Walking inside Misha Nikatin’s studio in Moscow’s bohemian Basmanny neighbourhood feels like stepping into a particularly vibrant greenhouse. Plants surround you: the real ones carefully potted, with Nikatin’s painted copies filling in the gaps. Nikatin has been working from this bright studio, tucked inside a former power plant, for three years. The practical, industrial aesthetic suits him well.
“When it comes to inspiration, I’ve always had very minimal romanticism,” he says. “Instead, I approach art as craftsmanship and hard work, full of crucial technical moments.”
“The materials I work with underline the themes I depict, like architecture and design. I use industrial paints, or tinting pastes which are usually used for wall painting. So when I was looking for a studio, I thought, where should it be? Probably in some industrial area where I could work in peace. And that’s how I started work in Electrozavod, the old electricity station.”
In the same way, Nikatin’s paintings often depict everyday life objects: a designer chair, a bright red car, a house plant. His paintings are evocative in their stillness and have a calm, almost meditative nature. An electronic clock which stopped at 20:20, a sunset glowing through window blinds, a car under a deep blue dust sheet: these are slices of seemingly unremarkable day-to-day life, fleeting fragments of mundanity elevated to the state of art. Our capitalist reality, against all odds, becomes a continuation of the artistic canon.
“We live in such a strong emotional field of branding, that everything around us is buzzing with headings, brands, labels, and it’s almost impossible to ignore it. I get a certain aesthetic story from things, and when I draw an object like a car, I consciously choose this object because I already understood what this brand is about, its ethics, and why I want to immortalize it in a painting,” says Nikatin.
Under Russia’s ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, where the everyday and the domestic dominate our lives, this work has taken on a new importance. His most recent work is a tribute to Viktor Pivovarov’s 1975 work, Projects for a Lonely Person. Work began before coronavirus hit, but soon found itself imbued with new meaning. “At the beginning of quarantine, we could still move around the city, but everything was changing quickly,” says Nikatin. “I realised that I had to somehow document this. “
In Nikatin’s work, recording Covid-19 is more subtle than it seems. A beautiful shadow against a wall, a lonely walk, glimpses of sky, or totems of daily routine sometimes tell a person’s story better than they would themselves. After all, “when you’re alone with yourself, especially in this situation, all you have to do is talk to the characters around you”.
By capturing and mixing different fragments of daily life, Nikatin is also opening up a space for contemplation. It shows ordinary people not only how beauty is hidden in their day-to-day lives, but also how they can find it themselves.
In Nikatin’s view, it is this sincerity and human approach that Russian contemporary art desperately needs. But while it has brought the artist appreciation among everyday culture lovers, he has yet to break through to the institutional mainstream.
Nikatin’s work is currently on display in Moscow’s Obedinenie and Azot galleries, as well as Paris’ Tonka. “I want artists to be represented more in galleries where they feel comfortable and with whom they have a truly trustful relationship. It makes the purchase transparent and complete: you see where the painting goes and what kind of life it lives on. And the story about trust in art and the art market, in general, is quite ambiguous. At the same time, I often sell my works myself. People write to me on Instagram or via email, and sometimes I invite them to the studio. It’s nice to talk to someone who is really interested in my art, and when you see the full immersion in the paintings it’s just great”.
“I am loved by ordinary people, and I am very grateful for it,” says Nikatin.