Painter & Illustrator
Interview on 25th June 2015 at Más, Beixinqiao
KL: Do you think China has had an influence on your art?
AC: I moved to China when I was seventeen right after I graduated high school and then I didn't see much of Russia while I was growing up, I never painted in Russia, I started everything in China so it influenced me maybe sub-consciously but I don't really realise it. Just a mixture of Asian cultures have perhaps influenced me, Japanese and Korean, I can't say that China influenced me too much because I'm just living here. I'm traveling and I'm trying to observe the culture.
KL: What is painting for you, an outlet? If you didn't paint, what would you do?
AC: I used to write when I was younger but it wasn't worthwhile. Painting's pretty much the only thing that I could do for a longer time. Actually I got really patient because I was painting and it was really bad because I pretty much started when I was eighteen when I was a student. I was painting just for myself. It took me a long time to create a painting that I can actually show to somebody. Usually, I started something and it wouldn't work out so I'd give it up but then it worked. I had to be really patient in this. Over time it became, not that I really want to paint, but that I kind of have to. I feel like it's become so much of a part of me that I can't stop. I never studied art. Once my mum sent me to art class and the teacher, for some reason, told her that it's best that she never send me to art class and I've never considered studying art. My parents said, 'you don't need to study art, you can just paint by yourself.' Maybe they didn't want me to because they thought I'd never earn any money from it.
KL: What's your view of the local art scene for foreigners?
AC: Well I guess its different if you studied art but I've never studied. You get connections, you get exchange programmes, you can work for artists as an assistant. It probably makes a difference for them. For me, I moved to Beijing and it wasn't that easy because no one welcomes you, really. Not that I want to be exhibited in the big galleries, I just do it to feel that the process is moving, not that I want it to be my job but I have something to express and I want to express it and that's the only goal. Not for the money, not for anything else. To express this idea that I have in me and move on to another one.
KL: You use such a limited colour palette in the works that I have seen. Has that always been the case?
AC: It's always been like this. Well, when I say I never studied how to paint or shade and when I started everything was quite flat. My earlier work, not that they look like icons, but I took my inspiration from earliest icons and frescos, when they made images look flat to focus on idea and symbolism instead of glorifying the visual side. Also because I can't spend months on one painting, I need to be productive and move on, that's why I use very simple colours.
KL: So how much time do you spend on each work?
For illustrations I spend about four hours on each. I can make three a day but I never have time for that. I work full-time but pretty much all the time I have free I use it for this.
KL: I've seen your work exhibited in a few places around Gulou - Más and Rager Pies – how are you going about getting your work out there?
AC: It's mostly through friends. Dan Taylor from Luv Plastik asked me to do posters for 69 cafe. After that, Luv Plastik asked me to do the cover for their cassette and then friends of friends, Noise Arcade, saw the cover and asked me to do a cover. So that's how it works – friends of friends. If it was up to me, I would never approach anyone. It's up to them. I think I'm pretty lucky that I've met all these people because otherwise, I really hate doing this stuff [self-promotion] and I'm really bad at it.
KL: How do you think your style has developed since you started painting?
AC: I was doing illustrations earlier and they were more symbolic. I was very young and I didn't paint very well. I'd do a set of paintings then usually I'd take a break and I'd do illustrations, as many as I can, because I always felt that no one takes illustration very seriously. I felt when I took the break it was a transition period and I was always trying to move forward. Like now I'm trying to work with different materials and I don't know what it's going to look like but it's very different and I need that. Each set is influenced by something else and then I gain some experience and move on to something else.
KL: So it's a never-ending developmental process?
AC: It's more like, I don't know, I pretty much always paint for practise rather than a result. I'm just moving into something else.
KL: Do you find the work satisfying? Are you happy with the results that you get?
AC: I'm getting better at this. I used to be really self-critical and throw away all my paintings. I just accept it that it's part of the process. It doesn't matter if I like them or not. I allow them to exist. Sometimes a painting doesn't work out and I look at it and let it exist because I needed to express it. I'm not doing it for anyone else, I'm just doing it for myself. That's how it should work.
KL: What is the desired outcome for your work?
AC: With my illustrations, I would like to make a book about Japanese and Korean mythology. That would be the final stage for me. I would be happy to do that. For the paintings I don't really know. I don't know where it will lead me. In the future I want to do animations and get that book finished. I'm interested in Japanese mythology. All the characters look like my characters, not that I'd based them on them when I was drawing initially but I found that they were kind of similar. Then when I was doing research on Korean mythology and Japanese mythology, I tried to stick to it, but I can't really do it because I need to sit down and draw. When there are characters like Spider Whore, it makes me crazy and limits me completely. So I need to draw it and then somehow connect it.
KL: Where does your love of Korean and Japanese mythology come from?
AC: I don't know. I've always liked it and I was raised reading the stories from around the world. The Japanese are crazy. They were always the best. It's just so interesting how grotesque the characters are and all the monsters. They just made the characters from any possible creature you can imagine.
KL: Do you think there are elements of grotesque in your work?
AC: Probably. A lot of people don't like my work. I saw a few times when people looked at the paintings they looked like they were puking. A lot of people hate [my pictures] because they are disturbing. I don't care really, I've never liked pretty stuff so I'm not doing it for their eyes to enjoy it. It just comes out of me. My mum keeps telling me that I should draw nice flowers and stuff but it's just something that is coming out of me. I can't really control it.
Anya Chalina is a Russian artist living in China. She has created artwork for Luv Plastik and Noise Arcade and has exhibited in Más and, currently, Rager Pies.
She is working on a book of Japanese and Korean mythological creatures.
To see more of her work visit https://www.behance.net/anyachalina