Vika Begalskaya: "Freedom Comes Naked"
Vika Begalskaya: "Freedom Comes Naked"

One could see vulgarity in this, but it was not vulgarity at all, but a sincere desire to overcome one's loneliness. From this a series of portraits of such uncomplexed sexy women was born.

A surge of sensuality, desires inherent in expressionism, can be traced in every work of the Moscow artist Vika Begalskaya. Her exhibition "Shame" shows more than 30 works that do not quite fit into the accepted ideas about women's freedom and decency. The curator of the exhibition, Anatoly Osmolovsky, talks with Vika about the reasons that aroused interest in such a frank topic.

The first question is traditional: when did you start painting?

- Relatively recently, in 2003.

Why did it strike you?

- Has it taken you to painting? Actually, I tend to get carried away with new things, I wanted to try myself in painting, although before that I was doing video, and in principle, quite successfully.

And how did you feel that you are doing?

- People say laughter.

Do you yourself have some kind of coordinate system, values? How do you know that you got such a picture, but the other did not work?

- First of all, this is the desire to achieve a sense of inner harmony. You understand that the picture is over, when you like it, internally it pleases you: composition, color … everything. First of all, for me, this serves as an assessment criterion.

The criterion is feeling? Unparsed state? This is not to say that I put a red spot here - this is good, next time I will put the exact same spot here. You throw your energy onto the canvas - and throw it out to such an extent until you feel an inner emptiness. So?

- On the one hand, so, and on the other, when you create a series of works, you begin to analyze which works in this series are more successful, where the red spot has laid down more successfully, and then you try to repeat, improve the successful finds and techniques, but the criterion is that the work turned out, serves an inexplicable inner feeling.

How are episodes produced and how do you find work topics?

- I listen to my emotions. What excites me the most right now, at the moment, and how can I convey this in the language of painting. For example, there was a time when I was interested in creating portraits of women, after meeting with one of the women, real ones. Gradually, a whole series of female portraits turned out, such a series.

Erotic content. Why erotic? Why such a topic?

- After meeting with the woman Valya. She was 50 or 52 years old, and she, not ashamed of her body, performed a striptease at my request, danced in front of the camera, told the story of her life. She had absolutely no feeling of insecurity, shame, she was so sincerely touching and naive in her desire to please. And, on the one hand, one could see vulgarity in this, and on the other hand, it was not vulgarity at all, but a sincere desire to overcome one's loneliness. This is what amazed me. From this a series of portraits of such uncomplexed sexy women was born.

Did she do it for money?

- No, not for money - out of love for people. In the film, she talks about it.

And who watched her striptease, except you?

- There was a man, incognito. By the way, I did not take this moment into account.

Vika Begalskaya: "Freedom comes naked."
Vika Begalskaya: "Freedom comes naked."
- Well, well, and if, for example, such an uncomplexed sexy woman looks at this painting, what feelings would you like to arouse in her?

- I wish she would not leave her indifferent. Would evoke emotions, no matter what: positive or negative. In general, there is a certain inner alchemy in painting, because, on the one hand, painting excites, first of all, yourself; I mean, you start drawing when you experience a strong sensual arousal: sexual, emotional. On the other hand, looking at a picture in the process of work, you first of all read the combination of colors, plasticity, shape. That is, the feelings that you initially put into the picture are transformed into a combination of form and color, and by the end of the work, the emotions that prompted you to create the work completely emasculate and disappear. The magic of such painting.

Well, if we are talking about painting and the magic of painting, then, of course, we need to ask a question about the historical aspects. Firstly, which artists in history do you think are the most important, who influenced you, perhaps inspired you or are relevant to you in today's situation?

- First of all, these are expressionists, of course, German ones, since expressionism, as you know, was actualized in Germany by Friedrich Nietzsche. In general, the search for the aesthetics of ugliness has always been characteristic of German fine art. Ever since the Middle Ages, German artists could find beauty in the ugly: Cranach, Grunewald, Durer. Further, the influence on the formation of Expressionism as a style of such Gothic masters as El Greco, Pieter Bruegel the Elder is very important. Then there are the French post-impressionists, the Swiss Ferdinand Hodler, the Norwegian Edvard Munch, the Belgian Ensor. And finally, the "Bridge" group (1905, Dresden), the first association of expressionist artists: Bleil, Kirchner, Heckel, Nolde, etc. From contemporary - artists New Wild ("New Wild"), among them my favorite artist Kipenberger, Baselitz, Albert Oehlen, Fetting, Immendorf, Luperz, Penk. Our contemporaries include Daniel Richter, Peter Doig, Mizze, his paintings and sculptures.

Is Immendorf the previous generation, 80s?

- The eighties, but he was still alive relatively recently, and his work is very modern.

Well, are there any intersections from the Russian tradition?

- Our famous expressionist, who strongly influenced the formation of this trend, is Kandinsky. Kandinsky founded several groups at one time, the most famous of which was the "Blue Rider".

How do you view yourself in the current Moscow, Russian or Eastern European situation? If you are considering, of course. For example, is there something close to you in the art of conceptualism, or do you think that your work is a radical break with conceptualism?

- Expressionism emerged as a radical style. For example, the New Wilds movement emerged in the 1980s to counterbalance conceptualism and minimalism as intellectual art. Concentration was shifted to the transmission of emotions. Artists tried to create innovative-figurative, emotional and subjective art. On the Russian art scene there are also a number of painters-painters working in the tradition of expressionism: Pyotr Shvetsov, Vlad Kulkov, Yegor Koshelev, Valery Chtak.

Well, well, you communicate with conceptualists, the Stargazer looks at your work and says: "No x … a daub to yourself!"

- No, Stargazer says to me: “What can I say? You are a painter, I never get such a surface. " That is, he does not say anything like that: "No x … yourself, why did you draw this?"

Well, why, in the 90s it was quite possible to hear such things from them. It was forbidden to paint in general, and the one who painted was the last jerk

- Yes, but now times have changed, they have become more tolerant. For example, this spring we were in Shargorod with the famous conceptualist Nikita Alekseev, he said: “Vika, I don’t like this kind of painting, but I respect it for serious work”.

Yes, he has a soft position. When we were developing the catalog and this exhibition in general, I noted that sexuality, sexual perversions are the theme of your work in video, in painting, in fact, even in such completely abstract works, if you engage in psychoanalysis, you can see all this. So, my question is: is this deliberate theming? You say that the loneliness of a certain woman Vali pushed you into a whole series of works, but still, you understand, loneliness is a rather depressing topic. I would say that the topic of your work is not loneliness at all …

- No, you do not understand, not loneliness. Paradigm: on the one hand, a seemingly vulgar gesture that a woman openly demonstrates herself, on the other hand, her sincerity, bordering almost on childish naivety, that is, a kind of overcoming conventions. This is what pushed me.

- In fact, not loneliness, but the problem of freedom, the breaking of certain sanctimonious conventions.

- Yes, loneliness was the problem of this one woman, which, perhaps, was the motivation that she agreed to perform a striptease for the video.

Okay, do you think that sexuality is the driving energy of art?

- I cannot consider the issues globally. At the moment when I was studying …

No, what does it mean at that moment? You have 90% of your works devoted to this topic

- Okay, sexuality is the driving force. I can't say: art and creativity in general. But in my case, yes, since I can sublimate it and then visualize it.

In principle, this is understandable, here there is an interesting combination with painting, because your painting, if we talk about it detachedly, is quite funny. There is no depression in her. Expressionism, which you mentioned, there are direct analogies with "New Wilds", but rather closer to the version of Kipenberger. Because Kipenberger's painting is fun. It seems to me that in your works, in principle, the moment of fun or some kind of courage is, in general, central. And if we look at your installations, in particular the horse that you exhibited, it’s a fun job, but at the same time it’s not as fun as in Blue Noses, but it’s fun, as they say, in color, composition. And in fact, this is very different from expressionism, because expressionism is, of course, a terrible anguish, a tragedy, and, in general, looking at the work of expressionists, nothing good can be said about this time. They show their era is extremely tough, tense and conflict. And in your works, in my opinion, there is no conflict, but there is such swaggering fun. It seems to me that this is very much connected with some kind of Ukrainian roots. All these Makhnovshchina, Zaporozhye Sich, green bandits, etc. etc. You were born in Ukraine, right? It had a big impact, didn't it? And the Kharkov school of photography exploits the intonations of this unaccountable "happiness" and "fun until you drop." In this sense, you are a pictorial analogue, continuation or variation on those themes that were developed at the Kharkov school of photography

- Some character traits, emotions, my personal subjective are reflected in all this. But expressionism is, first of all, a rejection of space and chiaroscuro, contrasting colors, free forms, therefore, it is also impossible to say that this is not expressionism. Expressionist style of painting. Plus, if you take the same “New Wilds”, it was the time of the 80s, and they were all sort of swanky funny guys, plus a lot of sex and a lot of alcohol. The same Kipenberger died of alcoholism and did most of his work while intoxicated.

Do you work in a sober state?

- I work only in a sober state, in principle in a sober state.

Mikhailov and Bratkov, their works, I mean both videos and photographs, are all showing the uncomplexed Russian body. And this body is uncomplexed, judging by the work of Mikhailov, even during the Soviet era. Or, at least under Soviet rule, it did not fit into the bra and panties that the Soviet government pulled on it

- Ukraine is still the south. A lot of sun, a lot of delicious food, people love to have fun, and, naturally, these aspects are reflected in my work too.

What are your plans? How do you work? Do you work as a series or do you have spontaneous creativity and there is no plan?

- You know, I have done a lot of work of a more abstract nature and continue to work on it. What will I do next? For now, continue what I'm working on now. The exhibition will feature the latest works, and it will be possible to compare how far I have gone into parallel space and parallel time.

In general, the tradition of European and American painting, and, of course, Russian-Soviet, at least until the middle of the century, until the 30s, is a non-stop, endless reflection on the theme of the flatness of the image. Now, if we talk about some modern authors, about Daniel Richter, Mizz, they, of course, are also concerned about this topic. But the second wave expresses it most, for example, representatives of the Leipzig school Mathias Weischer and David Schnell. Their central pictorial problem is the same flatness. The artist stands in front of the canvas and realizes that he is standing in front of a flat thing. And what to do? Is it necessary to create a "window" to the "other world", or, on the contrary, to show that the "other world" is an illusion? American Abstract Expressionism had its own answer. The Leipzig School seems to open a "window" closed by the Americans, and what do we see there? And we see there a conglomerate of planes. Weischer has endless mattresses, screens, walls, corners, carpets … Schnell has landscapes cluttered with abstract planes flying in space, some kind of plywood, or metal sheets like Serre's sculptures. The Leipzig school brought into this problematic the assertion that the idea of flatness can be most clearly revealed not through the elimination of space, but through a balanced dynamic comparison. But don't you care about these problems?

- Every artist is faced with the problem of depicting space and, solving it, expresses a kind of philosophy of art. Weischer and Schnell use architecture as a central theme when working with space. Adding each next element, layer by layer, expand the boundaries of space, create structures. In this respect, I am more impressed by Daniel Richter, who combines the pictorial styles of several centuries: Baroque, Pre-Raphaelites, Renaissance, graffiti, plays with volume and plane, while achieving incredible pictorial freedom.

Vika Begalskaya: "Freedom comes naked."
Vika Begalskaya: "Freedom comes naked."
- Yes, Richter's flatness manifests itself in its own way. If you look at his cycle with dogs, then these dogs are absolutely not volumetric there, there is a constant flicker between the volumetric image and the applique. The dog is drawn as an applique. He reflects on this topic all the time. He has dogs like spots. It was like spilling coffee and it turned out to be a dog. He is trying to achieve this effect. He also analyzes flatness in his own way. Expressionism, historical expressionism, at the beginning of the century, also reflected on this topic. Because the very open colors that they worked with, which came from Matisse, are the primary reflection on the flatness of painting. She further found her expression in abstract expressionism and Suprematism, etc. etc. And if we talk about your painting and talk about what is missing in it, then it lacks the next step that all previous generations have taken, namely, to move from an open plane of color to the perception that it is a flat thing.

- My last works are on the verge of figurative and abstraction. And now it is incredibly interesting for me to mix three-dimensional and linear-plane images in practical abstract works, as, for example, in "Crimson Paradise": a deep forest and flat figures of birds.

Look, you write some women, especially I remember your busty women. What is a female breast? A woman's breasts are practically an object. The chest, in its fundamental essence, is the quintessence of sculpture. And if you depict a woman on canvas, then, it seems to me, we need to somehow fix this dichotomy, the opposition between the breast as a sculpture and painting as a flat object. It would be interesting

- The exhibition will have several new objects related to women's breasts, which are simply a direct illustration of your words.

Is the icon-painting Russian tradition important to you? I mean, of course, not the religious aspect, but the colors. After all, local colors were used by icon painters. Expressionism essentially re-actualized this tradition - in its own way, of course

- Yes, the favorite colors of our icon painters, as well as those of the Expressionists, are open. Sometimes a deep characteristic was given only by color, as, for example, a red cloak fluttering in the wind in the icon "The Miracle of George about the Dragon" was given to a warrior. The composition was also very important. Almost every icon was thought of as a semblance of the world, and accordingly, the composition always contains a middle axis, which also found a corresponding reflection in expressionism. In general, the artistic features of Old Russian icon painting have traditionally been rethought by many artists, primarily, of course, Russians, among them Petrov-Vodkin, Favorsky.

Your paintings, especially this series with naked women, one might say, are such a kind of "satanic" icons

- An associative chain is being built: Satanic icons, "Satanic Poems" - a novel by Salman Rushdie, magic realism, "Shame" - there is still such a novel in Rushdie. By the way, we still need to come up with a name for the exhibition. "Shame"?

- "Shame". I like.

Interviewed by Anatoly Osmolovsky

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