Interview by Tamsin Nugent, Founder, Red T Multiples.
Mariia Sol is such an interesting artist. When I looked at her work for the first time, I saw vibrancy and something different. It was exciting to have access to the mind of a street artist from Siberia. Her path is not like other artists I’ve worked with and I wanted to share that with our audiences. One of my favourite things about her body of work is the surroundings. She has painted in abandoned buildings, in the snow, in scenes we don’t always see as the backdrop to art. So I wanted to interview her and gain a little insight into who this artist is.
Welcome, Mariia Sol.
You were born in a small town in Siberia, how did you expand your horizons and what was your journey in to into art?
I can say that my path to art began at birth. I think that drawing is something natural and is inherent in all people, some have less, others have more, and it is they who develop this. As a child, I was always drawing. My Mom noticed this and supported it, so pencils and paints were always with me.
As a child, my mother and I moved a lot from city to city. Even in my mother’s belly we moved around a lot. My mother jokes the spirit of travel has been in me since childhood.
I was born in Artemovsk, a small town in Taiga, Siberia. I spent part of my childhood in Blagoveshnsk, a city on the border with China. After that my mother had to work in Krasnoyarsk and I lived in Artemovsk with my grandparents. My grandmother and her relatives are Old Believers, this is a very rare phenomenon in Russia. They believe it is a sin to shake the excess water off your hands after you wash them and many other strange things. Where I grew up there was no question of art.
Later my mother took me to Krasnoyarsk, where I went to various fine art classes. I was a very restless child and did everything in defiance of adults. So I did not stay in art class. I didn’t know anything about graffiti then, but on the street I came across various inscriptions and drawings. I made it my mission to get hold of these aerosol cans. Mom always supported me and even bought me my first aerosol cans, but no one instilled in me the love of art. I think my first realisation of being an artist was when I was a teenager.
Probably it was also the reality of the early 2000s, relatives were telling me that I had to go to work or study somewhere, they offered me work at a radio factory, soldering parts. I know they only wanted the best, because they do not know otherwise, but this was not my calling. Since adolescence, I have worked in various jobs, a plasterer, a painter, a bread cutter, a salesperson, and so on. All of this was confusing for me and felt like huge obstacles. When I found out about Art Colleges and Institutions, it was a whole new discovery for me. I tried to study at University, the only creative specialism available to me was film and multimedia directing, so I went there because I needed to, not because I wanted to. Then I studied at design school, where you draw whatever you want, or so they tell you. But they don’t mean it.
During this entire period I painted on walls, but not very actively, there was no time, variety, money and inspiration. I did it when the feeling crept in and I needed some evidence of self.
The turning point in creativity happened at the age of 21. I was at work and I stopped feeling my leg. I could not move. I was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As if this was supposed to be the end. But it was during this difficult period in my life that led me to search, I realised that I only want to draw, draw a lot, draw big. I started looking for ways and at one point I just collected what I needed and moved to St. Petersburg, and later to Moscow, where I started to do what I really wanted.
Is there a vibrant street scene in Russia? How did you find the walls and is it a comfortable place to work as a creative woman?
Russia has a big and famous graffiti and street art scene. Some artists have already declared themselves to the world. Inside the country, there are also many activities, exhibitions, festivals, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Unfortunately, I think the Russian state impedes artistic activity a lot.
As a woman, am I comfortable doing my job … relatively. I choose the walls in different ways. Sometimes I see a place and come up with what is right for that place. Sometimes it’s the other way around. I just see the drawing on the wall.
My drawing takes a lot of time so I have to choose “available” spaces, for example; railway lines, walls on the outskirts of the city, abandoned buildings. Usually such places make it possible to draw for longer, but even here it can get stressful, even here the police can come, but worse than that, there are often alcoholics, drug addicts and unpredictable people. I remember many situations when it was really very scary. Therefore, it is much calmer to draw when you are not alone, but this isn’t always possible.
Another difficulty is when I go to draw I have a lot of material, spray cans, exterior paint, stairs, rollers, stand, it can be really hard to carry.
I love the images of your graffiti in the snow. I feel like we don’t often see that. What is your planning process when painting walls? Is there less competition for wall space during the winter months?
Winter is a great time of the year and has a lot of aesthetics. I like to see how my drawings can look when the seasons change. In winter, they can be littered with snowdrifts or an ice pattern can cover the wall. Colourful pieces in the background of snow-covered trees, it is an incredibly beautiful contrast.
As for drawing in winter, there is no competition with people, but with the weather for the wall! Many people stop painting outside in winter, or rarely do it.
In winter, it is much more difficult to find a wall, often the walls are wet or covered with ice, sometimes it is simply impossible to approach the wall because of the snow, and you also never know what is under the snow. The paint freezes, the aerosol does not write well. Because of all the obstacles, the drawing technique and approach also needs to change.
Dry heating pads in pockets, hot tea in a thermos, warm clothes, a thermal bag for paint and additional dry socks in a backpack – these are the main necessities, but even this does not always save you from freezing. Such drawing often ends with a cold. You come home tired, wet and freezing but you warm up with hot tea and for a couple of days you sit at home with a runny nose, but you’re satisfied.
You painted an incredible interior space which looked like an abandoned house. Where was that and how did it come about?
Thank you, I am very pleased, this is one of my favourite works. This is a large abandoned unfinished building in the Moscow region. It is a very atmospheric place, the centre of the building is flooded with water. I went with my friends especially for drawing, but I did not know what would happen and did not know if this building was still preserved. I walked in circles looking for a place to draw and only after 2 hours noticed this place, which I had already passed by several times. I started to draw something, not knowing what the result would be, I just worked with space. In the process I realised that my friend Witch27 had to integrate her work into my drawing, so I asked her, she drew a flower pot. Everything happened freestyle, we came up with it on the go. It really looks incredible.
Where does the inspiration for your work come from and your drive to get out and spend the time doing it, even if no one sees it.
I myself can not always understand how this happens. When you are in a comfortable environment, you always create something, just in the flow. But that’s not always inspiration. Sometimes it can be bad health or other difficulties, it’s internal.
Different processes always take place in my head, the feeling that I cannot sit still and I need to draw. I cannot say that I always enjoy the process.
My friend and I were going to draw, we had sticks for a roller, a stool, a stepladder, huge backpacks and bags of paint with us. People passing by asked, “are you going fishing?” and we caught ourselves thinking that we must look very strange – two women getting out of a taxi with a load of random equipment heading into the bushes. It is difficult for us to drag all of this, the bushes get tangled under our feet, sometimes there are snowdrifts on which it is difficult to walk. It’s funny thinking about such things on the way to drawing. From time to time to catch myself thinking “what am I doing here, why am I going there, I must look strange.”
Many of your works show Chinese characters, but you don’t speak Chinese. What’s the story?
I don’t know Chinese, but I have a lot of emotions from China. I was born in a Siberian village located right in the Taiga (Boreal Forest). As a child, my family moved to Blagoveshchensk, and a few years later moved to Krasnoyarsk, where there were many Chinese at that time. I remember eating with chopsticks and at home there were snacks and instant noodles bought from the Chinese at the street market. I still remember the design and symbols on the packages.
Then I met my husband, he is from Russia, but he lived in China for 8 years studying wushu. He showed me a lot and told me about China, I think this inspired me and I started to draw. I liked to independently study the basics of characters, how to write them correctly, where this or that character came from. I looked for new words, phrases and just drew them. I like the way the characters look, they’re very beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. The Covid pandemic has affected our travel, but I believe that someday I will see China and learn more about the culture of this country.
Since we have known each other, you have been travelling around parts of Asia, despite the Pandemic. Where is home?
For a long time, my home was the city of Moscow. I love this city, its rhythm, culture, diversity. You can live there all your life and discover something new everyday. I have left there for an indefinite amount of time. I am interested in exploring this world. It is interesting for me to live in different parts of the world. Now I am in Asia, but I already have a feeling that it is time to go further on the journey. My home is in Russia, but for now I’m interested in looking for new places.
We’re delighted to have you as part of our Red T Multiples family. What do you love about Multiples?
I love the concept! I always look at details / fragments. A fragment from one work can look like a fully fledged work, like a separate work of art. Red T Multiples is a really cool idea. A person can choose a part of the picture, a part in which he saw something for himself. This is really great! I’m glad to be part of Red T Multiples!
We’re honoured to have 4 of Mariia’s works now in our Multiples collection, one made exclusively for us! Check them out here. (HPL later)