, for the United States in 1976. I could tell the audience shared my excitement and wanted to find out about the real person behind his original two-sided smiling mask.
Grigur and I have been friends ever since, and it is an honor to talk with my humble, always-smiling friend about how he comes up with his ingenious ideas.
Grigory, what does being creative mean to you?
Creativity has to solve problems in shocking and unusual ways that are very different from trivial situations.
How important is creativity in the contemporary world?
I have plenty of examples of using a creative approach to succeed in an almost impossible situation.
When did you first realize that creativity absolutely had to be part of your life?
Creativity was always part of my life. It came genetically from my father. But realization does require self-evaluation. I think it is possible to evoke creativity in others by sharing examples of creative approach. The life of a creative individual is richer, more colorful, bursting with positive energy.
Do you have any routines or rituals in your life?
I have an accustomed routine just like everyone else. I sleep very little. When I was about sixteen years old, I noticed I had developed a bad habit of using one word; it was coming out of my mouth too often. Then I decided to fight any bad habit—not just using bad language, but also consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or engaging in any form of negativity. I succeeded.
What are your principles?
I have three major principles that I always practice: DO NOT EXPECT, ACCEPT, AND DO ONLY YOUR BEST.
Who in your life influenced your vision?
Marcel Marceau, Arkady Raikin. My friend George Gots. He was my right hand when I started my pantomime company. My parents—my father as well as my mother’s second husband, Boris Fleitman. He helped me create a soundtrack for my pantomimes.
What inspired you to found the afterschool art program “Arts on the Hudson”?
I wanted to create an artistic community in Jersey City so my son and other children would have better lives.
What do you like about teaching?
In teaching, I love sharing ideas and knowledge.
How would you convince your students to do something they did not want to do?
It gets down to creative approach: I invent different things to make my lessons fun. My goal is not to push students to do what they do not like to do. I make them want to do what they thought they would not want to do. In other words, I bring them to a state of wanting to do. I reverse their feelings toward a subject.
You are a great sculptor. Some of your sculptures are displayed in Newark Penn Station. Tell me about this work.
Thank you. I do not consider myself a great sculptor. Great sculptors make incredible sculptures at young age. I did not do that. In fact, I never thought I would sculpt. But drawing gave me a sense of three-dimensional space.
Now I sculpt easily—this process comes to me by itself. I am capable of working on sculpture with both hands, using the right as well as the left. But I cannot draw with my two hands equally. At the Newark Penn Station, there are seven life-size sculptures. I executed this installation by using several techniques, including casting and carving to speed up the process. This project was done during my period of teaching in Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. Several of my students increased my energy. They did a lot of technical work and some even handled creative aspects like carving hair or nails on hands. It was a wonderful experience. But when summer came, I worked alone—for the whole summer—to finish the project in time. The entire process was a lot of fun.
Everything has a beginning. Let us go back in time. When was your first solo art exhibition?
My first solo show was in Union of Architects in St. Petersburg when I was working as an interior designer in the Lenproect organization. I was about twenty-five years old.
In 1966, you created the first professional mime company in Russia. It was a novel genre in the country. What inspired you to study pantomime?
My inspiration came from the famous mime Marcel Marceau. All my following work in pantomime resulted from this inspiration. Marceau exuded high energy and was the train that started the movement. He gave a strong push.
How did you get started as an inventor?
From my childhood, I loved to break things to look inside. I have a photo of me when I was six months old holding in my hands a budilnik, and old type of clock, and trying to break it to look at the construction inside. When I was studying for my diploma at the Academy of Fine and Industrial Arts in St. Petersburg, I invented a light foldable table for summertime. I have photos of those tables. The table could be adjusted to three different heights and positions without turning it around on itself, as you had to do with the existing models in France at the time. I did not patent this one. I had no idea how to go about this process.
What are you currently working on? Who is involved in this project?
At this moment, I make purely practical work, such as building a screen for my performance in White Eagle Hall
I am sure it will be as creative as everything you do. How many projects can you handle simultaneously?
I keep in my head about ten to fifteen projects at once. I am always looking for the best solution to each equation.
How does your mind work?
Spontaneously and analytically
What helps you organizing ideas?
I meditate. Every morning, before getting up, I access the visualization state of my mind. For that, I have to be in my bed. Lying on my back with my eyes closed, I bring my past, present, and future together. During that time, I "put on the table of my thoughts" all that I need to do and line everything up in order. I don’t get up if I am not ready, meaning if I do not have several answers to my questions.
You have friends around the world. Do you like surprising them with gifts?
In today’s world, people are hard to surprise. I love to give my artwork as a gift; I think it is the most valuable gift artists can give.
Did you ever have difficulty promoting a great idea? If so, what were the barriers?
I have found that the system makes it difficult to bring an individual idea to life. It costs a lot of money to obtain a patent, and after you do obtain one, it has a short life. Submitting a prototype so companies will consider your idea also requires money.
What are three things that are most precious to you?
Time, time, time.
What is your dream project?
I haven’t decided just yet.
What is the formula of creativity?
From my perspective, creativity is the universal energy. It is given to all. The intensity of it is passed on by a parent or parents. It shines as a sun throughout the life of the individual. The creative process flourishes when the rain of thoughts falls on the ground of talent. Animals, insects, and forces of nature are creative as well. The formula is very simple: besides having the genes, one has to have a goal. The stronger your goal is, the more intensive the creative process becomes. Resistance is important as well. The more resistant you are, the more ingenious your path to reach a goal will be.
So, the formula will be as follows:
Nature’s energy as given element (objective) + genes (subjective) + ways to the reach goal (path) + events and emotions, including twists, turns, fights, lying, loving, hating, backing up and all other elements of reaching the goal. Obstacles create resources and support original ways of proceeding down the path.
Can everyone be creative?
Everyone has a creative element.
Is it possible to change one’s way and pattern of thinking to become more successful? If so, how?
The thinking process has two sides: objective and subjective. Like all objective processes, it is dictated by the universe. Those processes do not depend on us. We cannot control or change them. But we can change subjective processes: we can prescribe drugs or change our environment or learn or teach to achieve better results. Now a question: Will our seeds fall on good ground or not? We are coming back to an objective side of a problem.
Success = Genes + Talent + Creativity + Luck + Work + Persistence + Health + Focus
Thank you, Grigory, for sharing your thoughts and inventions. I hope that you stay ahead of your time and continue creating!