Petr Philippov: Random passers-by help, cars obstruct

Karlin Studios, Prvního pluku 2, Praha 8

Petr Philippov was born in 1973 in Moscow. He started to study painting and drawing a year ago at Scholastika under Robert Šalanda and Michal Pěchouček. At Karlin Studios he exhibits his drawings realized in the streets of Prague using markers.

Interview: with Alice Nikitinová

AN: Drawing in the streets, I think, is not only a work but also a habit, a peculiar way of perceiving reality. How did it start? Do you remember the exact moment when you got seriously engaged?
PP: It is a challenge, you have to force yourself to do something like this, it's absolutely not a habit. I‘ve started when we walked along the Petrin Hill with Tanya. She gave me a squared paper and several markers and I managed to control my hands and create something out of what I could see. About the way of perceiving reality: my grandmother was a Kalmyk, and it seems to me that I inherited her buddhist ability of contemplative observation. When you are looking from a one point of view for a long time, it changes your perception of reality. Especially when it is the reality that you draw. At the beginning of the nineties, when I was healthy, I painted a lot of landscapes, not only the city. I returned to painting landscapes again later.

I looked at pictures of your old works. It seems to me that there is already a kind of strange, distinctive treatment of the space which became characteristic of your work. Can you talk about your life and work in Moscow? What inspired you, what influenced you? How were your studies at the art school? What was your position at that time?
I did not have any position at the art school. Later I had a group of friends at my university, I started studies at the faculty of education, but I haven‘t finished them. At this time I was calling myself a gouache master. I participated in many exhibitions for young artists in Moscow, I even sold one painting. He was inspired by the life around. I was influenced by my friends Uchov and Šurypa*. At the beginning also Van Gogh. And then psychotropic substances.

You mentioned that you were influenced by your friends. Was it connected with art? If so, what was the link between you?
Those were crazy times. And the group itself was also mad. We were called Eleven because the word "eleven" in Russian is written with eleven letters. It was the idea of Gena Crazy. He had something like a squat and that is where we did exhibitions. We made posters, leaflets. Our link was that we understood each other. A big role there, to put it mildly, was played, of course, by the substances. These times were the heyday of chemistry.

What were the shows you organized? Was it totally underground, or you somehow collaborated with the art scene?
We collaborated. We were even a part of it. In the book "Reconstruction", dedicated to the nineties, our activities are mentioned. No, it wasn‘t underground. We did exhibitions in galleries, fashion shows, also creations of the type: "Self-speaking black square".

On photos from the exhibition " UraNový Projekt" [Uranium Project] (1996) in Ajdan gallery we can see that you have a lot in common, it is a kind of peculiar pop art with elements of computer games and something psychotropic. How would you describe it?
We were linked by the way we understood color, synthetic combination of shapes, the importance of the drawing and by some ideas ‐ a mixture of propaganda, drug and computer games. We wrote a manifesto of new realism ‐ a synthetic one. We wanted to be synthetic, uranium Siskin and Repin. Our works approved our lives, which were cheerful and facing the future. Computer realism of virtual reality. Crazy motives, well incorporated into the paintings.

Are you still interested in computer games? Can you get some experience by playing them that you may use in real life? Or in the arts? Is it possible to use the experience obtained from psychotropic substances? How did that affect your perception of the world?
I don‘t have time for games. Even though I know their magic. I played them. Of course, the experience is useful. For example, it allows me to perceive life as an assemblage of algorithms. If you fill them up properly and skillfully, you profit. The experience you gain from these substances is mainly tolerance and wider perspective (at least I hope), and the understanding that "we are not that what we seem to be." And I have a lot of sketches, not to mention these drawings. For example, Uranium Project was absolutely psychedelic. There were mushrooms, LSD, PCP.

The Uranium Project was only one show, or something more global?
There was only one exhibition, but it was a long-term collaboration. Of several years. We intended to keep on working together it but Uchov passed away...

What changed when you moved to Prague? What did it mean for you to find yourself again as a student of Scholastic? What do you like from the local art?
In Prague, I started to draw with markers, before I couldn‘t do that. At school I got the chance to learn which topics interest young artists, and what interest their teachers. There is a different method of teaching there, they provide us a huge, well-furnished workshop. And of course my teachers - Michal Pěchouček and Robert Šalanda - have a great influence on me. Avděj Ter- Oganian visited me a few times and I got so many critics that I felt not as a student anymore but as a schoolboy. But these critics allow me to take off a layer of self-indulgence. I feel better without that layer. From the local arts I enjoy the most architecture, Czech Cubism, Josef Čapek, Pavel Brázda.

AN: How do you choose the themes to draw, if it is possible to describe? What do you like to "take" from the city?
PP: I like when the houses seem to stand out from the forest. I like when we can see distant horizons. I like to watch the trees and perceive their fantastic structure and plasticity. I always try to reproduce movement. I witness the symbiosis between geometrical buildings and cars and biological shapes of trees and people. And there is another important task to draw relief and gravity.

Mikhail Uchov and Stas Šurypa: Moscow artists, members of the UraNový projekt. Uchov tragically died at the age of 25.