The Unlinkable, Expanding Space for Thought: conversation with Kalmyk artist Syugir Buluktaev8 min read

 In Culture, Interview, Russia
One of the most internationally known Kalmyk artists is Syugir Buluktaev, who is currently based in Moscow. From solo shows all over Europe to upcoming exhibitions in Moscow, Buluktaev is quickly becoming a household name especially when it comes to the contemporary art scene in Russia. His playful style and hose iconography have become instantly recognizable. Buluktaev participated in the first contemporary Kalmyk exhibition, Mu, in Elista in October of 2021. He sits down with us to talk about his art practice.

You have a fashion design background from the Technical University in Liberec. You now produce your own line of shirts, in your signature bold sharpie line style. Viewers are confronted with the low-brow, the creepy, and the weird in all your work. What influences your current style?

Currently, my style is influenced by everything – morning dew on a blade of grass in distant South America, a neighbor’s dog barking to greet its owner, good music, and even the act of giving this interview – it also without a doubt influences me and will certainly affect my art in the future. 

Wildest dreams. Wood burning, metal leaf, glitter, acrylic, acrylic varnish on plywood.

I wouldn’t call what I’m doing “my own line”, but yes, I am planning to produce t-shirts with my own prints. I don’t want to call it a clothing line because as someone with experience in fashion design I know that it would make someone like Alexander Mcqueen laugh a little.

Your first solo exhibition The Planet of the Little Prince in 2017 opened so many doors for you, not only as an artist but as something of a national hero. In a small republic, your art is making many waves. Tell us about that exhilarating journey from “boy with the doodles”, to an internationally known artist.

I feel like my journey started long before I was even born or conceived, as many of my ancestors had a strongly marked creative personality. From what I remember I was always drawing something, sculpting, and making embroideries. Pretty early on, I became aware of my creative personality, and by the age of 20, I realized that I would become an artist.

Many creative people are distinguished by an extraordinary life experience, and I, too, have always taken unusual paths in my life, which were sometimes full of dark colors, and other times – of blinding vibrance. I can only confidently say one thing – miracles do happen!

My exhibition The Planet of the Little Prince was inspired by my life experience from the ages of 16 to 22, which I remember as vibrant and colorful, pouring with creativity. This period was marked by innocence and a first youthful touch of our multifaceted world. Moving to Europe, first love, new places, meeting new exciting people, and much more, which I can not describe in full effect,  – it all has resulted in The Planet of the Little Prince exhibition, which has provoked such a big reaction and support in my homeland. I can attribute all my success to the positive reception of this exhibition.

After my first personal exhibition, I moved from Prague to Elista – the capital of our Republic, where I moved into my old apartment where I lived as a child. For one and a half years I just lived, painted, and eagerly absorbed my native culture, observed nature, filling myself with something warm and close to my heart. Now I feel this warmth inside of me and feel an inalienable influence that my native land has on my art and me.

Let’s hit the road. Mixed media (acrylic, metal leaf, pvc, glitter, acrylic varnish) on canvas.

Since then, you’ve had your first solo show in Moscow, What Awaits Ahead?! featuring more than twenty-five of your original works at Zdes’na Taganke Gallery, curated by Andrey Bartenev. To Moscovites, Europeans, and now the world, you are the face of your republic, whether you have wanted this title or not!

I am so grateful to all the incredible people that I meet in life, and contemporary artist Andrey Bartenev is one of them! Unfortunately, What Awaits Ahead?! was postponed to winter of 2022 due to the severe epidemic in Moscow, so currently, I continue working on this series. 

I am extremely aware of the fact that I am now the face of my home Republic, that’s why I try to look at everything in life through that prism. And it doesn’t matter if I wanted that title or not, what’s more, meaningful to me is to be someone bringing light. I think it’s important to understand that everyone on this earth is the face of our planet.

Voyage. Mixed media (acrylic, glitter, acrylic lacquer) on canvas.

Horses are a recurring motif in your graffiti works, but this is not your typical steppe oil painting one would find at the national museum. Tell me about how you’ve reworked this classic Kalmyk motif with a youthful spirit.

That’s a great question, but first I’d like to say that an artist is a reflection of his/her time period, so I wouldn’t put walls between classic academic art and contemporary art, because the difference between these styles is mainly affected by technological progress. Artists of different styles and generations bring pieces of light to this world, which is what matters most. I am certain that artists from hundreds of years ago will reincarnate in our time and make contemporary art.

I start my work without sketches and concepts, just drawing a line on the canvas with whatever instrument I chose, and then I’m immersed into this incomparable journey with an undecided ending. In one of such journeys during the time when I hadn’t been home for two years while living in Prague, on one of the canvases has emerged my first horse, which, to my own surprise, had four front legs. The second horse turned out to have four hind legs.

After meeting these new characters I have developed a deep connection with them. I guess it was meant to happen. In order to get to know the nature of my horses and stallions better I recommend reading Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, where in the 4th part of the book, the main character finds himself in a country of Houyhnhnms – a race of highly virtuous horses who are unfamiliar with evil, lies, deception, envy, and scandal because it just goes against their nature. Friendship and kindness is their main virtue. After meeting those creatures Gulliver says the following about humanity: “That our institutions of government and law were plainly owing to our gross defects in reason, and by consequence in virtue; because reason alone is sufficient to govern a rational creature”.

The first dance in the yellow-orange space. Acrylic, acrylic lacquer on canvas.

Your artwork embodies the perfect marriage of organic earth elements with an early 1990’s acid trip. The neon green and graffiti scrawl on your website and throughout your work are iconically Syugir. A conversation with flip phones and the Html webpages of the early internet take place throughout your work. Yet, your message is childlike and joyous, reminiscent of Keith Haring. You aim to achieve “harmony and prosperity” in your work. How do viewers react to your work?

I strive to achieve harmony and prosperity with unity not only on my canvases but in the real world. In my paintings I link the unlinkable, expanding the space for thought. On the canvas, a tulip can fall in love with a horse and they give birth to a flaming horse covered in tulips. A cell phone can meet a cockroach, and look, they are already stargazing together.

To understand how a viewer perceives my work, look for example at Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which unites both adults and children, each one of them understanding this book differently, and each one discovering fascinating unique worlds within it.

Now you know, that unity, harmony, and prosperity are the fundamental trifecta in my art, coursing through each and every one of my works. Understanding is in the mind of a spectator. Often what brings all spectators together is the positive energy coming from my paintings.

My work especially evokes joy in children, which I value most of all. Adult spectators with a fine mind, seeing the scale and an excellent technique of what seems to be an originally naive children’s drawing, become excited, ask many questions, and want to become owners of my work.

Your work pushes the boundaries of every defined medium. With a fashion design background, you transcend textiles and fabric with your Basquiat-esque patches and t-shirts. You dance in front of your wall-length paintings. You use human faces as a canvas. You seem to always be up to something new. What is next in your journey?

Lead by my creative core I use a human body as a live canvas, the same goes for graffiti, tattooing, embroidery, sewing, and dancing – it all comes naturally to me, and I gave up guessing what’s next, although I think it may be something related to sculpture.

You can follow Syugir Buluktaev’s work on Instagram and view Lossi 36’s virtual exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary.

Featured image: Syugir Buluktaev / Lossi 36
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