Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

Anna Prosvetova met with Misha Most, a street artist from Moscow, before the opening of East Street/West Street exhibition at Lollipop Gallery, for which Misha created a new series of works. The show compares and contrasts the development of contemporary Street Art in Russia and America, showcasing recent pieces by Misha Most, Dima Aske, and Nootk.   Anna Prosvetova: Misha, how did you get involved with Lollipop Gallery and this new exhibition presenting Russian and American street artists together? Misha Most: I thought it was an interesting idea as first of all, the show is in London, geographically between the United States and Russia. Russian artists have been interested in graffiti since the 2000s. We have a generation of artists who have grown up with the street art movement. They participate in events, such as international exhibitions or festivals, when you are given large walls where you have to paint something. Also in Moscow we now have a Street Art Biennale. This is a huge international exhibition which recently attracted fifty foreign artists. So, Russian street artists have something to say. It was interesting to collaborate on a group exhibition and to also show American artists, who have never exhibited in London. Graffiti and street art are similar to a group sport; we cooperate and create something together. It is different to contemporary art, where artists work more as individuals. AP: Do see you any commonality between Russian and American street artists today? MM: There are certain trends in street art we can observe in different countries, such as geometrical or abstract paintings or painted faces. However, you also have artists with their own particular stories or styles they want to develop during their lifetime and art career. Some of us work with technology or unusual materials. Street artists often work with different media, such as digital design, making use of graphics and illustration. We mix everything up. Many of us are young artists who are into new things, and so we like to combine different mediums and borrow from multiple trends. AP: Could you tell us about your personal inspirations as an artists? Where do you get the ideas for your works? MM: For myself personally, I have several different projects and many styles. I think a lot about the world and the future of where humanity is going. Sometimes my perception is very dramatic; I am trying to focus people’s attention, to make them think about our future. The society we are living in is quite consumeristic. I want viewers to think not only of themselves, but all of us together. Everything we do or decide now influences the future. Nowadays you are told just to live for today, enjoy the moment. That is good, of course, everybody should enjoy their life, but we should not forget about future generations. Many things that were done in the twentieth century have influenced the way we live now. There are also some trends in politics and the way countries act which are scary. I like to consider many current issues such as ecology, the environment, consumerism and to think how we behave today will impact on the future. My work thinks about progress and I like to reflect global social trends.
Misha Most, The Situation, B.O., 2015 / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

Misha Most, The Situation, B.O., 2015 / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

AP: Can you tell us about the works in this exhibition and explain the social and political element to them? MM:  Many people in contemporary art say that painting is dead, but I think that graffiti is new kind of painting. It is a flat surface, you put colour on it, you put the viewer into a specific situation the same way as the painting does. We can say graffiti and street art is like a new painting or the rebirth of painting in a new style. The works that I did here I had previously only done variations of before direct onto walls. It was interesting for me to work this time on canvas, because the medium is a more restricted surface, I think of it like a window on the wall. I have previously worked with the same subjects but with spray cans. So the gallery space was a good opportunity to present on a canvas in a similar style. I previously similar work in Moscow, but with a paintbrush. Here I created the works with spray cans, because it is much quicker and takes you back to the notion of street art. If you are hand painting with spray cans you should be swift and it gives you a specific dynamic style. It creates this sense of movement, as if the painting is still moving in front of you. AP: The paintings for this show do not look like separate images, but different shots of the same scene… MM: Yes, it is about the project as a whole rather than individual works. The overall project is called ‘The Situation’, where I depict different figures from today’s world. I put them into a specific situation, as if they are all together: happy people alongside bad guys. We are living in one world, so I just squeeze them in one shot. For me each canvas has its own situation but they are from one project, in one style. That is why it is better to see them all together, as a series, as then you get a better understanding of the project. It is similar to photography, where you should see the whole series to understand the story better.
Misha Most, The Situation, Drones, 2015 / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

Misha Most, The Situation, Drones, 2015 / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

I also use real images, these are not people I have made up, they are real people from the world. But I also make the scene more dramatic, putting them on a certain background, with often a hint of the apocalyptic. At the same time I also present people smiling, like clip art pictures of happy families or people watching TV. This is also a comment about our perception of today’s society. I am referencing many things such as the East/West conflict. There are people who are living in comfort in countries without wars. They are watching news on TV about events happening somewhere else on the other end of the world. People watch it on TV and then just switch it off and go on with their lives. You emphasize with these people’s situation, and then you switch it off. Television and films are fake, however, the news is real life and real people. So, in my art I am commenting how we live in a society of spectacle. I present everyone together, because we are living in one world. Sometimes my works think about the way media and politicians influence people’s lives. In my paintings I often have newspapers or notebooks, people reading and getting information. In the summer exhibition this was more evident in my works. There was a special type of text I included but you were not able to read it. I presented a newspaper series about ‘information wars’. I do not try to be too political but in the works for this exhibition I have included some real people, like Obama and Cameron, but they are difficult to spot.  AP: Street art is often very visible in a city in comparison to works inside a gallery. Is that one of the reasons you are attracted to street art as you can impact and engage with more people? MM: Yes I think so. Street art today was influenced a great deal by Banksy, who changed street art from graffiti into comics or caricature painting, which looks like it has been taken from the back page of a newspaper. He put these caricatures of modern society onto the street and that is what made him famous. People always like caricatures of politicians or on some contemporary situation in the news. So, when you have it on the street all of a sudden it is braver, fresher and more open. You are not dependent on your editor or media outlet; you just do what you want. That is why it exists apart from graffiti. Street art is seen by common people and I think became so popular because anyone can understand it easily and read it in five seconds.
Shepard Fairey, Untitled / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

Shepard Fairey, Untitled / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

Before street art was more connected with the ideas like ‘OBEY’ by Shepard Fairey, whose works we have also in this exhibition. Banksy has chosen a rat to be his logo, with an idea behind it. Fairey also has been using logos and with these they have changed street art. It started with a message, but now 90 per cent of street art is just illustrative and decorative, without any concept behind it. It is more about some nice painting on a wall outside. Banksy now is like an icon; he is able to do everything and it will be accepted. I have participated in a big project in Moscow together with Shepard Fairey. I have had a chance to ask him about his Obama poster. He used this image and it was very strange for me, because he was using it in this propaganda style as if intending to criticise the current situation. There was also work by Ron English, depicting Obama as Lincoln. I felt really suspicious of these imagers, because most likely the artists have been paid for this work by political parties, and people from street art should not get involved with this. So, when I have asked Shepard Fairey about this campaign, I felt it was an uncomfortable question for him. He said that he, as many people at the time, believed that Obama is a new hope for the country. I have also asked him about the Gagarin image he created with a pigeon. Gagarin is one of the most positive images of a person in the world from the Soviet period. He travelled around the world and was happily greeted by people in different countries. So, I have asked how is it possible to depict this person in a negative way as if eating a pigeon with dripping blood? He said that he knew the person and the story but he felt it was funny to create this picture. I think his images are not amusing, they are just fake propaganda.  AP: I would like to ask about street art in the gallery space. In one of your previous interviews you have mentioned that it is not really pure street art, if it goes into a gallery space. Do you still believe this?  
Misha Most double wall work in Star Yard off Brick Lane, organized by the Lollipop Gallery / Courtesy of londoncallingblog.net

Misha Most double wall work in Star Yard off Brick Lane, organized by the Lollipop Gallery / Courtesy of londoncallingblog.net

MM: Yes, sure. For example, I have a painting here, off Brick Lane, which I have done during the night. It is a half-legal place, and at the time the owner of the shop was very mad with graffiti, so I had to paint at night. I do it for people, who will come and see it. This has been done without any financial intention or sponsorship. I just went there, having this idea and desire to realise it. I do the same thing in Moscow; I just go out and paint at night. I like places where people walk by. Sometimes it is some abandoned place, but then I put the photo online, as the Internet now has a great influence. I could paint the same image on paper and put it online, but I like it more on the street, so people can see it and it remains there. I also like the perception of the wall. It is like an adventure, a hunt: you go there, searching for a wall, you have small amount of time; it is a very specific process.  But of course, if I am doing a show in a commercial gallery, I cannot lie and say that this is also street art or graffiti and that I am doing it just for people. At the same time I believe in the ideas I have; I am going on the street to paint them or in the canvases like I have here. My images are often not that positive. I believe there is a risk in art that it will to become too commercial. I am not creating works only for sale, but I want to saying something and achieve something new in the field. It is not only about my art, but also the idea of widening the borders of Russian art and world art.  AP: Now there is so-called ‘official’ street art in Moscow such as ballerina image on Bolshaya Dmitrovka or the Eisenstein portrait close to Illusion cinema theatre. What do you think about these projects?
Eduardo Kobra, Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya / Courtesy of www.streetartutopia.com

Eduardo Kobra, Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya / Courtesy of www.streetartutopia.com

MM: Yes, there are ten or eight images around the city which are examples of official street art. It started around six years ago and there were five or six hundred walls given out to street artists. I do not think there is another city in the world that has done a similar project. Last year there was a rating of major street art events and this project, The Best City in the World, has been chosen as one of the top ten. In 2013 there were around four hundred walls given out. Actually, there are two parallel projects including MOST (Moscow Street Art). They invite street artists from Russia and abroad to participate. They have also invited me, but I am a bit wary of this project as I think it is too illustrative for me. But other artists have participated in these projects, creating cool and positive images for people in the city. Also England is like this – most of the street art I see in East London has positive messages.  Most of the walls in this project have been given to a specific artist; Dima Aske had a big wall in Moscow in this project. Some images have been done on a historical or geographical theme, about specific regions or places in the country. Sometimes they are designed by the artist, as in the case with the images of musicians, poets or ballet. The city needs something like this, because people do not always need a trendy design by a famous artist. And there were also some walls in Moscow that were connected with the Crimea situation in 2014. AP: Why do you think that street art has become so popular in Russia today?  MM: In Soviet Union there was no street art, proper artists were commissioned to do this kind of monumental work on walls on a certain socialist topic. Today artists just try to show their style and they do not have anything overtly political behind it. Some people even call it graffiti, but it is totally not graffiti, which is stil an illegal activity in Russia. There is another type of painting in the style of street art which is commissioned work and it is called ‘muralism’. There are only few artists in the world who allow themselves to paint on such big walls. I think this negates one of the main ideas of street art – the freedom of expression, to paint what you want, whenever you want, where you want. Now it is taken away; they tell you: “Please paint here what we would like and this is your paint.” I will repeat that none of this should be called street art and definitely not graffiti. They are included into street art, simply because they are painting outside. This is also one of the ways for authorities to fight illegal graffiti. And it works, guys stop painting illegally, they stop painting trains or at night. They stop doing these essential things, and they go into galleries. That is why I always paint proper street art or graffiti, because it is the essence and I do not want to abandon it. Many guys have quitted it for security reasons, but mostly they do not want to go outside at night. They grew up and want to comfortably sit at home, painting. But with this they lose the spirit and the freedom.  AP: Could you tell us about your future projects?
Misha Most, The Situation, Cinema, 2015 / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

Misha Most, The Situation, Cinema, 2015 / Courtesy of Lollipop Gallery

MM: I know there will be a project at Street Art Biennale and I will participate in a festival in Germany. But all these things come randomly. If I have ideas, I try to fulfil them, and the completion depends only on the scale of a project. There are also some new spaces opening in Moscow, where I could participate in several projects. It is always like this, work is always in progress.    I also would like to do more things on the streets. Last year I spent a lot of time outside in Moscow, especially during summer, when it is great to paint. We are also making a movie with them but these are all separate projects for me. There is my work for commercial galleries, exhibitions and there is street art or graffiti. For example, I like sculpture and I would like to create some more. You can do something on the wall, street art, but then it gets repainted. Sculpture is totally different. When I have done my first sculpture it was some kind of magic. First, I have made a master model out of plasticine, then I have moulded it and created a cast. Then I gave it to a master who turned it into bronze and brass sculptures. And it is something magical, because it could stay for centuries, it is hard to destroyI have also done some sculptures on a street, more like public art with a wooden camera on a tree. I would like to make some more.   Please click here for more information on the exhibition at Lollipop Gallery.