Internal Personality: The Rooms of Dmitry Samarov

old_chairs_©_Dmitry_Samarov Old Chairs | Oil on canvas | 28x40 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 1990

I’ve drawn and painted the rooms I’ve lived in since I was ten years old. Maybe even earlier. It seems like a no-brainer to do it. Where you are has a lot to do with who or what you are. The things you choose to surround yourself with, the way you decorate, how much or how little you clean up your place, etc are all clues to your personality. A lived in room is like the inside of someone’s mind.

Old Chairs (see above) is the first oil painting I ever did on my own that I didn’t throw away. It was made in my first Chicago apartment at the corner of Foster and Sheridan. I’d picked up the chairs at a junk shop on Belmont and they’re with me to this day. I’d just started dating Caroline and she’d come for a visit a few weeks before I began the painting. She moved in at the beginning of the following year.

Kitchen Table | Oil on canvas | 14×18 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 1991

Kitchen Table was painted in the four bedroom apartment Caroline and I shared with another couple and her brother in Logan Square. I’d be afraid to ask what this place costs these days, but in 1991 art students could afford a place right on the boulevard. At school, my teacher, Dan Gustin, talked about the light, the light, the light so much it’s became a lifelong preoccupation.

Night Studio | Oil on canvas | 15×18 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 1995

Night Studio was a little apartment ​on Comm. Ave in Brighton, Massachusetts. The name is a tribute to Musa Mayer’s great memoir about growing up as the daughter of Philip Guston. I recommend it to anyone interested in his art, but also as a cautionary tale about the perils of artists having children. I’d been driving a cab over a year by this point, tried grad school and dropped out after a semester, and gone back to the cab. I wanted to incorporate three or four vantage points in one picture without it becoming complete cubism or science fiction. This was one of my early attempts at that.

In a Lonely Place | Acrylic on board | 11×14 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 1997

In a Lonely Place was my first painting upon returning to Chicago for good. The apartment my old classmate, Frank Spidale, and I were moving into wasn’t quite ready so I was staying on the couch in his old place a few blocks away. All my gear was packed away so i borrowed some acrylics from him to paint this. The title was lifted from Humphrey Bogart’s best movie.

The Battle for Space | Charcoal on paper | 32×40 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 1998

The Battle for Space was done in the front room Frank and I shared for a time as our studio. We were both working pretty big at the time and space was at a premium. Here again I was trying to draw what I saw in every direction I looked all at once. The name comes from a record by the ’90s Boston band Kustomized.

Welcome to My World | Charcoal on paper | 32×40 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2002

Welcome to My World was done from that same room, once I had it to myself, looking into the living room and down the hallway which led to the kitchen. My housekeeping acumen is on full display here. It is a sort of leitmotif of many of these pictures.

Curtain, Kitchen, Bathroom | Charcoal on paper | 32×40 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2010
Spare Hangers | Sumi ink on paper | 22×30 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2010
While You Were… | Sumi ink on paper | 22×30 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2010
The Mess I’ve Made | Oil on linen | 36×36 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2011

Curtain, Kitchen, Bathroom as well as Spare Hangers, While You Were…, and The Mess I Made were all done in what was probably my favorite apartment I’ve lived in so far. It was at the corner of 24th and Western in the Heart of Chicago. I stayed there for seven years. Spare Hangers and While… both feature a Halloween clown mask modeled after the one worn by one of the Joker’s henchmen at the beginning of The Dark Knight. I wore it in the cab all night and scared the shit out of people. When I wanted to do it again the following year, it had shrunk and didn’t fit; that or my head had grown.

Beverly Living Room | Gouache on paper | 11×14 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2012

Beverly Living Room was done at Shay’s house in that far south neighborhood. I would live there for three years, but when I painted this I was still just a guest, I think. Painting someone else’s place is very different than painting one’s own. When that place belongs to someone you care about it adds an an extra layer of complexity and potential pitfalls. I’ve never been a big fan of psychological analyses of artwork but it’s nearly impossible to not do it with one’s own, especially once a little time has passed. Whether any of that is relevant to viewers is very much up for debate.

Lituanica #3 | Gouache on paper | 11×14 inches | © Dmitry Samarov 2015

Lituanica #3 is a view from the living room I’m sitting in right now, writing this, into the bedroom, and on out the window. There are drawings on the wall to the right today, as there were three years ago when I painted this one, though they’re not the same drawings. It’s one of the walls I use to hang work in progress. I’ve been in this place over three years now and figure to stay awhile.


I’ve managed to keep this place a little cleaner than some of the other places I’ve lived but in many ways this one is a lot like many of the others. When Shay saw it she said it was as if I’d recreated my apartment from before we lived together. It’s not conscious, but I know the way my rooms look says something about me and that the pictures I make of these rooms are basically self-portraits.

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.