A light-flooded room on the 20th floor of a high-rise building with perfect order and a huge library is what the studio of the former Interesni Kazki duo Vladimir Manzhos looks like. His murals with complex phantasmagoric plots are known all over the world: paintings on the famous Wynwood Walls in Miami, solo exhibitions in the Milan contemporary art gallery Antonio Colombo, the New York gallery of Jonathan Levine and the Spanish Kreisler Gallery.
Now the artist is working on a new direction for himself – sculpture – and spends at least 8 hours a day, honing clay molds to the ideal. What the new experiment will look like and whether it will resonate with the black and white graphics of murals, we decided to find out from Vladimir himself.
In one of your interviews, I read that you started painting in 1999. Do you remember your first work – when did you realize that you want to be an artist?
I always knew that I would be an artist. From early childhood, I drew and sculpted. My grandfather then loved to repeat that I would be a sculptor. If I’m talking about this, I painted my first full-fledged work on a wall on a street at a graffiti festival in 2000 in Odessa. And in 1999, for the first time, I picked up a spray can and puffed it on the street – then a wave of graffiti reached Ukraine.
After the collapse of your duet with Alexei, have the themes of your murals, plots changed?
Have changed. But the changes are not so global that it was noticeable to an outsider. For those who followed our work, the differences were obvious before. In terms of style and technique, the changes are more noticeable: I started making b / w murals, for example.
In addition to commercial orders, every year you fly to India to relax and create murals there?
Yes, almost every year. Local elements appear always and everywhere where I draw, because the local culture is very inspiring. Almost always, the location and local cultural features dictate the content. This is a unique opportunity for me, and every time I get a unique experience. Explore, immerse yourself, feel the spirit of the place. In a sense, to plunge into a local egregor, dissolve in it, and let it through you.
It was in India, I agreed on the walls with the owners. I buy materials on the spot, I bring only a set of brushes with me. India is a particular Asian country. Noisy streets, chaotic traffic, scorching sun, annoying people – sometimes you just want to hide from this. Therefore, after 2-3 walls in crowded, noisy places, I started working in quieter and quieter locations.
In your opinion, are murals still relevant as a form of art or have they turned into a decorative element of the urban exterior?
Contemporary mural art, it seems to me, has lost its relevance at the moment when it became mainstream. Now 10-15 percent of everything that is happening on the world mural-art scene still causes me interest, the rest is nothing but boredom. This has become a product or marketing move to maintain and stimulate demand.
Is there a new generation of artists in Ukraine who make murals?
They are few, but they are. I like the work of two brothers – Feros and Dilk (Sin Sergiy i Sin Vitaliy). Their works are original and interesting, even for the West oversaturated with art.
Among the artists who work with other media are Vova Vorotniov, Bohdan Burenko, Artem Proot, Lyosha Kondakov, Olexa Mann, We Bad, Sasha Grebenyuk, Roma Minin, Yulia Belyaeva, sometimes APL, Yuri Bolsa … From the older generation – Sasha Roytburd, early Vlad Ralko, ceramics by Nelly Isupova.
In your case, every drawing is an art. Tell me, how is the sale process? How many copies of a picture do you usually make?
All my drawings are original works. The original is always in one copy. Replicated graphics are another matter. This is the author of the replicated printed graphics. I usually do 2 runs with one image: b / w and color. Black and white from 20 to 60 copies, color – from 15 to 20. I colorize the print run by hand, which gives it more value. He worked with silk-screen printing, lithography, etching. Sales usually occur through the galleries with which I work, as well as on my site and in social networks.
In the studio, you showed us your book, which you are currently working on. Tell me in more detail what will go there and when is the exit planned?
I am a big fan and collector of art books. I have been dreaming of publishing my book for a very long time. And in May of this year my first Phantasmagoria will be released. The plans also include the second and third books. The first book will be devoted to my b / w art: drawings, b / w murals, canvases.
Now you are busy with a completely new direction for yourself – sculpture?
I started with traditional forms for ceramics – with jugs. Then he began to add sculptural forms to them, while maintaining their functionality. So, step by step, studying materials, their properties and features, experimenting with forms and materials, I pump skills and gradually create more and more complex forms. Now I want to smoothly move away from functional pieces and move on to clean sculpture.
In parallel with the main line of ceramics, I am also working on a series of plates. This is a long-term project that requires a lot of time, attention and effort, the participation of other masters of ceramics. The plates are made on a potter's wheel, decorated with hand-made ornaments, painted with cobalt and gold. This will be a series of 26 pieces.
Murals are surreal compositions denoting the letters of the English alphabet. I got this idea in early 2017. I then prepared for the project at Versailles. Inspired by a series of engravings – the letters of the alphabet of the brothers John Theodore de Brie (1560-1623) and John Israel de Brie (sons of the famous engraver, artist and publisher Theodore de Brie) for the book Emblemata Saecularia (ed. 1592), I am with my friend, Greek artist Fikos'om, made the inscription (lettering) Versailles commissioned by the mayor of the city.
In the future, I would like to replicate and, accordingly, make my ceramics available to the masses.
How long does work on a new object take?
If you have an idea, then the modeling process takes me very quickly – from 1 to 3 hours, depending on the complexity and size of the product. Then the next day – the next stage: select the clay from the inside using a special tool – a stack, if necessary, grind and refine the details, add additional elements.
Then 4-7 days of waiting until the product dries well and there is no moisture left in it, after which – firing. Firing takes up to 12 hours. Next – underglaze painting, as with my plates, after which – applying glaze and firing again. After that, the product can be finished, but in the case of plates – applying gold and then another firing. In general, it takes me at least 10 days to produce one plate.
How to get rid of perfectionism? When you understand that everything, stop, the work is ready.
I used to have problems with this. I could not stop on time and often made work oversaturated, adding unnecessary details, which I then painted over. In general, in my work there was more chaos than order. Since 2017, something has changed in my life, and this has greatly affected my work. Now I know where the line is between my perfectionism and the perception of the viewer. I feel where you need to stop and when you don’t need to delve into details that no one will see.
He began to practice the transcendental meditation of Maharishi. I was convinced of this by David Lynch, whom I interviewed in 2017, during his visit to Ukraine.
Where would you dream to see your work?
I worked with such galleries: Opera Gallery NY, Allouche Gallery NY, Jonathan Levine Gallery NY, Kreisler Gallery Madrid, Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea Milan, Varsi Galleria Rome, Fondation Maeght … To begin with, it would be nice to see my work in the collection at least some decent museum. (Laughs)
Perhaps they are already there, but I don’t know about it, because all the galleries and art dealers with whom I worked are kept secret who my paintings left. Just recently, I accidentally learned that my work is in the collection of one private museum – Colleccion Solo. It was nice to see yourself next to such authorities as Neo Rauch, Kaws, Ron English, Danny Fox. I also sometimes work on a series of prints for the Fondation Maeght.
Question on Proust: what inspires you at the moment?
Now I’m not looking for inspiration somewhere to do my job. Now my work inspires me more than ever, I'm just unrealistic delighted with what I am doing and what else I am going to do. (Smiles.)
If you were offered to change the profession of an artist, which one would you choose?
I would really like to try making music.