Nikita Kravtsov
by Inga Esterkin
Short profile

Nikita Kravtsov is an Ukrainian artist, an author of illustrations to the Criminal Code of Ukraine. He illustrated criminal news in leading online media, participated in the Art Kyiv Contemporary and the ARSENALE Biennial of Contemporary Art. Nikita is the author of animated clips, mini-films, created collaborations with music scenes and fashion world brands. Lives and works in Paris with his wife Camille Sagnes Kravtsova.


Inga Esterkina — culturologist, curator, manager of cultural initiatives, journalist, and art critic. Central projects: BIRUCHIY contemporary art project (Primorsk), Come in gallery (Kharkiv), Hudgraf art gallery (Kyiv), ARTISHOCK-ArtFestival (Arabat Arrow), Art by Avel (Tel Aviv, Israel).

Walking along the Rue de Rivoli, looking around, moving towards the Louvre, towards the Seine, we found ourselves near the noticeable, painted, and made in the new-age spirit, doors. “Just like we have in Tel Aviv,” I said to my friend, remembering the colorful entrances of Florentine. It turned out — we are in the municipal open art workshops. Having presented credentials in the form of vaccination certificates to the handsome concierge, we went up to the third floor, discovering the graffiti, and then we saw, in the open door of one of the workshops, Nikita Kravtsov. Of course, we were going to meet, but like this, by chance? In big and unfamiliar Paris? As if it were Biruchiy (International Symposium of Contemporary Biruchiy Art), and I go from the bar to the workshops.

However, Nikita Kravtsov, a Ukrainian artist in Paris, a Parisian artist in Ukraine, does not move steadily forward according to the laws of rationality. In one of the works of his joint project with Camille Sagnes, you can recognize numerous characters which make a reference to the characters of Candide by Voltaire or The Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais, as well as theatrical piezans that scatter in horror, and being shot by the death rays of aggressive flying robots in the spirit of comics of the ‘50s ... Many cultural quotes add up to an original painting that is full of irony and sarcasm. The “textile collage” technique speaks of undermined foundations, that is, history and crafts. This is very much in the spirit of Nikita Kravtsov, who easily changes styles and techniques, but not the essence.

Let's start by recalling Biryuchiy and these specific conversations, which we called "Biruchiy conversations"

Oh, what a wonderful background and a wonderful way of communication, when everyone speaks, after just a drop of alcohol, without any boundaries or blocks, and without choosing words…

Without a beginning or an end…

Because this conversation began in the morning — we all lived on Biruchiy [peninsula]. That is, this conversation could have begun a week ago, when we all arrived. These were not the usual interviews, questions and answers. These were always live dialogues…

Did the territoriality of the place matter to all of us? Did it matter that it was Ukraine — the place where we lived and where we met?

You know, now I feel the need to politicize some things, and your question presupposes an answer. But on Biruchiy, on the Sea of ​​Azov, in the territory of Ukraine, I have always felt that this was, first of all, the territory of art. It was something deeply natural — like a cocoon where we all ended up, and everyone tried to grow their own beautiful butterfly, to grow it to fly. All these artists
from different countries and different cities turned into some kind of single organism that worked together. Everything changed after 2014, after the Russian aggression ...

As if they were taking away not only Ukrainian territories, but also our air...

Yes. And now for me, it is something like a fairytale — doubtful memories. As if the entire Biruchiy project was encapsulated and left in memories — in the place where Biruchiy was remained, not a project, but a peninsula. And the project of the genius, Gena Kozub, Biruchiy Contemporary Art Project still lives and opens in new places and countries. I am for change. For example, Camille and I have already visited Biruchiy in Poland and Montenegro. In Klementovichi or Montenegro, it was the same project and the same Biruchiy art-residence, but a little different. Many constraints have emerged. Maybe we just changed and became different. Don't know..

That is, you think, whatever the changes, they do not touch the body of art?

The body of art cannot be touched by anything. Except for the death of the artist.

An excellent title, by the way…

Journalists and art critics like to ask about this: what influenced you? But the answer is very simple, even boring in its banality — only school can influence you because you are still in the process of developing. It's as if I would ask you, “When did your handwriting develop? Why do you write the letter "A" or "B" in this way?” You intuitively choose a tunnel for yourself and try to move along this tunnel. This is only about the influence on you, but the influence does not change your essence. Who you are — it developed in the first five years of your life, and therefore you just need to relax and live. Create from the need to create. Life will make your art. Only life is capable of creating works that are woven into the canvas of art history. The rest is decorations.

Do you know, Nikita, what I remember? I remember that we met in the Dnipro, in the gallery of Pavel Gudimov. You presented your project "Race" there. You were still a student at NAOMA (National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture). There were easel paintings, large-scale, and expressive works; racing, competition, passion, blood, nature, and, in addition, a really luxurious manner. Quite a little time passed, and after your graduation project "Every Creature is Sad after Coitus" you told me that your stage of painting was over.

By the way, this stage of "Race" was associated with my first trip to Paris where you and I are now sitting in my workshop at Rue Rivoli 59. I spent a lot of time at the hippodrome.

What year was that?

You know, I never remember the dates. I always turn over the work, and I see the date on the back.

Not the worst way to keep track of time …

So, probably it was 2009, and I was 20-something …

And even then there was France in your life.

Yes, even then France appeared in my life. These were such short trips to Europe, escaping reality for a while, thanks to Anne Durufle from the Institute Alliance Française and my great friend Eric Tosatti. Now Eric works in Georgia, and back then he was the cultural attaché in Ukraine. By the way, it was you who was my godmother in relation to the Biruchiy Contemporary Art Project. You liked Race, we signed off, and you introduced me to Gennady Kozub. I remember very well that drunken evening when I returned home from the bar and turned on my computer and saw your message.

I felt then your crazy energy and potential, and also the high level of painting, despite the obvious youth of the artist.

You know, for the time being, it was interesting for me to develop my painting technique to its limit. Of course, there is no limit to perfection, but there are subjective inner sensations of the peak, which everyone determines for themself. And when it worked out, I moved on to the next stage. Time has changed; access to information has opened. I'm from a family of architects, but in Yalta, where I came from, there was a very meager art library. I didn't even know what to observe and what information to look for ... That is, I had the Louvre album and a small monograph by Fernand Léger. These are the books I learned from in the pre-Internet era. The situation in NAOMA was also like this — as the former chairman Andrei Chebykin said, “They don't teach here, you study here.” Therefore, I would say that my path is the road of self-determination. They did not touch me too much, and gave me the opportunity to experiment. But ... Now I will tell you, and you will understand. At the Academy, they said, “This is Michelangelo, this is Raphael, this is Caravaggio. Have you looked? You will never reach that level, but okay, you can try to get closer.” But wait — isn't it just canvas, oil, and so on?! This was not done by God, but by man! This means that I can do at least the same, or maybe better!

It means that it was not easy for you at the Academy…

Of course, I was told that I was a complete asshole, and I could not do better. There was not enough practice. But my perception was changed by Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. It was so surreal, theatrical, and kitschy. It was kitsch, the same as Monet did in his time. After all, time always rearranges accents.

What do you mean?

Look, poster master Andy Warhol came out on top, and the technically sophisticated "perfect art" of his predecessors became kitsch. Like a shroud that Penelope wove during the day and unraveled at night...

Endless and pointless handicrafts?

Yes! Because these huge canvases, requiring a huge investment of time, labor and technical skills, have lost their meaning. Even what is depicted on them has lost all meaning.

Are they remaining for art history?

This is a craft, and before the whole school was based on craft. Here in France, things are different now.

When did you first see Léger's work?

It happened here at the Center Pompidou, on my first visit to France. But in Pompidou, Léger's works are some kind of unfamiliar, or something ... For example, Picasso: I am very skeptical of Picasso — I respect him as a person who turned the whole world upside down. But Guernica was such a cold shower. I changed my idea of Picasso. It is generally accepted to consider Andy Warhol a corrupt showman ...

I disagree.

I say usually. For me, the "venal" were Salvador Dali and Picasso. Andy Warhol is a man who changed the very idea of the visual arts. Although, of course, this would not have happened without Picasso.

Since we're talking about "venality", let's talk about the cost of the job. What does this mean to you? What is the difference between this concept for a collector, for a museum, and for an artist himself? The work has no price until someone adds up the cost?

The agent must work with the concept of price — the one who adds up the price and keeps the price level. We will not touch on the issue of pricing the artists, it is long, boring and everyone knows these points. It is very easy for an artist to bring down the price without an intermediary when it comes to a universal equivalent such as money. It's easy to buy a picture cheap when an artist needs money. I consider that what I am doing now is outside of commerce. I am counting on museum exhibitions, not on the gallery mass market. And that's why I have a huge number of ways to make money here in France. Therefore, it is easy for me to keep my price. That is, I live in art, also because I work a lot with news agencies and illustrate crime news for Ukrainian online publications. Life and death are holding hands tightly.

I look at this wonderful work of yours, yours and Camille’s, "Attack of Space Robots" and I think about this: an artist has arrived from a large, beautiful Eastern European country — we love it, although now we live outside this country a — and the artist sees all this perfectly organized layering of history and modernity, a huge bouquet of centuries-old myths and ideas, as well as such a multi-figured composition, and we are witnessing the disintegration of all this complex order, canon, even the shooting of this canon by aliens …

You know, I'll start with the fact that you and I are Ukrainians, but now outside of Ukraine. And many Ukrainians who live in their homeland sometimes reprimand us — where do we get the right to criticize, give advice, or express our idiotic opinion? I want to say, ”We have never left Ukraine mentally and morally, and we represent Ukraine beyond its borders.” Therefore…

Do you remember the ingenious text of Mykola Matsenko "Decree on Land", that it would be good to prohibit Ukrainians from planting potatoes and distract them from agriculture, and that this would immediately have a great effect on the general intellectual state of the country?

Nikolay Matsenko is a brilliant artist, first of all…

And it is impossible in any way to accuse him of dislike for his homeland…

The problem is that a lot of people are incapable of understanding irony at all. It's trouble and sadness. But it depends on the level of development ... It is difficult to think and analyze. It is easier to just live without worries and do what they say to do.

It just so happened that Paris is a Mecca for artists, and we can endlessly list the names of the greats who came here, to Paris, from Smilovichi, or Vitebsk, or Barcelona, and ​​then everywhere. Probably, Paris has such an ability ... Was it difficult for you to start here?

I started from scratch. For example, there was a London period in my life during this time: I lived in the squat house of a sculptor who worked with the band Pink Floyd, one might say, spent the night under the belly of a pink pig, and yes, I worked in an animation studio that collaborated with the Walt Disney. I was washing dishes there to pay rent. From 8 am to 4 pm you do the dishes, and then you don't want to do anything, so you drink. But there I observed the process of creating animation, observed and studied (the result was then a clip for Idan Haviv — 1 million views, 3,000 drawings). It was in Shoreditch, once the bandit area became hipster. It’s great, all this punk culture that is steeped in London. In London, Pavel Kerestey, who left Ukraine a long time ago, helped me a lot. Kerestey is a brilliant artist, my friend, and an important person for me. I don't care about the craft, his art is absolutely non-commercial …

You can't put a label on it…

Yes! He is the genius of the absurd! His art is for intellectuals and refined people.

All the time you and I return to the topic of "Racing"…

Yeah. I remember how I then wrote, “I look at you, you smile at me. I smile back, light a cigarette. The sound of a siren. The race has begun." The races never end. You are constantly in a borderline state! This is what makes a person an artist. If you get out of this state, you are just an expensive decorator. When Mark Rothko realized that he had become an expensive decorator for the Four Seasons, he hanged himself in his studio. He realized that his work is just a background for the feast of the rich. For visitors, a much greater artist is the one who prepares food for them. Sensual pleasures, not intellectual pleasures, you know? By and large, no one gives a shit about you. Many people know this, but not everyone realizes it. You need to accept this and move on. Then no one's opinion will turn you off your path. We turn to stone. All life on our planet has a tendency to turn to stone. In a million years, you and I, our fossilized remains, will be cut into blocks to build a new Paris. We are corals, we are all one solid formless body of the earth.

Ok, but your work is not in restaurants, but in museums. For example, this one, under which you and I are now sitting.

It's an interesting story. Pierre Soulages, the oldest painter in France, is still alive. Pierre Soulages is a famous abstractionist and a master of black color. A museum named after him was opened during his lifetime. All his life Soulages lived in Rodez. And then he moved to Sete, "little Marseille", a very pleasant place. You can compare it with our Balaklava. Sete attracts many people with the atmosphere of the coast, the air, and the sea.

How did Camille and I get an invitation to this museum? The fact is that Rodez still consists of a large number of all kinds of craft workshops, where they keep traditions and skills as they once were. So Soulages was born on the street of artisans, tanners, blacksmiths, and upholsterers. And Soulages constantly uses ancient devices and tools in his works. Using only black paint on a white background, Soulages reached volume.

Camille and I do not live in Rodez, nor in Sete, but we are known there as artists. And once we were invited by the director of the Pierre Soulages Museum, Benoit Decron, a very peculiar and interesting person. He has a reputation as a versatile and straightforward figure, a living person with very interesting thinking…

What a rarity for a museum worker…

That's right, and so he met us once and expressed a desire to see our work. A lot of time passed, and we finally met, brought our work in a bag, dumped it on the table, and he told us, “Guys, I've never seen anything like that. Now these works will be in the museum.”

Nikita, I would say that this happened, like many things in your life, according to some laws, far from the laws of logic…

Absolutely! When I try to follow logic and be nice, the doors close. Understand? And some doors are constantly opening. This is the law of doors! I am an artist; I work; this is my craft. I am, first of all, a blacksmith, a potter, do you understand? My father was the chief architect of Yalta, and he left his post because he tried to preserve the architectural heritage, historical monuments, and the spirit of the city. You know, I remember that day when my father left. So my father always said that a good person is not a profession. The most important thing is my business. Being lightly raped by your profession, whether it is compulsory or voluntary, will not go in vain.

So your main work is your life?

How could it be otherwise?

Translated from Russian by Kateryna Kazimirova

Short profile

Nikita Kravtsov is an Ukrainian artist, an author of illustrations to the Criminal Code of Ukraine. He illustrated criminal news in leading online media, participated in the Art Kyiv Contemporary and the ARSENALE Biennial of Contemporary Art. Nikita is the author of animated clips, mini-films, created collaborations with music scenes and fashion world brands. Lives and works in Paris with his wife Camille Sagnes Kravtsova.


Inga Esterkina — culturologist, curator, manager of cultural initiatives, journalist, and art critic. Central projects: BIRUCHIY contemporary art project (Primorsk), Come in gallery (Kharkiv), Hudgraf art gallery (Kyiv), ARTISHOCK-ArtFestival (Arabat Arrow), Art by Avel (Tel Aviv, Israel).