REFERENCES: Semyon Faibisovich on his painting Tsoy’s Alive!
The subject caught my eye in the Arbat* in 2006. At the time I had no plans to start painting again. I was getting used to my mobile-phone camera, which (unlike the film cameras I’d used previously) allowed me to take photos in low-level light. I’ve always been interested in evening stories. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the subject, just pleasantly amused – so I took a photo of it.
It was only later that I realized I’d taken a photo of the Tsoy Wall – which is famous all over Russia, and named after the country’s leading rock star of the 1980s: a bard of freedom who died tragically young.** Although this increased the image’s value in my eyes, I still had no idea what to do with it. When I decided to start painting again, and began to rework images using Photoshop to form series with specific themes, the Tsoy Wall didn’t fit in and I put it to one side.
I thought about it again in 2012, during the peaceful civilian protests against the outrageous behaviour of the authorities and their ruthless crack-down aiming to stifle freedom across the board. I felt the time had come to turn my tiny image into a big picture. The cult wall, with its brutal anti-Putin attack by Tsoy fans (PUTIN IS A FAGGOT), now became a symbol of people’s freedom and fearlessness in the face of arbitrary rule. Tsoy’s Alive! Freedom is alive and kicking!
Then, while I was working on the painting, the State Duma passed a tough anti-Gay law. The subject of my painting became a hot topic in the press – the artist had no say in the matter! – and was viewed as a sort of ‘black humoured’ take on events. When I was working on the painting, however, it was more important for me to recapture the mood that had originally prompted me to ‘seize this material’ – the shadowy, flickering, multi-layered forms and meanings characteristic of evening light and awareness.
* an historic district of central Moscow
** Viktor Tsoy (1962-90), leader of the rock group Kino