Russian Painter Sergey Sovkov: ‘My Husband Erwin and I Have One Inspiration Together’. Until October 29 the exhibition “Connected: Male Love Without Borders” is on display at the Groningen gallery MooiMan. This is a show with works by two artists: the Russian painter Sergey Sovkov, and the English ceramicist Keith King. The theme “Connected” is visible in many ways.
In fact, we are all linked somehow: through art, through friends, or through many common issues. Gallery MooiMan has had a long connection with English ceramicist Keith King and his work continues to surprise. This exhibition features several new sculptures, both in polychrome ceramic and in bronze.
The connection of the Dutch gallery owners with the Russian painter Sergey Sovkov started three years ago during the Netherlands-Russia Year 2013. Their decision to give him his first exhibition in Europe has changed his life in many ways. But in this male-art exhibition there is of course also a strong connection with love: the love for a man made by a man unbound by any borders.
Sergey Sovkov talked to Gay News about his working methods, the situation in Russia, his international breakthrough, and especially the influence his love for his recently married Austrian husband Erwin has on his life and work.
Sergey, can you tell something about your education and when you started?
“I attended the usual school system in Russia until receiving the university-entrance diploma at the age of eighteen. But my interest for painting started very early. I liked to draw on the wall behind the tapestries, so mother couldn’t see it. Later I attended, besides the state school, a school for artists. But together with work it got too much to complete this artist school. After completing the secondary school I went to university and studied art for five years. It was a whole education in arts and also pedagogics.”
“I remember very well one moment in my childhood: I was twelve years old. I liked a boy from my class. He was very beautiful with green eyes and curly hair. I really wanted to see him naked. But I didn’t have such an opportunity. And I decided to paint him with all anatomical details. I liked to fantasize about it. I kept the drawing under my pillow. One day my mother found this picture when I was in school. She put it on the table, and wrote on it, ‘What will happen next?’ Now I can answer this question: I became an artist.”
How can you describe your specific way of painting?
“Imagining the future picture I see a blurred color image, a kind of iridescent color stain. One color flows into the other, is mixed and transformed. Then the spot is formed in a certain way, it seems to be frozen in my mind, it’s crystallized. On the canvas, I create a picture as a mosaic or stained glass window, finding the right color on the palette, and passing it on to the surface of the canvas. I usually do not correct, what is already painted. I like to play on the canvas where one color penetrates into the other. I paint with a palette knife and often experiment by working with this tool. This can be great strokes of one color, or many small strokes of different colors overlapping each other, or smears laid on the subject of the form or shape. After drying of the base layer of paint, I paint around each small part a thin dark line. It betrays the structural pattern and enhances the effect of each stroke, and the whole picture.”
Where do your themes originate and where do you get your inspiration from?
“The inspiration may be different moments of life, the work of another artist, a spectacular picture, or a scene from everyday life. This can be a pretty face I saw on the subway, or a group of young people on the beach. All this can be the impulse for creativity. But the main thing in all is the color. So, coming across the idea of creating a painting can also be just a beautiful combination of colors on any surface. But recently I fell in love and now I find the inspiration in our relationship, the feelings that I have for my loved one. It is an endless source of inspiration.”
Who is your favorite male art artist?
“There are a few artists in Russian and Soviet art that I really like. For instance Konstantin Somov, Alexander Deineka, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Evsey Moiseenko, but the theme of male beauty is represented only in fragments in their work. The British artist Cornelius McCarthy is the best example of the art of man for me.”
You come from Russia. How do people react to paintings in which boys, men, the male form is to be seen?
“Friends and acquaintances who have seen the paintings don’t bother. No matter what is shown. Whether it’s a naked young man or a vase of flowers. To get to know the reaction of people it’s important to have exhibitions. But this is prohibited by the state, it can be regarded as propaganda of non-traditional relationships. Male nudity is taboo. You can show a picture with half-naked athletes, but not more.”
In 2013 your work was shown for the first time outside of Russia, and we noticed that with the “freedom” of Facebook, your work rapidly went all around the world. What has happened since?
“After 2013 I was able to create a lot of ideas and paint a lot of pictures with male beauty. I’m very confident. Now I don’t see any boundaries for inspiration. I feel the commonality with other artists of the world and I have a great desire to do the art of male beauty.”
This exhibition is called “Connected: Male Love Without Borders.” Why had the word “Connected” to be in the title?
“This idea grew while I was discussing the title with Sandro Kortekaas of Gallery MooiMan. We liked to express that love has no borders and more specifically that the love that my husband and I share, led to the connection that we live together and work together, despite the fact that we grew up in different countries, and with different languages. The results of this connection in work and in love can be seen in the exhibition. Therefore: ‘Connected: Male Love Without Borders.’”
Is your work really without borders now? Because we now see for the first time also the theme of male love made visible, as in the painting “Rump in the Grass,” which has clearly an openly gay aspect.
“Some sketches for these paintings are ten years old. And every time I finished a sketch, I thought about who could need the painting. Erotic gay themes are not ‘needed’ in Russia. But now I feel free to paint them, because there is a new audience who might like them. Finally, it also might be a reason that I started to feel love again...”
We know you got married on August 30 with your Austrian partner Erwin, who will be called after this with your last name, Sovkov. How did you meet?
“That was a wing of fate. Erwin contacted me on Facebook about one and a half years ago to tell me that he likes my pictures and my style of painting very much. At this time he was in another relationship. Soon he wrote again and told me that he received one of my pictures as a gift from his boyfriend. He was very happy. And I was too, because I rarely know who buys a picture and the story behind it. In addition, I was happy that my picture belonged to a couple because of love. Then his relationship started to break. Despite of this fact Erwin asked me if I would paint a portrait of him and his boyfriend. I agreed and told him that we could meet in Vienna to talk about this. But finally Erwin broke up with his boyfriend and he didn’t ask me again about the portrait.”
“This might seem a story about his life, but it’s the story about how we found each other, because at our first meeting in a Café near the Museum Lower Belvedere, Erwin asked me if I know the dance called Eurythmy. I had to say no. So he showed me some photos on the Internet. With a funny view on what I need for my paintings I said: ‘Too much clothes.’ Half jokingly and half seriously, Erwin answered that he might do it naked to give me some inspiration for my work. So we had our first photo shooting on the next day: Erwin was so cute and kind and moved very natural. I didn’t understand his movements, but I felt much, what I couldn’t explain. The fact is, that every single picture of his movements gave me a great inspiration. Since then I painted a lot of them.”
It is amazing that as a couple of artists you influence each other in the new series, that’s exhibited now for the first time and called “Chrystal House.” Can you tell something about the process of collaboration?
“First I have to say, that I don’t like the word collaboration very much. Because this word can’t transport the warmth and intimacy of our mutual work. You say that we influence each other. That’s very true, it’s like a symbiosis. And the result, the painting, has really two ‘fathers.’ It is a single piece of art by two authors. For instance, I had the idea for ‘Chrystal House’ in my head ten years ago. But it was not certain. I only had the meaning of it, but not the single pictures. So I didn’t paint it, and it rested over the years. When I met Erwin the first time and he said that he would like to show me his dance, I thought that he might fit into my idea of ‘Chrystal House.’ So we made our first photo shooting and I saw that he fits very well!”
“When we met the second time, in Togliatti, Erwin said to me: ‘Let’s go, let’s work together on “Chrystal House!”’ And he asked me to tell him the idea again. It was simply the idea, that I liked to show the world as a Chrystal House, that’s very fragile, and that it breaks apart in four directions. I further had the idea that I liked to show it in five paintings that are arranged in a cross. Not more. Then Erwin sat there, thinking for only about half an hour, and then he began to write names for every single picture. It were names that describe what is happening on every picture. I was very impressed, because he had written what I had thought, but what I was not able to name. So he could feel my inspiration, and worked on it to present the names.”
“Then it was his row. We made a second photo shooting and he moved out of his inspiration for every single painting in the way that expresses the meaning of it. He didn’t stop moving while photographing, because he wanted to express the dynamic of a movement. Afterwards we sat together and decided which photo fitted best for the paintings. For every painting we had made about seventy-five photographs. We had no struggle to choose which ones, and found very quickly the correct ones. Then I took the photos, and made my sketches. And then small studies in oil. And then the final big ones. That’s how we work and create together. And I think the special thing is that we can live in the mind of the other one, and help the other one creating his idea! We have one inspiration together.”
Recently you have done an art performance on video in which Erwin gets body painted by Sergey and is doing a dance. This performance was shown life during the opening of the exhibition at Gallery MooiMan. Can you tell what the idea behind this is, and how this is influencing you both?
“The idea behind making the video and performing the dance, was that we like to show the audience the source from which the inspiration for ‘Chrystal House’ is taken. Because every single picture is taken from a movement, and the movement is created out of a single thought. Erwin wanted to show the common idea of ‘Chrystal House’ together in one dance. It’s like an introduction for the whole painting, but is also more, because it shows the combination of the pictures to each other and finally the great drama of the ‘Chrystal House’: the world broke apart... how to heal it and get the parts together again?”
We can’t look into a rainbow colored crystal bowl... What are future plans in working together and making art projects?
“Future plans are to work together this way and create new projects. We have one concrete project that goes deeper into the drama of ‘Chrystal House.’ It will have to deal with ‘Despair.’ But also life and happiness will be future themes. Then all three together shall be a trilogy...”
The expo Connected is available at Mooi Man in Groningen till the end of October,