When I last spoke with Tanya Shatseva back in 2015, she was a young woman exploding onto the art scene, as vibrant and full of life as the paintings she created. Not much has changed on that front; though it’s clear this Russian artist has never settled into one state of existence: “I’m a turbo-dynamic being, and my [life] changes go so fast that I can hardly follow my own plot.” Tanya shares, as we talk about her adventures over the past three years. “Thinking about my younger self, I’m a little ashamed though – she was cute and always sincere.”
Even so, there’s something inherently warming about Tanya as she mulls over her life as an artist. To her, art is everything. Having exhibited in galleries including Future Gallery, Sally Centigrade and Spoke Art, she explains the joy and challenges that have come with her rising popularity within the gallery scene: “It feels awesome of course [to exhibit]. I’d love to exhibit more often – but every time I think about submitting my works or contacting people, I end up painting some new and urgent idea; it’s a drug. It is hard for me to do almost anything besides art in general!” she laughs. “But – it is thrilling. It’s probably the best feeling when I love my own idea. And it always seems that this time, I will make it perfect. I live my life mostly in isolation with periods of social life, and that’s the way I enjoy it!”
Whirling within her “turbo-dynamic” existence, Tanya Shatseva’s interests are a never-ending fountain of inspiration for her paintings. Take her 2018 painting Crypto Styx: a beautiful merging of our modern digital culture and traditional mythology, the painting, though Tanya swears she doesn’t know where the concept came from, is a perfect reflection of her multi-pronged curiosity for knowledge.
“I am very much into science and technology as well as mythology and metaphysical ideas. Actually, some modern scientific theories are almost surreal, especially in quantum physics, they sound even more mind-blowing than any made up esoteric fantasies. I love to blend the mindfulness of rational and the beauty of irrational worlds. There’s also a theme of digital death in this piece. She is floating through codes, a true afterlife world.”
Another piece we chatted about was Scream of a Great Bat (2018), a painting with a particularly dramatic artist statement:
Once the stars in the sky seemed other worlds to me. Now I know these sharp points are the holes in the armor protecting us from the ocean of ruthless light.
“It’s a quote from V. Pelevin’s ‘Empire V’, a novel about… well, it’s hard to put into words what his story’s about exactly, they are metaphysical and boundless just like all my favourite things are. The main characters are vampires who feed not on blood, but on something like the product of human consciousness; they are called the Children of a Great Bat, their goddess. The world there is a scenery, a hypnosis created with her scream.
I love imagining the stars as holes in the black matter, as it’s just the opposite of what we [usually] think about stars. The piece has a cosmological side also – a scream in space, in a vacuum would be totally silent.”
Scream of a Great Bat
This element of cosmology seems to have struck a spark in Tanya’s heart, once again reiterated within her more recent painting Neutron Seppuku. Born from her interest in cosmological phenomena, Japanese culture and, as she describes, “the beauty of the absurd ancient ritual” of seppuku, a form of Japanese ritual suicide.
“The way the supernova appears from the dying star, enriching the whole universe with the elements, is one of the most fascinating things in the world. I imagined a young Japanese woman in the cosmic garden with an enormously heavy metaphysical neutron sword and only one way out; she is an inner core of a star. Her collapse is halted by neutron suicide performance, causing the implosion to rebound and bounce outward. The energy of this expanding shock wave is sufficient to disrupt the overlying stellar material and accelerate it to escape velocity, forming a supernova explosion; a contribution to the chemical evolution of the universe.”
As a viewer, it seems her admix of cultures, mythology and science seem to reflect her techniques in painting too. Tanya Shatseva exemplifies dominance over colours; her swirling, enigmatic backgrounds sweep you into their wormholes of magical delights, creating entire feelings and realms within this canvas space alone. Yet they interact firmly with the clear, forefront figures. The characters are whole with their surroundings, even as it merges, deconstructed, into the abyss. “They can dissolve into the background any moment and it won’t make any difference,” Tanya muses, “because all is illusionary; a dream or a feeling.”
Neutron Seppuku – close-up
Even so, Tanya admits that she is naturally evolving into a simpler and more illustrative style. Exploring further with textures, her recent experiment with sculpture also opens pathways to new mixed-media opportunities:
“Maybe I will mix sculpturing with painting in future. [Maladaptive Daydreaming] was the first sculpture I’ve tried and honestly I haven’t felt this level of immersion into the process for a long time! It was so challenging and joyful that I didn’t notice how the night passed.
Then, “catastrophe” happened when I decided to burn it in the oven – and totally forgot about physical laws. However, I felt the same euphoria while creating it as to when it accidentally broke – it came from nothing and went to nothing, leaving this perfect shatter… there’s something absolutely powerful about destruction. I installed the piece into the frame using hot glue and created a golden web all around. I see it as a fragment of some Dorian [Grey]’s angelic face stuck in the webs of my mind, provoking endless fantasising.”
“Maladaptive Daydreaming is one of the things that I’ve experienced since childhood. It’s poison and cure at the same time, I love this feature but have to control it all of the time too.”
Maladaptive Daydreaming – before the destruction and rebirth
Through all of her painting, absorbing the drug of creativity, I wondered about her hobbies in her free time. “Free time?” she exclaims, “Why is it called free if I’m not painting? Sure, I have days when I don’t paint at all, to do other business or procrastinate (which is very important). I also enjoy reading, walking alone – especially when I find weird, hidden beauty and adventures – eating, and talking to my mirror imagining different situations. As for podcasts, I’m a huge fan of Radiolab! I’m also currently re-listening to Nabokov’s audio books, he is one of my favourite writers. I love contacting animals also; recently, I was cuddling a cat on a crowded street and saw that people were staring. I then realised I was also wearing a cat-hat. It was funny.”
And what about the future – are there any goals for 2019? “Honestly, I prefer directions, not goals. I need freedom and the possibility for sudden and joyful decisions on my way. Therefore, my primary goal is to enjoy the art process – though I do also want to paint a series of feelings preserved in formalin after visiting Kunstkamera museum here in Saint Petersburg. Also, I’m currently trying sculpture, animation and gathering my first art book.”
Lunacy – WIP
Black Hole in the Milky Way