Hello, Stepan! Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become an artist?
I am an artist from Russia with Estonian roots, used to base in Moscow, but after it became illegal to call war a war in Ukraine, I had to leave the country and start many things from scratch in a way. Right now, I am in Armenia, exploring local art scene, which is impressive and next month there would be an art residency in Georgia which I also hope to visit.
Before the war I have participated in major art fairs and Biennales, as well as having group and solo shows. Modern Russian art scene have been carefully created for decades and now have been bombed just as any city in Ukraine, till the end. Despite all that tragedy I believe that it would be reflected into something powerful that we have not seen for a long time. History repeats itself, there will be art before and after the war ends. there would be a bright side in the future.
In my practice, I pay attention to the material, what functions it carries and how the depth and meaning of the work changes, since information about the material makes the work read differently. How the object and material will complement each other to create contrast and harmony in their joint interaction.
Looking at the works of Modern art, it is not even clear which of them is art and which is an accident. In your opinion, where is the line separating true art from what is only presented as art?
I believe it is like an endless discussion that comes from children, taxi drivers and art teachers to the philosophical doctrines- what is it in the end? Sometimes it even depends from the mood of the viewer as art can be judged just by like or dislike on social media, but obviously the criteria of any object lay on personal experience and cultural backgrounds. When I visit museums, cultural institutions or a gallery opening there would be objects that I would became instantly attached to even without reading the explanation as my understanding of cultural refences would be enough to feel it.
Sometimes it does not happen at all as on the way to the place (museum, art gallery, etc) I have already witnessed much more amusing on the street, got inspired and want to reflect it in my art. I am subscribed to one group on social media which is called “accidental art” which consists of pictures that people take while others just go by. A vivid example would be graffiti fences being painted over by social workers, where they use the left-over paint which looks similar to Rothko’s canvases, but also resembles the struggle between the street and the state.
To sum up this answer, not every art piece should be loved by everybody in the world, even if it is a kitty, baby or a puppy that all made their little accidents, which would be also great to witness, but there should be a dispute, emotion, even negative and a strong idea behind.
In 2014-2017 you graduated from BA, University of Arts London, Camberwell College
In 2018 MA, Southampton University, Winchester School of Arts. Why did you decide to get an art education in the UK? What are your impressions of studying and staying in this country?
My impressions about this time are dualistic. Art education will not give you a future, nobody needs a painter unless it is an art gallery, education does not guarantee a place in the gallery or any other art institution. The understanding of it gave me a horrific depression which would go through the whole way of my education, I felt lost and barely painted a couple of sketch books, but instead I preferred to visit museums and art galleries literally every day, because culture is free in London.
It was really game changing later in my career, because I have seen so much artworks that I took my friends to make tours around art museums and other similar places, actually worked as a tour guide later for a while.
Regarding the education I must say that art crits were extremely valuable practice, which I miss the most. It was the assembly of students in front of one of our fellow student’s paintings, where we had tell one by one what do we feel about this art object, what are the references and what artist actually meant to show. Then there was the most important part of the game when the artist was telling what his masterpiece was actually about. It taught me a lot, how others presume my art, how do I see other artworks which lead me to some major improvements that I still use I my practice.
What is primary for you as an artist -form, content or idea?
All of them would be the short answer, but usually ideas are being raised from a form that can be attached to a content, things that bother me the most at a time, so may be content comes first, just unintentionally.
What does your workshop (the space where you work) matter to you? Does space affect you as an artist?
Only the size of the space and the materials around me matter that I can reach, but over the years I have worked in various places and painting a canvas for me would not be a problem in any given place. The biggest issue for me are my inner feelings and lack of confidence on what to paint next.
Do you have any improvisation works? Does it have to be an idea, a plan, a message in the work?
I improvise only in the process, I plan my work, choose the medium, create limitations and then, inside it I can be free.
One of the last series of your works "Bust" takes inspiration from the events connected with protests in the United States and Europe, during which monuments to historical figures were attacked: damaged, destroyed or beheaded. Tell us more about this project. What was your main goal in the implementation of this project: to attract the attention of the viewer, to tell about these events with the help of art, or is it a kind of protest to those events?
The idea came from those events, but at the same time I felt it had a strong bound with the events that happened before, happening right now in Ukraine and post-soviet countries and will happen again soon. It happens every time society decides to start over, bleach itself from figures that does not deserve to be symbolic anymore, whose actions contradict today's morality. We had this with the monuments of kings and dictators.
These series are made to depict this moment of breaking foundations and supreme tension. That is why all canvases were boiled in pots together with bleach, clearing it of monochrome color and referring the viewer to a psychedelic experience with the image of heads /busts that describe the sensation of the demolition of the head.
In a series of portraits of neural networks inspired by Thispersondoesnotexist.com you depict visually distorted portraits of people, thereby emphasizing the imperfection of modern technologies in an attempt to copy a real live image. Tell us the story of the creation of this series. What thought did you want to convey to the viewer?
At the time I was doing another project where I was painting people that participated in antigovernment protests but were not caught, however after police was coming to their homes, because they were detected by face identification from police artificial intelligence.
I was amazed when I found out about the opposite site Thispersondoesnotexist.com where AI does exactly the opposite, creates faces that were almost indistinguishable from actual people and then after page reload they disappeared. I wanted to depict those faces that AI reveals itself with glitches. This project portrays the reality we already live when modern technologies allow us to create fake reality or get real people.
Tell us about the latest projects and creative plans in the future?
I have my dream idea that I want to share and hopefully I will be heard.
I want to make a change to help Ukrainian refugees with my non-profit TicTac Space Project, because I believe that Rockets are meant to help People explore the world, not to Bomb it. TicTac’s aim is to send 7 Alien mock up Ad Banners on a rocket to fight for Ukraine, space debris and discrimination.
They are written in alien languages from Star Wars, Futurama, Predator, Star Trek, Star Gate and Superman's Kryptonian Languages in rainbow colours, colours of Piece.
First, it has to appear on the rocket to become a symbol of Piece, I would need your help here. Then those Banners would be turned into digital NFTs and given for non-profit organizations to Help Ukrainian refugees and many more. Become part of it with your media support for space companies such as NASA, SpaceX and Blue Origin to find out.