Saturday, 2 February 2013

Roman Sustov: the third Rome

Even though it wasn't intended as a compliment when I was called 'Arroumi', a Roman, by teenagers in southern Morocco, I nevertheless took it as one. I'm sure, being artists themselves, Roman Sustov's parents took more care when they called him the same thing. But even if they didn't, their son's work still draws heavily on the antique past.

Probably to find a similar melancholy refinement, you need to search out the images from old Constantinople preserved in modern Istanbul. Somehow he appears to have inherited the exquisite skill and formality of the old Greek artists. As Sustov suggests, it is the cities that travel.
He comes from Minsk in Belarus where he studied first at the School of Art followed by the Belarus Academy. I have to admit I have no idea what kind of a training he received, but I would be surprised to learn that the old disciplines of drawing and printmaking, the ones that have gone out the window in countries like mine, were not a big part of the curriculum. His level of skill and the dedication it requires is far more incredible than any of the images themselves.

He has an almost weird mastery of various techniques. The red image is a lithograph, the two black and white ones are etchings, the one above is mixed media, and the one below, believe it or not, is a linocut. But I don't think you can learn to be like this. Somehow he also finds himself with skills and subtlety reminiscent of the artists of the Eastern Roman Empire. It was different from the West. When Manuel II Paleologus was the guest of Henry IV at Eltham outside London in 1400, the court were deeply impressed by the diginity and simplicity of the emperor. He travelled for two years across western Europe to save his city from conquest, but to no avail.

After that, it was orthodox Russia that claimed to be the third Rome. I think Sustov's images inhabit that borderland between ourselves (I mean the West, in general!) and that whole area of culture and history that many Europeans know nothing much about. When I wrote to Sustov soon after I'd bought the top image (it shows Budapest), he said the client had asked for a more conventional image. For a long time I found it one of the most satisfying of his works for that reason. But it isn't really typical and his mind is obviously set on other things.

If you look closely enough, you will see the etchings are bookplates, though they are a long way from what many of us would call bookplates and are, to all intents and purposes, straightforward etchings. You won't be surprised to hear he is also an illustrator and has worked on at least twenty fine books.

Most of the images here are taken from his website .It is well worth a look and, unlike many of the artists I post on, his work is easy to buy. I was lucky, though. I found a Czech dealer on ebay selling mine and incredibly no one else bid.



  1. There are quite a few Eastern European printmakers producing interesting work of this type, much of it in what is at least nominally a bookplate format. There seems to be a reasonable amount of gallery representation for them in the USA, but not very much on this side of the pond. And very inexpensive. Hard not to feel that if they were, say, French, they would be getting quite a lot more attention and that the prices would be rather higher.

  2. I was hoping you would see this, Anthony, because I know your tastes and interests are Catholic.

    I noticed today that all the bookplates by Sustov currently for sale on ebay are in the US and Canada. By and large I don't think print collectors here rate ex libris but as you say there's an enormous amount of work of great quality being produced in the east. Something similar could be said for Japan where you can get small signed prints by very good artists for not too much. Katsunori Hamanishi comes to mind.