Daniel Bilmes paints it like he sees it

To tell the story of Ashland art instructor Daniel Bilmes is really to tell the story of a family. Bilmes paces. A lot. An ever brooding bohemian with quick wit and a coffee-house wardrobe, Bilmes can't seem to stop moving. And he's traveled many miles to get to where he's at today. A native to the valley, Bilmes started seriously studying with his father, Semyon Bilmes, at the age of eight.

Semyon and his wife, Alla, owned and operated the Bilmes Art School for a number of years, prior to moving to Turkey for a year, with the intention of ultimately landing in Italy. Those plans didn't work out, however, and the family landed back in Ashland, where they opened the Ashland Academy of Art. Their intent was to open a new school, bigger, better and more centered on the traditional trappings and discipline of creating at.

The Bilmes family found the old synagogue building at Mountain and E. Main and restored it. Bilmes then studied there for more than four years before rising to teach with his father.

Originally, Semyon hails from Russia, and Alla from the Ukraine, the couple having met at the Parson's School of Design in New York. Bilmes was raised in a family of art, and has been cultivating his passions since being a toddler. Now, after years of dedication, he, too, is an art instructor at his family's academy.

"I feel as though art, today, isn't doing so well," Bilmes said. "I'd like to see it mean what it once did to people, and have it restored to its former glory."

Bilmes cites 19th-century artists such as Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov as inspirational in regards to his work ethic.

"They drew all the time, from when they got up to when they went to bed," Bilmes said. "I think that the art reached its peak in the 19th century. Its ultimate downfall was the Industrial Revolution. When that hit, everything became cheaper and mass produced. At that point art became more of a craft (than a discipline).

"I believe that good art isn't just about emotions. Inspiration is important, but without technical skills, the creativity is worth nothing. Some people get offended when told what they do isn't good. They think that everything should be based on subjective taste, but I do believe in intrinsic value."

Bilmes goes on to point out that while many people approach art as hobbyists, the legacy of art incorporated great discipline.

"I believe that everyone is at a certain level, but only very few reach a high level," Bilmes said. "Artists used to study, full time, for ten years, then apprentice afterwards at a studio. Michelangelo once said, 'If people knew how hard I worked, they wouldn't think I'm a genius.'"

But finding the will for such drive can be a challenge in a world which defines itself by fragmentation.

"What disappoints me about today's perception of art is that it's lost its value," Bilmes said. "Now people think that everything is art, and in a world where everything is art, nothing is art. It loses its value."

Which is something which Bilmes hopes to restore through his teachings.

"I love the school," Bilmes said. "I really, truly believe that it is one of the best schools available. "&

166;It's genuine. No pretend. What should keep an artist going is that he never reaches that perfection. You should never be happy with your own work."

Bilmes' new art class, starting on Jan. 15, focuses on the fundamental principles of drawing for beginning through intermediate pupils. The class is still open for new students.

Bilmes also free-lances.

"I've been working on a series of commissions and I most enjoy portraiture, because in that, the most important thing is to capture the character of the sitter. I find that both challenging and fulfilling," he said.

Bilmes paces a bit more, stares out at the snow. For him, art is family, and his legacy.

"The thing I really want to happen, what I would really appreciate, is if people would start to commit themselves to something whole-heartedly. I don't care what that is; music, art, plumbing, whatever," Bilmes said. "Just to pursue something passionately for reasons other than money. Because it's truly amazing what people can accomplish when they do something whole-heartedly."

Contact Daniel Bilmes at the Ashland Academy of Art at 482-3567 or e-mail at info@ashlandacademyofart.com.

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