• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

The Russian-born artist stopping Wellingtonians in their tracks

Anton starting a painting street-side. Photo/Supplied.

An artist in Wellington helps people stop and smell the roses.

A far cry from the colourful hustle and bustle of Cuba Street at the other end of town, it usually takes something special to make Lambton Quay commuters stop in their tracks.

On a sunny Friday morning, it's simply an artist with an easel camped outside the Supreme Court. Working studiously with a palette in one hand and a brush in the other, Anton Makarov stands out in the sea of rush-hour commuters, cutting an almost defiant figure as everyone else scurries to their offices.

People stop and watch. Some pull out their phones and take a snap. They don't realise it but without even talking to them, Anton's managed to get them to do what he's encouraging himself to do: slow down and notice the little things in life.

Born in Uralsk, Russia in 1988, Anton is now a proud Wellingtonian, a practising artist, and runs a drawing club in Miramar in his spare time. Following his sense of adventure, he moved to New Zealand in 2012, working in Auckland and travelling around before eventually settling in the capital. Like many others left entranced by Wellington, he cites the city's creative environment as conducive to "creating beautiful things".

"It's a very cultural, very interesting city that just helps people be creative," he says.

"You can see it in the architecture – you can tell the buildings in town have been crafted with a sense of love and care."

Although the sight of him leisurely painting outdoors in the country's windiest city has raised many eyebrows, there's a good reason why Anton often takes his easel outside. As a devotee of Realism, it's to preach his philosophy of being an 'active artist', of immersing oneself in one's natural surroundings.

"It's more interesting to paint a subject drawn from real life than from information; to go places and experiment," Anton explains.

"Life is changing all the time, and I want to reflect that in my work. For example, the shadows on buildings are always moving, and that can be hard to capture in a painting.

"But even though the light has changed, everything is still essentially the same. This lets you capture and draw a subject in its full beauty, and express the unity of everything you see and how it's attractive to you."

Makarov says nothing restrains your field of vision when painting out in the open. Photo/John Son.

There's also an element of breaking frames and boundaries, Anton says. When you're out in the open, there's nothing to restrain your field of vision, nothing boxing your subject in.

And, perhaps most importantly, "it's fun". Anton cites numerous instances of inviting delighted children to contribute to his art when he's on the streets, even if it's just a blue brushstroke on a painted sky.

Anton says this disciplined approach to art also helps people slow down, an important consideration in an increasingly fast-paced world.

"When you slow down, you notice more. Rushing is not necessary. Art is always a learning process and there is no such thing as perfection," he says.

"The world wants to get results, but the process is just as important. I'm still a learner myself."

It's a philosophy he instills in those who come to his drawing sessions.

"Step by step, artwork by artwork, you can see the quality growing – people developing clearer methods and techniques," he says.

"I really enjoy seeing people in the drawing club learn from still life, from themselves, and from others. It's very rare that they don't see progress in their work over time. One of the greatest things is seeing artists create beautiful works they would never have expected themselves capable of producing."

Anton's life clearly revolves around art, and he points out that different people define art in different ways. For some it's a form of entertainment, for others an investment, and for others, a way to express their current frame of mind.

I press him for his own definition of art. Anton ponders a while, then finally cracks a wry smile.

"I still don't really understand what art is."

Follow NOTED on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our email newsletter for more stories about New Zealanders.