Love and painting with Elizaveta Rukavishnikova
In studio with the Moscow-born artist
“I think art is a brilliant power. Art can really save the world, you know?”
Moscow-born painter Elizaveta Rukavishnikova is sitting in her studio, based in the Johannesburg CBD. She’s just finished the last stretch of work leading up to her solo show at Braamfontein’s Kalashnikovv gallery and, tired now, she’s enjoying a cup of tea.
The show, titled Heart Attack comprises painted and installed works – some small, some expansive, and all of them dealing with the themes of love, war, influence, and what Rukavishnikova likes to term as ‘foreverness’.
“It’s taken me half a year to produce this body of work and it’s been an on and off process,” says the artist. “I have to feel love when I paint. If I don’t love what I’m painting it cannot work for me. It takes a lot out of me to keep the works strong and honest and real.”
Not having any electricity in the CBD for the past week and a half hasn’t helped the process much either, but that didn’t stop Rukavishnikova. Instead, she took it in her stride and began to paint by candlelight.
“I didn’t try to end up in the city, it was by chance, really. You get a lot of inspiration from a space like this, but I mean if you go to the suburbs and you end up in Fourways, it’s just another reality that you can draw inspiration from,” she explains. “I like to be around people, I think. I feel people well, and for me, people are very interesting because we’re the beings who are in charge of this planet, right? We can create and destroy, and all of our choices and our mindsets affect nature and everything around us. I find that fascinating.”
Outside Rukavishnikova’s studio, generators churn on noisily in the heat. Inside, everything is quiet. Artworks old and new line the walls and rest against skirting boards, empty paint jars dot themselves around the space, and everywhere you look, you’ll find small trinkets and bits of memorabilia from the artist’s home and from her travels.
To go back to Rukavishnikova’s childhood, you’d find that even then she had a love for art. Her very first exhibition, in fact, took place when she was three years old.
“I woke up very early and started painting different pictures and sticking them up on the walls, and then I woke up everybody and said ‘Come look, I’ve made an exhibition!’ That was my first exhibition in life.”
As she grew up, Rukavishnikova visited many a gallery with her family, taking in the works of the painting masters and soaking up the experience. After finishing school, she worked as a small-time artist, getting commissions and small bits of work from friends and ex-teachers before moving on to work as a storefront installation artist.
“That’s why I’m so excited that Kalashnikovv has that little shop window in the front of their gallery!” she says, “I get to beautify it with all sorts of installations and decorations.” Beside her, a moderately-sized plastic Christmas tree sits decorated with children’s toys – guns, Halloween paraphernalia, and more. “Yes, this will definitely be in the front window,” she says excitedly. “But it’s only part of it. You’ll have to come through to see the whole thing.”
And what else can we expect from Heart Attack? Russian snacks, vodka, a live DJ set, and of course, a host of new works from Rukavishnikova herself.
“What I’m trying to remind people with this body of work is that love exists within us and nobody can take that away from us,” she concludes. “It’s our power and it’ll see us through everything.”
Heart Attack opens this Thursday 14 September at Kalashnikovv Gallery. Find out more about the show over here.