I interviewed the very talented Pasha Setrova, a 2018 Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize Finalist and discussed her work, her life, and her career. The work Morgentau caught our eye because of the gaunt and contorted form adrift on the grassy sea speckled with blue flowers as if morning dew. Pahsa sculps, paints, dresses and poses her intricate creations building a world unique and her own. As we talk with her, we find out a little more about the worlds Pasha creates and depicts, but we also begin to understand some of the influencing factors that have contributed to the aesthetic style and direction of Pasha’s work.
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For the readers, could you tell me a little about yourself and your career?
I’m not 100% sure of the exact timeframe but when I was around 15, I started working as a model. I worked for Armani and Versace. I worked in Paris a little and even less in Italy. It was a hard time – it was the time of the world crisis. Then I became a writer, wrote a big novel and got into a very prestigious literary magazine, which was pure luck. I got into a literature college. But I didn’t finish that. I had a crisis of both my Schizophrenia and Epilepsy. Yep. I have both. So while I was being treated, I was staying at home. I started to sculpt, and little by little I became a doll artist. Actually, it was very sudden. I took a One week doll making class. I made a Shakespeare doll out of backing clay and added a lot of details. My teacher invited me on her stand at the doll show. And I sold my Shakespeare right on the first day for $400. I invited my mom to a very expensive restaurant. Because every time I’m getting money from a first sale, I invited my mom to spend that money. Haha. Yeah. That’s how I started I guess.
When I was 24, I started to work as an artist of small forms officially. I got into a good Russian Contemporary Art Gallery along with a doll gallery. I started to make porcelain dolls. The hair company Sebastian invited me to be their visionary and instead invested in my new collection. The collection had very elongated forms with a lot of details. Fashion oriented. I made a very successful collection named “Beaten Glamour “and exhibited in the most popular contemporary art place in Russia. I traveled with it a lot. Suddenly everything had changed. I was invited everywhere. All the interesting parties with all the very famous people became accessible. I was everywhere- on TV or in fashion magazines. I think it’s a thing – once you get a little bit famous suddenly a lot of people are very curious about you. And it all happens so fast and you think that it’s always going to be like it. But then I decided to move to America. For many reasons though one was to have the freedom to be gay. Before I could only dream to be married to as wonderful a woman as Erika. So I came to America. But for a good 5 years, I couldn’t really find any galleries. I think it was for a lot of reasons. My English wasn’t good. Also, I think at the time, my dolls themselves were not speaking to an American crowd, and maybe just in my way of looking for a gallery-I just didn’t know how. It was very upsetting. So I started to make music. I kinda succeeded. At least it was not bad for a very Russian singer haha. But then I met my future wife, and she convinced me that I could do dolls again and that it’d be something good. We were going to different art fairs… like the ArtHamptons and we found my mother gallery, ArtêriaGallery. They started to sell the pieces pretty fast. Then, about two years ago or so, I made my first ball joint doll (BJD) doll.
I was working for a year on just engineering the joints. It’s not as easy to bring the inner structure to the outside. I wanted to make sure the joints looked natural when fully bent as well as fully straightened positions. But most importantly, I made my shoulder joints. I am very proud of that – not of the joint itself but of what it did to BJD doll world. When I first made it, there were basically no shoulder joints and even if there were, they were very limited and rudimentary at best. Now everyone’s trying it. Some people were saying I made a revolution and it means so much to me.
How did you catch wind of the BBM art prize, what did you think of it?
I follow BBM because it shows so many amazing artists. When I saw the contest, I couldn’t let the opportunity slip away. The art prize is wonderful. Who doesn’t want to be shown in a great gallery? But most importantly is the evaluation-every artist is working on himself, and since we don’t have a boss who can say if it’s good or bad… you can only rely on your own taste and opinion. That’s why followers and their love are important to artists. When someone is writing to me that I’m good, I’m always so appreciative and motivated. Otherwise, how can you understand that you are moving in the right direction? And also I am a huge perfectionist. There is a saying that my wife likes to say, “The artists is never finished, he is just giving up”. So how can I understand that I gave up at the right point?
I will definitely participate in the next art project for BBM. It was just so much fun.
What made you choose ‘Morgentau’ for the prize?
About Morgentau. Hm. I don’t have a firm reason why I submitted her. I think my favorite doll is always the one just finished. So when I made her, I thought that if she is so wonderful, she can get into the BBM pages. Until I made my next doll… then I started to have doubts. But that’s normal I guess.
Who is the inspiration/subject/source material of ‘Morgentau’? What do you intend to convey through this depiction? What is the relevance of the title ‘Morgentau’, that translates to Morning Dew in German (I assume that it’s German)?
The Morgentau name was proposed by one of my followers. They said that it meant Morning Dew in German. I thought since the doll has so many embedded crystals and she lying amongst the grass, she can definitely be associated with dew. I actually took those photos in my backyard in the middle of Manhattan. I have a pretty big backyard for NYC. It’s so nice to be there in the summer. So I didn’t want to miss a chance. There is nothing to convey. Sometimes the inspiration is just beautiful weather outside and you think – oh it’s going to be so nice to make a photo shoot on the grass.
I had just finished embedding the doll with closed eyes, and she looked like she could fall asleep in the grass. That’s how I got the idea. The rest was already the circumstances. For example, if you are drawing, you don’t need to rely on the weather. You can draw in any weather. Draw any subject. And your subject can hang from a small thin hair and never fall. Or stand on a tiny little leg on a balloon and never change. Doll art is always circumstantial. Not only should everything be scaled down and to a particular scale, but I have 1/3 and 1/4 doll sizes, which is 22” and 16”. Also, she can’t hold things unless her hand is sculpted to hold that specific thing. And I have to search and search to find a patch of grass that fits her. And then I eventually have to settle on something without getting cranky. Sometimes I’m buying a lot of expensive fabric, and then I’m donating it because suddenly it doesn’t look good- the scale of the pattern, the way it drapes, how thick or thin it is. So many details. And all of them you have to physically compose. You literally compose the environment, the clothes, shoes, hair, and eyes. Eventually you look at the photo, and it looks ok. Maybe it’s not just as you thought it was going to look but close enough. I consider a successful idea one that is at least 80% close to how I hoped it’d turn out.
Would you talk a little about another work?
About my other art…my other non-BJD art is less consistent in its look. It’s very much all different things. Sculptures and pieces that are unique and individual. It’s a way for me do things a little bit outside of my BJD world so that I don’t feel as if I’m repeating things. My big acrylic sculptures are actually very popular. They are transparent and change color in the light. Recently I started to dress them up. Sometimes you want to make a substantial piece where if you put a hat on it, you can’t remove it. It’s glued forever-permanent. Or it has paint on the clothes and on the skin or where a lot of details are just glued in… and since the pieces aren’t moving, it has a special pattern on it. You create them just how you want them to look and know that if you should see them in a few years, they should be just as beautiful as you left them. I love bjds. But there are things you can’t do to them because everything should be removable. They’re very expensive, but they’re still dolls in their very first meanings. They are meant to be played with. Playable art. Finished dolls used to be seen as idols. No wonder the words are similar. People used to make little spirits and pray to them as saints. Then closer to our time, it became separated and labeled as toys just for kids. Mmm, nope. My dolls are not toys. Everything but toys.
On your website bio, it says you battle with schizophrenia. Could you describe your experience with this and how it interacts with the work that you do? (ie. does it influence style or aesthetic choices, are the works a description or depiction of the experienced world, or do you create in spite of the experience of schizophrenia, or perhaps none of the above?
You are asking about schizophrenia. Yeah, I have it but it does not define me. It’s something that I have but only because I try very hard to stay sane. There are a lot of things that can bother me. But I’m trying not to listen to them and just move forward. It is a mental struggle. Like hallucinations. But also just the inability to be focused on anything, and also self-esteem. Especially when the voice that’s loudest is saying something bad about myself, and it’s so convincing. It will bring up all the examples why it’s right and will remember all the things that I had already long forgotten. The medications are helping though. I do feel the strongest than I have ever felt.
By this time, I thought that I would be already dead. And I don’t know why, but I always thought that I was gonna die young. Now I don’t think so. I don’t like when people say- everyone is a little bit crazy or schizophrenic. Well, sorry, but it only means that you’ve never had it. The voice is so loud and it’s so commanding. And it never-shuts-up. Never. Even when you’re asleep. It’s louder than TV. It’s louder than your other thoughts. It’s direct and forward. And only when you really focus, do you hear your real voice from very far away. But at my height of crisis, the people from paintings started to come out. They were moving and changing emotions. Nonstop. Nonstop. Or I could look at anything, and it would become a face that moves. You know those random patterns in marble tiles? They’d be nonstop moving images for me. That could suddenly smile but mostly had a very suffering face. There’s nothing fun in being schizophrenic. Ok. Maybe I do perceive the world differently. Maybe it’s easier for me to reach out to a fantasy world for the ideas. That is true. But at what cost? Yeah. I know I might be a little more bold but would I rather be normal and live longer and calmer? I don’t know. I think no. You know I have this theory. I have a lot of theories, but this one is about our destiny. I won’t say it’s pre-written but I think since I didn’t choose my very hard childhood, it was probably chosen for me before I was born. Like some kind of bargain. Only a few people can have it all. Everyone else has to give something up for it. Like – you will be born by a 16-year-old woman and she will have to leave you to all these different people and places that don’t want you. But… you will be beautiful. You will be gay and you will be raised to suffer in a homophobic country. But… you will be happily married to a beautiful young woman who is also an artist. You will be unable to have children and will barely be able to maintain your health and struggle every day with it…. but you will be talented in your favorite thing. I think everything I got, I already paid for. And my childhood was very hard. And it made me tough, I guess. But I kept my heart. I’m still naive and very sensitive. But strong.