Mikhail Molochnikov. Waiting for Spring, 2012. Courtesy of GUM-Red-Line Gallery
Molochnikov: Art as Meditation
Moscow based artist Mikhail Molochnikov creates a spiritual universe ruled by the laws of harmony and inner wisdom, the perfect antidote to our chaotic times. His work can be seen in two exhibitions in the Russian capital this winter.
You need excellent eyesight to best appreciate the world of Mikhail Molochnikov (b. 1963). He covers large sheets of paper with a maze of exceptionally precise ink strokes. And out of this maze of lines, dots and dashes, strange creatures emerge, half-insect, half-human with faces devoid of emotion. For decades, his art has verged on abstraction and figuration, a human hand here, a butterfly wing there. “I use a lot of biomorphic forms. And sometimes my children bring me a leaf or a pod to draw.”, says Molochnikov, a father of three. Insects fascinate him as well with their otherworldliness, “They belong to the outer space”, he says.
Molochnikov was trained as an architect, and there are still traces of this in his work. His preferred media are ink drawings and paper collage, he approaches both with patience, a steady hand and a kind of brilliance of execution which he puts down to a strict teacher he had at university, “thanks to her I became a good model-maker”. There’s always a three dimensionality to his works, unusual for a draughtsman. He builds tall totem-like structures out of pieces of paper, magazine headlines and cardboard which he finds in rubbish dumps. He cuts out holes in his drawings to let the sunlight in, setting off an endless game of light and shadows. He makes leporellos, folding artist books, with lots of circular holes, that stand all by themselves on podiums like sculptures. Even his more traditional drawings look like windows to another, mystical yet private dimension. “There’s another world looking at us through the outline of my letters”, he told me once, when referring to his Jewish Alphabet series. The alphabet is one of his favourite subjects and has become an obsession: he has painted and cut the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian and Jewish alphabets over again. His works are sought after by collectors who often ask him to draw their initials. Some of these alphabet works are currently displayed at the ABC Book of Art at Moscow’s S.N.E.G gallery.
Mikhail Molochnikov. Spring Mood, 2018. Courtesy of GUM-Red-Line Gallery
Mikhail Molochnikov. Butterflies among Flowers, 2017. Courtesy of GUM-Red-Line Gallery
Mikhail Molochnikov. Between Worlds, 2018. Courtesy of GUM-Red-Line Gallery
Mikhail Molochnikov. Spring, 2018. Courtesy of GUM-Red-Line Gallery
His collages reveal the mind of an architect, as well as influences of the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism. He often cites El Lissitzky (1810-1941) as a source of inspiration. Such strictly aligned compositions contrast with the kaleidoscope of flowing, biomorphic forms in his drawings, yet there’s an inner kinship between them, an underlying sense of order which they share. Recently, he started to combine collage and drawing in his works, creating a series of images inspired by Tarot cards (he confesses that Tarot cards have helped him to solve a few of the problems life has thrown into his path). Like Keith Haring (1958-1990) he loves to see his work everywhere, printed on any possible surface, from head scarves to wine packaging and he is always open to collaboration with brands. He would have become a darling of the fashion industry if he had been born in a country where such an industry exists. For all his mastery and vivid imagination his art does not fit into the contemporary art mainstream. “Museum curators always tell me they are ‘too beautiful’, yet they always accepted them into their collection”, says Marina Fedorovskaya, the curator of Celestial Wind. Indeed, his works are in the collections of the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, the State Pushkin Museum and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, to name a few. They have been displayed at many group exhibitions, yet the artist who is sixty this year has not had any big museum solo show to date.
Over the years, Molochnikov has remained faithful to his style and method, his materials and his tools: his art constantly evolves, yet it takes an observant eye to appreciate his evolution. “I am experimenting all the time”, he says. For example, recently, he started drawing with white ink on black paper, a twist that gives these works a deeper, mystical air. In Celestial Wind Fedorovskaya has used many subtle installation tricks to avoid monotony. She assembled two of his series into huge panels, elevating them from works on paper to monumental murals. Molochnikov who has a long and deeply rooted interest in Buddhism is no troubled, rebellious artist who creates a masterpiece in a fit of creative anguish or despair. His artistic practice is not a series of alternating phases of creative ecstasy and depression. For him, it is a constant flow, a never-ending meditation. “I don’t have any favourite pieces or works with which I am not satisfied. For me, work is the process when you are drawing, enjoying it and your energy is transferred into a piece of art,” he says.