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© P183

Street-art virtuoso P183 dies

by Kevin O’FlynnNatalia Nedzhvetskaya at 08/04/2013 17:46

P183 - an artist who made his marks on Moscow's roads, bridges, walls and tunnels with a fiery mix of anger, ingenuity and playfulness - has died at 29.

The artist, whose first name was Pasha, died April 1, said Regina Vartsan of Teatralnoye Delo, a theatrical production company where he was working on scenery for the musical "Todd." No explanation was given as to how he died.

His death has robbed Russia of an artist with huge potential.

"We don't have a figure equal to Pasha," Kirill Alexeyev of the Tretyakov Gallery told Moskosvky Komsomolets. "He was an artist of a European level, intuitively feeling the latest trends."

Police on metro doors at Krasniye Vorota in honor of the 1991, ‘93 uprisings

© P183

Police on metro doors at Krasniye Vorota in honor of the 1991, ‘93 uprisings

P183 hid his real identity, often wearing a black ski mask. He created a huge variety of works using the city spaces he knew so well, whether a powerful figure holding a flare in a piece called "Burning Bridges," a submarine in the waters of the Yauza river, or a space invader hovering above a busy highway, zapping the traffic beneath.

Much of his work was a protest against a fake mass culture, which he said was blighted by commercialization, a lack of freedom and cynicism.

"I would like for people to learn how to differentiate between the false show that they are being shown and the real one," he said. "I am for people changing themselves, so that they don't pass the poor, so they help each other, so they look for some kind of alternative in their lives, in their mindset, in the world around them."

Other works took an urban space and made it magical, as when he added a hand and a fork to some pipes to make a plate of spaghetti, or turned a lamppost in the snow into a pair of spectacles. One of his last works was turning a snow-covered Moscow landscape into a giant New Year's cake with a red bow.

Dozens of videos on his YouTube channel show the meticulous preparation that went into his different installations.

P183 told Interview magazine that he was drawn to graffiti after seeing the Kino wall on Old Arbat, a place of pilgrimage for fans of Viktor Tsoi that teenagers have scrawled on and painted for years. His first works were mainly in black and white, because he only had the money for two canisters of paint.

The international press dubbed P183 the ‘Russian Banksy’

© P183

The international press dubbed P183 the ‘Russian Banksy’

Just over a year ago, P183 went from being a street artist known only to those who followed the local scene to a worldwide phenomenon, after The Guardian newspaper dubbed him the "Russian Banksy" and ran a huge photo gallery.

The gallery was picked up by numerous publications, and P183 was in constant media demand.

He talked in one interview of how his phone ran out of batteries three times in one day after the article was published, because he was speaking to so many journalists.

However, he did not care for the comparison to Banksy, saying he thought it demeaned the 14 years he had spent on his own work. The fame was also in direct opposition to many of the things that his work championed, and he had to fight off attempts to compromise his ideas.

At one point, Nikas Safronov, the artist of glossy oil paintings who is a constant at openings and celeb events in Moscow, suggested that P183 get funding from the state, according to an interview with P183 on adme.ru. "Of course my only reaction was ‘go to hell.'"

The Banksy comparison may have irritated him, but he wryly used it himself, as when speaking to Interview magazine last year about the wave of protests.

"It's the chief art project of the year. It's not me who is the Russian Banksy, it's Putin who should be called that," he said.

Banksy posted a paint canister with a flame above it in honor of P183 on his website.

One of P183's favorite works was Alyonka, a recreation of the famous Soviet chocolate bar on a concrete slab.

The artist with his homage to Alyonka chocolate

© P183

The artist with his homage to Alyonka chocolate

Alyonka is a symbol of childhood, he said in an interview with this paper last year.

"This child on the chocolate bar is associated with the modern-day child. Every modern child, from their first birthday, is taught how to sell themselves," he said. "The point is, try to sell a concrete slab. It's the kind of chocolate you'll never be able to sell."

He had made a film a few years before about Alyonka, which prompted an investigation by the authorities; it was after this incident that he began wearing a mask. "In the first version, he jumps and smashes to the ground. In the second version, he lands on his feet right in front of the chocolate."

It was only on Saturday, the day after his funeral, that his friends and fellow graffiti artists spoke about P183 in a long post on the Russian graffiti web site codered.ru. His parents had asked them to remain silent until then.

"He lived as he felt and he felt really strongly," wrote Zhenya Zubchik. "[He] took everything to heart, that is what makes his art so genuine. He was an idealist."

"He genuinely was worried for the world, for people around him - that is all of Pasha, honest, kind, friendly, sometimes naive as a child but always wishing the best for others," wrote graffiti artist 8350.

Not long before he died, P183 finished the scenery for the musical "Todd" and wrote on his Facebook page. "If I die tomorrow, I can at least feel that I left something real behind."


Five P183 videos to watch

1. A van is painted to look like a police van, and then cut up into slices to be put in a toaster. Asked by a reporter why a police van and not an ambulance, P183 says he would feel sorry for the ambulance.


2. Riot police appear on the doors of Krasniye Vorota metro station


3. Automatic weapons are attached to a CCTV camera


4. A giant red brick floats down the Moscow River


5. A phone box on Novy Arbat turns into a wizard's altar


Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #13"
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