A Sense of Place: The Cityscapes of Dmitry Samarov

nightlights_©_Dmitry_Samarov Nightlights | Gouache on paper | 9x13 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2008

Dmitry Samarov was born in Moscow, USSR in 1970. He immigrated to the US with his family in 1978. He got in trouble in 1st grade for doodling on his Lenin Red Star pin and hasn’t stopped doodling since. After a false start at Parsons School of Design in New York, he graduated with a BFA in painting and printmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993.

Upon graduation he promptly began driving a cab—first in Boston, then after a time, in Chicago— which eventually led to the publication of his illustrated work memoirs Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab (University of Chicago Press, 2011) and Where To? A Hack Memoir (Curbside Splendor, 2014).

He has exhibited his work in all manner of bars, coffeeshops, libraries, and even the odd gallery (when he’s really hard up ).

He no longer drives a cab.

He writes dog portraits and paints book reviews in Chicago, Illinois.

You can see more of his work than you’d ever want to at his website.

I’ve been painting the view out my window for over thirty years. The first windows were at my parents’ house in Brookline, Massachusetts, then Logan Square in Chicago while I was studying at SAIC in the early ’90s, back to Boston, through a series of apartments in which I didn’t live long, finally back to Chicago for good in 1997.

Mission Hill | Gouache on paper | 9×13 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 1996

Mission Hill was painted in the last apartment I lived in in Boston. I was driving a cab one 24-hour shift a week and trying to make art the rest of the time. I had four roommates who I barely knew. One was a girl who would be laughing one minute, screaming bloody murder the next. She was on heavy meds but liked to drink and get high, which was often a recipe for chaos for anyone in her immediate vicinity. Nothing about my picture of the medical area visible from the window of that apartment explicitly illustrates anything about her, any of my other roommates, or even myself during that year (1996). But the memories the piece triggers in me now makes for a rich back story. Every good painting, no matter how innocuous its subject-matter, holds a hidden history within its marks.


Centro | Sumi ink on paper | 30×42 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2007

Centro was one of dozens of pictures I made while living at the corner of 24th and Western in a neighborhood called the Heart of Chicago, from 2004 to 2011. A year or two after painting this one, a couple of the buildings visible across Western, in the middle of the composition, were demolished. That adds a resonance to the piece which I played no part in. But now, because of this change in the landscape, it becomes a history painting; a document of a time gone by.

Across the Way | Oil on canvas | 30×32 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2008
Stoops | Sumi ink on paper | 30×42 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2008

Across the Way and Stoops were done looking across 24th Street. The seasons changed, cars parked, then pulled away, the light changed from hour to hour, but trying to record what I saw out there never got old.

Trees | Sumi ink on paper
| 30×42 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2007

Nightlights (see feature image above) and Trees are views from the back porch of the same place. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky with landlords through my years in Chicago. Maria and Roberto were probably my favorite. They bought this place after coming to the States from Uruguay in the ’70s. I never had a lease or had to give a security deposit. A friend recommended me to Maria, she looked me up and down and decided I could be trusted and that was good enough. A couple of their grown children lived in the building, while another daughter was a few doors east. There were family cookouts every summer in the backyard. It felt like home.

I moved to Bridgeport in 2015. For most of my twenty-plus years in Chicago up till then I’d made a conscious effort not to live among the art kids; in fact, several moves were conscious efforts to run the other way. But now, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on, I want to be around people things. Most of the people I meet here are younger and haven’t yet been beaten down by life to the point where they’ve given up on their dreams. Perhaps some of their optimism is contagious (or at least I’m hoping it is.)

Lituanica #8 | Oil on board | 26×28 inches | | © Dmitry Samarov 2015
Lituanica #9 | Oil on canvas | 18×24 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2015
Lituanica #11 | Gouache on paper | 11×14 inches | 2016 | © Dmitry Samarov 2016

The three Lituanica paintings are all views from my little third-floor place on the street of the same name. For #8 I was looking east. Just past these buildings is Sox Park. When they hit a home run, I see fireworks in the night sky. I bought a ladder so I could climb up on the roof. I’ve schlepped my French easel up there and #9 is one of the results. The Sears Tower is visible on the left. I can see downtown from my bedroom window as well, if the weather is clear and there aren’t too many leaves on the trees.

Wabash | Charcoal on paper | 45×55 inches
| © Dmitry Samarov 2017
Pilsen #2 | Markers on paper | 9×12 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2018

Wabash and Pilsen #2 are the only two pieces I’ve included which weren’t done from the many apartments I’ve lived in. They’re also the only ones which weren’t done from direct observation. Wabash was commissioned by the writer Don De Grazia to decorate his office at Columbia College. I used several Google Streetviews of the intersection of Harrison and Wabash, as visual reference. The challenge was not to just make a copy of a shitty photograph. To give some sense of the place which felt lived rather than recorded by a machine.

Pilsen #2 is one of a series of marker drawings done around that neighborhood. They were commissioned by Pilsen Community Books on 18th Street, where you can see this one and a couple others. There’s a personal connection with this piece because I bartend at the Skylark, which is on the right.


My intention with all these pictures is for a viewer to be able to make their own connection, to find their own meaning. I don’t believe in injecting significance or controlling whatever message might come from a piece of art. That’s not to say that these are purely formal exercises free of personal resonance. Sharing some of the backstories is my attempt to offer a little context but shouldn’t be taken as the last word on any of this work.

In the end, a painting has to speak for itself, with no words getting in the way of what it wants to say.