Local Artist Siarhiej Savič Talks about Loyalty to Minsk
At the end of February, the 35-year old artist was fined 540 BYN (€ 200) for an old graffiti on the bridge next to Beijing hotel in Minsk. That very day a fundraising company was launched to satisfy the fine. In less than 24 hours the sum has been raised – even over and above. 34mag met Siarhiej Savič to talk about the willingness of our people to support art and about his loyalty to the city.
– I grew up in Žodzina [a town of about 65 thousand people in the Minsk region – MnD]. When I finished school, I moved to Minsk to study for a lawyer. I was commuting back home by trains and shuttle buses every evening. I graduated, but have never worked as a lawyer. Back then I earned my living by some accidental side jobs. I worked remotely as an SMM manager and had an opportunity to draw.
When I moved to Minsk 10 years ago, I just started to paint, had ambitions to become an artist, and was actively involved in that. Before that, at senior school, I jumped into partying, raves, and was even arranging my own events – as a DJ and a promoter. When I was running my own parties – all weekends merged into one another. Impressions fade, but it leaves some aftertaste: that was cool.
Now I usually hang out at Kastryčnickaja street – at Hide, OK16, sometimes Lo-Fi Social Club. For me Squat became the second place I really enjoyed, it was the place where you know everyone and they are nice to you. Once after an event, Ania Marinkina, the Squat founder, said: “If you want, leave your works here”. I felt lazy to take them back, and the works were eventually bought.
“I don’t draw just for myself,
I draw for the city as well”
– I take Minsk as it is. I don’t have enough experience living in other cities to compare. I’ve been to Saint Petersburg, Vilnius, Kyiv. I liked Kyiv the most. If I’ll be asked to work on a project there, I don’t mind moving for a year-two, but I like to live in Minsk because you can do a lot of stuff in culture and art here. You have your own place in the action, you create the action. I wouldn’t like to move to the place, where everything has been arranged by others.
Here I’m not comfortable with all the bureaucracy. The whole sense of street art is lost if you need to deal with the paperwork and get official permission to draw on the wall. The coolest way is when you pass by a nice spot with some paint, make the picture and walk on, let people enjoy it. I hope it all will become simpler in Minsk.
You know, sometimes the city authorities assign you some shack at a backyard – here you are, go on, paint. But I don’t like art on request. The essence of street art is different. But keeping that in mind I realize all the responsibilities and take the consequences. I’m not going to paint on the Palace of the Republic or a theater building.
– I painted that work at the end of November, but due to weather, it came off. For several days I’ve been thinking whether to restore it or not and then someone showed me that Siarhiej Mikhalok [the leader of the band Brutto – MnD] took a selfie with the piece, so I decided it deserves to be restored. The weather was great, it was an hour and a half job.
Usually when I work people don’t give a damn. They just pass by and pretend nothing’s going on. If someone notices, they’re neutral. Moms with kids, dog owners come up in a normal mood. You chat and someone’s even trying to give you a treat. And that day a woman approached: “You, do you have permission to draw here?” – “Well, no”. – “I’m calling the police, I pay taxes for municipal amenities, and you here vandalize walls”. – “Ok, go ahead”.
I finished the painting and headed my way. Then I saw a policeman. I thought we’ll easily agree on things. The situation was the following: the bridge is located at the borderline of the city districts. The police inspector came from Partyzanski district, but the graffiti was on the side of Lieninski. It ended up in a big bunch of cops from both districts and I was taken to the police office. It took a lot of time to figure out who owns the bridge: housing and utility sector or water and sanitation authority. They drew up a report and told me: wait – maybe, you’ll have to get rid of the picture or, maybe, they’ll pay you a bonus.
When the notification of the fine came, I was in Saint-Petersburg. I came back and what did I see: 540 BYN (€ 200). The period for appeal has passed and no one notified me. The maximum fine was, by the way, 675 BYN (€250), and I was given just 540 BYN.
The letter with a fine was a surprise to me. I even didn’t know to pay or not to pay, I just posted it on Instagram. People who like my art shared it and I began to receive proposals to chip in for a fine. Somebody said: let’s make it via MolaMola [Belarusian crowdfunding platform – MnD]. Friends started the campaign, I threw the info into social networks, checked in half an hour later – and more than half of the sum has been already raised.
Everyone united: those, who follow my art for a long time and lots of new people. As a result of this negative situation, I felt great support. 37 folks chipped in. Some donated 100 BYN (€ 37), some 20 (€ 7.5), some – 50 (€ 18.6). I’m grateful to all of them. And to those, who not simply joined the campaign, but bought my paintings at the right moment. It’s important when you are trying to do something in art and get support. By the way, despite the story with fines, the painting is still there.
I don’t draw just for myself, I draw for the city as well. It’s frustrating sometimes when your works are painted over. Paintings are just like people: one lives a long life, another one gets “cleaned” the next day. Now I take it easy. When I want to paint – I go and paint.
“In Minsk you have your own place in the action, you’re creating it. I wouldn’t like to move to the place, where everything has been arranged by others”
– I don’t make a portfolio and exhibitions for exhibitions. What’s really important is either you have demand or not.
I enjoy arranging exhibitions in different weird places, in the subway, for example. A couple of years ago me and Bassota guys [Bassota is a community that organizes parties in Minsk – MnD] launched the project “#15paintings”: my works made a subway journey from Uručča to Malinaŭka and back. The feedback was positive. One of my works was even sold there. The exhibition lasted for about an hour.
I’m a free artist. I paint for half a day, and then if I want – I spend the other half walking. No one hurries me and I get pleasure from what I do. People often tell me: “Come on, relocate, try moving to Saint Petersburg, to Europe, they gonna like it there”. But I want to live here and try to earn my living. I manage it for now, though from time to time things aren’t stable. Now I have some sum and then I’m broke again, after that, I made some new works, people came and bought, and so I got money.
I began to sell my works a few years ago, though before that I’d been painting for some 10 years. First I used to give my works as gifts; it was hard for me to price them. The folks interested in my art were guys just like me – spending all their money on housing and food. And then an acquaintance of mine, who worked at the shop by Y gallery, suggested that I should write them. In some time I got an answer: yes, come and bring your paintings. They ran a Christmas fair, my works were sold and I was surprised: wow, they can cost money.
I brought some more and at first was selling them via the gallery. It perked me up and I started selling them on my own at low prices. Also I swapped paintings for food, some pocket-money, paint and materials. Anyone could afford a piece of cardboard with my work.
Sure, it’s normal to raise the prices now, but it’s a delicate point. Today they buy, the next day may not buy and you’ll have to lower the price, and those who had bought one yesterday will be unhappy to learn that today it’s cheaper.
Interview by Liza Masliončanka, translated by Bazhena Gurlenia
Photos by 34mag