Vitaly Pushnitsky is of the one artists who determines new developments in painting according to Phaidon, the Vitamin P2 Publishing. He is also one of the top 100 most important Russian artists. This year Vitaly Pushnitsky will show his works at the Shtager Gallery stand at International London Art Fair for the first time. Marina Shtager is talking to Vitaly a few days before the opening.
Marina Shtager: We are talking just before the opening of the International London Art Fair, where your Art will be shown for the first time. The number of international Art fairs, in which you have participated comes to at least fifty or more. In London though your Art hasn’t been yet presented in a solo show. I hope to rectify that. While we are preparing for the opening of the London Art Fair, tell us please about your way of becoming an artist.
Vitaly Pushnitsky: I studied at the Academy of Arts, at first I wanted to become an architect, but after serving in the army, I realised that to become a good architect in Russia of that time was not feasible, so I chose the most unstable profession of that moment – the profession of an artist.
From the middle of the nineties I began to collaborate with a Danish gallery and for more than ten years I exhibited and lectured in Denmark regularly. At the beginning of the 2000s I received two grants and studied modern printing techniques in the USA. The first time I went to San Francisco and studied etching in Berkeley, and the second time I went to Tamarind, New Mexico and studied new ways of lithography there. All this affected me, as an encounter with a new culture expands one’s understanding, and it was education for me.
Before 2000s I organised exhibitions in the Department of New Trends in Arts of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg – I created displays and helped the curators, all of which contributed to my development too.
After that I went solo and collaborated with different galleries. Now at the Higher School of Economics I teach Art Practice to future designers. As most important stages of my career I would like to mention the exhibition at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art in 2012, at the State Russian Museum in 2002, at the State Hermitage Museum 2006, at the National Gallery of Prague in 2013, the 55th Venice Biennale in 2015, publication of Phaidon, Vitamin P2, as well as collaborations with many galleries in Russia, New York and Spain.
Marina Shtager: Your first solo exhibition was held at the State Russian Museum in 2002. What was the world of Art like then, when you started your career?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: Museums exhibited works of living artists less then, but now everything is different. For a creative person it is important that while exhibiting in a museum, he or she feels connected to the present historical moment. I was the youngest artist then, whose works were exhibited in the State Russian Museum. What was the world like then? For me it was hopeless – I did not expect to be in the profession as I am now. I worked at different places, while painting at the same time. I felt to be outside the context of Russia, but at the same time I didn’t have any visual quotations of the Western Art in my head. In this respect I created my own world view – it is based on the idea that an artist needs to be precise like a documentary maker. I worked with archives, I was a post-media artist. I worked with a world in which I wasn’t present; I was somewhat detached from it. For example, I haven’t been to Rome often, but I used prints of Piranesi to submerge into an illusory, fantastic and ephemeral world of Rome, adding to it various quotations. For instance, in the work Panem et Circenses with quotations from the modern world, an image of Сolosseum appears as a non-textual sign.
Marina Shtager: In previous years you tested for strength, flexibility and artistic credibility such inappropriate art materials as foam propylene, gypsum plasterboard, bitumen and stearin. And in recent years you seem to be returning to more usual techniques – painting, collage. Please tell us about the works you will show in London.
Vitaly Pushnitsky: At the moment I am not searching for new materials; that is in the past. I am searching for ways to express a form for reflection. On the one hand, I combined the idea of vegetation and the idea of thinking: branches and roots, which I used in some of my previous works, became for me a prototype for reflection as it is. Reflection not about something specific, but thinking in general. I understand that all my life is movement by touch: not just thinking and understanding, but namely touching, when I feel, then I understand and move further forward. I need some extra evidence besides the verbal one. That is why I am working precisely on representation of feelings about the world: for example, movement of plants’ roots under ground, which you can’t see, but they do somewhat move. That is why I have chosen these works – they are most relevant for me now.
In another work, Tokyo. Hotel – about a person, who travels to a strange city and lives in isolation – there is an element of reflection and germination, although it is not visible. The world is changing in some strange way around that person. The green colour had appeared in my work as the main colour.
Marina Shtager: What is the reason behind the colour green appearing as the dominant colour?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: It might be a kind of longing for summer, for plants, maybe it has become a fixed idea, I am unable to analyse it at the moment.
Marina Shtager: Your paintings often include a collage or a play with a missing character. How would you like people to look at your works – at a distance or by contemplating them for twenty minutes? How do we need to consume them?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: You can only look at them for a second and that will be enough. I think that a work, as it is, exists in the space that is similar to a person, with whom you don’t have to communicate, but he or she exists. And this you can’t predict. I am probably a post-structuralist in my system and think that not a single work is ever finished, it is always connected to the future – in the shape of suggested interpretations and connected to the past – in the shape of unconscious references we make to a previous cultural period.
Sometimes I think about sounds. One of the works will be titled Bird Song #2 – I can hear birds in a forest, I am sure that they are there, but I am unable to see them there. How can I express something I know, but can’t see? It’s a strange phenomenon of feeling, when I know that I am here, but I am unable to see myself, but I know that I exist. We imagine many things in our minds without knowing anything about them. This is also the direction I take in painting. I am not trying to develop a style, which can help me to become recognisable. In my paradigm a work is never perfectly executed, there are works which I have been creating for a few years.
An artist’s way is unclear, and I am branching out into different spheres. In the minds of spectators and artists themselves, there are no linear ideas about goals. For example, an artist as a contemplator has now disappeared; at the moment there are more artists who are self-presenting. An artist as a manager is more relevant now, than an artist as a craftsman, or as a philosopher, or as an inventor.
Marina Shtager: Travelling in one’s mind through series of your works, one can notice that they look like chapters in a book, even calling out of the names sounds like poetry: Plants, Brides, Sky, Lines, Points, Mirror, Light… An image of a human being has almost disappeared in the last seven to eight years, even the outlines of objects are not very clear.
Vitaly Pushnitsky: It is my disposition and my perception of the world; I never mean what I show. This is a dead end. For example, if I see a cup, I will not be drawing a cup. I don’t see any point in that. Even in a work’s title I try to challenge people to think about time and a parallel thing.
Marina Shtager: Somewhere you made a statement, “In terrible times the best way to protest is to make something beautiful”. What helps you to overcome clichés? And does one need to overcome clichés?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: Yes, I did say that, and I still think this way now. One of the best ways to attract public attention is to do something bad or ugly. Someone would burn something or break something and everyone would talk about it. This is understandable. The question is what is next? In this respect my every work is a question from inside of my own life, I am solving my own problems, not self-presenting. How to evolve, become successful and stay alive? These questions are important for me – I don’t know how to become enlightened, for example, and the questions of enlightenment are never ending pitstops for me. I don’t know what a cliché is. Who has invented them, who has established them? The problem is to agree about the terms…
Marina Shtager: What do you do to replenish yourself?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: I breathe. All our life is breathing, it is a vibratory process – first of all you make an effort, then you rest, first you breathe in, then breathe out. I do not think that one needs to do anything special to recuperate, simply one needs to be in agreement with the world. I think that the world overall is very stable and has a capacity to repair itself. And one day we have to transform enough to depart from this world. Everything will take place naturally.
Marina Shtager: We will see you in London soon. What places in London match your ideas about inspiration and about what is beautiful?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: I have been in London only three times before and I don’t know it very well. I am going to visit museums, of course, I will walk, I like Regents Park, where the Frieze Art Fair takes place every year. I have already seen Oxford and Cambridge, it’s amazing. The English climate is very mild and soft, even the wintertime is pleasant. I don’t like city’s ugly urbanism, of course, but in fact I am relaxed and comfortable, where there are people with whom I can socialise. It is not important where you are, but with whom.
Marina Shtager: Imagine if you only had two hours, would you go to see Warhol at Tate Modern, Schiele at the Royal Academy or Bacon at Tate Britain?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: I won’t definitely go to see Schiele, because he is an artist for young people. It’s much better to see Schiele in Vienna. I am not interested in Warhol, because I will see him in New York. So, it will be Bacon – one needs to see those artists who live in a particular country and depict it. I mean that any Art is important for the place, where it originates. Art fairs support local Art, and it is understandable.
Marina Shtager: How did you find yourself in Vitamin P2 and how it affected your career?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: British curators saw my work in an exhibition in Moscow and noticed me. After that I received a message that I was included in the catalogue. I did not do anything to get in there and I was, of course, surprised. And in the catalogue, there were world stars, artists from White Cube, whom I had seen at Tate Modern. It was an extraordinary catalogue of pluralism – a long list of curators showed a wide spectrum of Art, not only the stars, but also tendencies in different directions of the painting. I liked the fact, that there wasn’t any politics or lobbying there.
Marina Shtager: Do you have any ideas about why so few international galleries represent Russian artists?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: Now the most important thing for the Art, including Russian Art, is that any artist considered within the context of his or her own country. And Russia is a kind of a heavy burden. Any Art fair, any organisation first of all supports culture of local community, and international influence is optional. The bigger the fair, the wider this international cluster, it is logical. No doubt, there are world stars, which are in a different category.
Marina Shtager: Nonetheless, there is a lot of interest in the UK for American, Indian and South African artists. At least we are trying to shake up the situation a little with the Russian Contemporary Art…
Vitaly Pushnitsky: I think that culture is obviously linked with economy of a country. It is not only political actions and cooperation, but also a lot of other information influences people. Flight into space – everyone applauds, war in Afghanistan – everyone is indignant. One can think of many cases, where general attitude towards a country impacts on the level of interest the arts world wants to take in this country. It is understandable that American Art is interesting, because the power of influence through cinema, soft power, which promotes America to the rest of the world, will support the interest in the American Art as the product of its country.
No one in Russia is working on this soft power at the moment. How do we raise interest in our country? Nobody cares! And individuals will not manage as they can’t compete with a state policy, which is executed by such countries as America, Britain and now China. China, for example, realised that they need to make their own national Art and invest in Contemporary Art.
Then, we should not forget, that Russia has a very short history in the Arts, some people have entered the market place with minimal investments, and there are not a lot of us – gallerists and artists, people, who play this game. In London there are two thousand galleries, but we have only fifteen. And that’s in two capitals!
Art market in Russia is tiny. Of course, we have collectors, circa fifty people, who work within the culture more than they collect. Nobody thinks about getting return on their money.
Marina Shtager: I am often asked, if Russian Art has a secondary market and if there is potential for it. I have got my own opinion about it, but how would you answer this question?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: Why not? There is a secondary market, but a slow one. Although on the other hand, what is a secondary market? How many years need to pass before it becomes a proper market? This is a big question. And also, everyone is scared of the secondary market, not only Russian artists but also British or any other. For example, if you come to Basel to buy a work of some well-known artist, the Gallery won’t sell it unless they are certain that you are not a dealer, and you will be requested to sign a statement with a disclaimer that you are not going to sell this work for fifteen to twenty years. Isn’t that fear of the secondary market?
I would say, if you buy something you like, then it doesn’t make sense to demand insurance for the fact of purchasing. There are no such investments in the world economy, which are 100% guaranteed. The same goes with property and bonds. If you have doubts, then it is better not to do anything. And someone who tells you that your investments in the Arts are completely secure, is a rogue. For example, you drive your car and your life is insured. Are you really the money, you widow will receive after your death, do you completely identify yourself with the money? What is more important to you, to turn your choice into a profitable bet at roulette or to learn, to know, to buy and to become? I would rather keep quiet about Contemporary Art secondary market, if even the mega-stars of the current market cannot control this situation.
Marina Shtager: What helps you to stay strong in your vision?
Vitaly Pushnitsky: Probably the support of people, who react to my output, with whom I am attuned. An artist works in an environment, he communicates with it through his or her work, and people’s reaction is very important. If you shout out in a field and your hear silence in return, then there is no point in shouting any more.
Vitaly Pushnitsky was born in Leningrad in 1967. He graduated from the Academy of Arts, in the Department of Graphics and from that time he has been a member of the St. Petersburg’s Union of Artists. At the end of the 90s he worked a lot with Danish galleries and lectured at the Kolding University. Until 2000 he worked at the State Russian Museum in the Exhibitions Department as an artist responsible for temporary displays and after that in the Department of New Trends in Arts. Vitaly started exhibiting his own work while still a student. In 2002 the first catalogue of his major personal exhibition was published, afterwards publishing of his work has happened on a regular basis.
On the 22nd of January at 3pm you can meet Vitaly Pushnitsly at the Shtager Gallery stand at London Art Fair.