say hi to_ Masha Reva
It is sometimes difficult to see an art movement forming whilst in the midst of it. Did the Renaissance painters know they were apart of the Renaissance? What about the impressionists? Okay the self proclaimed band of Dada-ists could define their movement in the present time but what about now? What movement is happening now?
If you have been following the young European contemporary art scene the past years you will notice a movement brewing which is still yet to be defined. Spontaneous multidisciplinary artists who live by their own rules (as artists generally have throughout history), creating visual and aesthetic universes from fashion to playful imagery and paintings. All done with a childlike improvisation where final concept defines the medium.
One woman at the forefront of this yet-to-be-defined movement, is Kiev based Masha Reva. From painting, mixed media collaborations, body painting, jewellery, art direction - her skills and vision have no limits. Her work, freedom and spirit have gone on to inspire and act as muse to a plethora of artists and designers. Gentle and kind yet a powerful force with determination and vision; I was so inspired and honoured to sit down and talk to her about her work.
We chatted about choosing to give up star opportunities for huge companies in London and New York to work from her motherland, Ukraine, to the importance of thorough research and archiving to inform the creative process as well as her family’s unconventional artistic upbringing which inspired her spontaneous way of working.
| Kristen | Could you please introduce yourself and what you do?
| Masha | My name is Masha Reva, I am artist/fashion designer based in Kiev, Ukraine. What I do is something in between mediums - it could be a drawing, a textile print or a fashion collection, a jewellery or art direction for a photo shoot.
| Kristen | I was curious how you would answer as your work is so diverse... one of the things I love so much about what you do.
| Kristen | With that now being asked, one thing I love about your approach to that your work is that you don’t really define yourself and that you are quite a renaissance woman. Perhaps you could tell us your philosophy behind your way of working.
| Masha | First of all I'm coming from family of artists. My dad is a sculptor and my mom used to study Fashion Design. I guess both personalities of my parents were arguing within myself, of course in a good way.
There was a time when I was trying to identify myself. I used to think that maybe I'm not as strong of an artist as my father, therefore I shouldn't call myself an artist. However, I came to the conclusion that to be different is something that makes me myself. I can do a lot of things and this skill never makes me bored.
| Kristen | Yes, I can imagine at the beginning you feel a bit intimidated to call oneself an artist… not knowing when that moment comes when you can say it. I like that you broke through the mold of having to define yourself as one type of artist, and that you express yourself in so many different mediums.
| Kristen | With both of your parents being artists, how did that influence you and what did you think you learned from their perspective or way of working?
| Masha | My grandma raised me first 5 years of my life while both of my parents were studying in St Peteresburg Art Academy. I was seeng them only during the holidays and I remember that my mom brought her sketches; I was used to copy them, it was a lot of fun. My dad turned our summer house into a small sculpture workshop, we had to walk, very gently and slowly on our veranda because clay was melting from heat and any careless move could destroy them. I was observing, I did not think they were trying to teach me. It was just this atmosphere of joy and calmness coming from their obsession with art.
| Kristen | Wow the way you describe it sounds very poetic and beautiful. So growing up in this atmosphere kind of subconsciously influenced the way you work now? Was it more learning a sensitivity and sensibility rather than learning a technique or craft ?
| Masha | I think so, also my dad was against of bringing me to an art school when I was a child - he thought that the system will kill my personality. I guess he was right… Anyways I came to the decision myself to study when I turned seventeen. Before that it was more about getting inspired from what my Dad was doing. It was an interesting interaction. I drew because I was looking up to him, while he could take a series of my child drawings and interpret them in his own way in his drawings.
After my moving to Kiev (from Odessa where I was born) the time of studying the actual crafts and techniques started.
| Kristen | So in a way you had a sort of creativity shared between you ... inspiring each others work in a way.
| Kristen | You then went on to study at Central Saint Martins, graduating with a degree in Womenswear Design. Do you think it was necessary to get a degree to do what you do now?
| Masha | First I've spent 5 years in Kiev studying fashion design and then a couple of years doing internships. After that I was lucky to get accepted to the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins.
When I first went to London I was seventeen. I was not sure which pathway to choose and I got absolutely overwhelmed by the city. It became a dream to study at CSM; which came true many years later. The choice of becoming a fashion designer was more random than well thought out - it looked like fun. I came a long way before realizing that fashion is just a part of creative possibilities that I could embrace.
| Kristen | Do you think that your studies in fashion design influenced you in one way or another ?
| Masha | Being at Central Saint Martins was quite a sensitive, tough and one of the most difficult experiences of my life. It definitely changed me as a person and changed my approach to how to work. I learned how to react to critics, how to actually work and how to find strength to believe in yourself when nothing actually works and the work you're doing is a disaster
I would say it wasn't time of joy I am used to normally having. It was a time of challenge that brought me to the realization that I have something I'm ready to fight for.
This approach is definitely influencing the way I work in different mediums.
| Kristen | How do you feel like it has influenced the way you work in different mediums? You are known for working in so many ways - fashion, body painting, art direction.
| Masha | First of all I know that I have to be well prepared to any project. I have to research and make a plan. Normally I build a small team for each project; I have to make everything work, connect right people. The biggest joy is being surrounded by people who are sharing the joy that we are all getting from the process. I love team work, I love to discuss what we all are doing. Of course to a certain limit, there are always things that I am sure about, like the line I draw, something that doesn't need any too much feedback or brainstorming. This balance between working with my friends, inspiring people and having this strong belief in what youre doing is thrilling.
| Kristen | Yeah it is amazing to find the right creatives to collaborate with. It is thrilling to bounce ideas back and forth and thrive off of each others creativity.
| Kristen | You have moved around quite a bit living in London, Antwerp, New York and then settling back in your home city of Kiev in the Ukraine. Can you tell us a bit about your decision to go back home and how it inspires you differently to those other cities?
| Masha | I am in love with Kiev, even though Odessa will always be a favorite - the place where my soul is.
After graduating from CSM I took a difficult decision to turn down a job offer in quite a well known fashion brand (that I love) and simply take some time off, to analyze what I actually want to do in my life.
Life is ironic sometimes, after so many years studying fashion including the best fashion school in the world I realized that I'm not sure I'm happy. Kiev is the city where I feel inspired, where my friends are, where there is a presence of a chaos that brings me a sense of life.
| Kristen | When I was young I had some pressure from my family to be a doctor or a lawyer.. one of these types of situations. I remember my grandfather telling me that I would make a terrible lawyer as I hated to study, and a terrible doctor as I was afraid of blood and I wouldn't be successful. He told me to follow what made me happy and even if it was an unlikely path, I would succeed because of the conditions.
Do you feel a little bit like that but connecting it to your state of mind when you are at home rather than somewhere, where you would be expected to succeed more easily like in London or New York for example ?
| Masha | The secret of success is always love to what you do, even if it's the most weird combination of things in the world. But I do not like to think about success… the process of work is more intriguing to me.
Anyways, yes, there is certainly something intimate about being in your homeland. Being in your homeland gives you strength, even though I need to escape time to time to find more things that I love and hate, to become more full of emotion. I also think London or New York are a bit too perfect to me. Sometimes I need the sense of absence of rules to create my own rules.
Creative Philosophy and Collaboration
| Kristen | As we have been discussing, you work across so many different mediums and formats and have become one of ’THE artists’ to watch between the art and fashion world these past few years. How do you decide which medium you use to explore your creativity for each project? Or does the project define the medium?
| Masha | I think it's more that the project defines the medium. I have this range of skills and I choose which one will lift and fit the project the best.
Sometimes I am being asked to go one direction or another in terms of mediums. For example when we were working with Simon Jaquemus it was very inspiring, he suggested a direction to me that I then explored. The shoot was curated from his side but we had a all the freedom we wanted, a good balance. I like when people are on the same wave length.
| Kristen | Speaking of being on the same wave length that was actually my next question!
I love your body painting series, which we will get to a bit later, and the series you did with one of my favourite designers here in France, Jacquemus, for his book ‘Marseille Je t’aime’. How did that collaboration come about? Can you tell us a little bit about the creative process between you and Simon?
| Masha | Our interaction started on Instagram, he found out about my work ( I did this photo shoot where I first explored body painting with my friend photographer Armen Parsadanov), then we bumped into each other in Paris. I gave him my photozine as a present and he invited me to work on his book.
The process was really easy, I had a number of wishes from him including exploring references of Marseille. We both grew up by the sea so it was really easy and interesting to come up with the concept of the shoot. I decided to go to Odessa; I invited Armen to shoot again and a bunch of friends to our summer house, while we were working others were cooking, having fun, it was a perfect creative mix of people and things. I loved it.
| Kristen | Can you tell me a little bit about your creative process? From concept to creation, how long does that usually take and how do you go about doing that?
| Masha | I always do research, thanks to my CSM times I learned to do it well. But this means that I literally always research. I surf on Instagram and constantly save interesting images and I take photos on my iPhone often. I keep in mind certain ideas, sometimes they evolve into something different if I don't use them for a long time.
When I have a new project I sit down and analyze which idea from my list fits. I search for a specific things, save images, divide them into groups by themes and then sketch. I'm 100% a visual person, so I need to have a plan but in a shape of sketches. It’s like a render of ideas, then my task is to turn my sketches into reality.
| Kristen | Really interesting to hear how you organise that, between the structured way you had learned and the free creativity you seem you have. Still trying to figure out how to balance that myself..
| Masha | It sounds balanced but for a part of that I am super lazy haha
But when you start to research, its like a game, you realize that you've been collecting a certain type of images/ideas unconsciously, your brain is playing a game, it's interesting.
| Kristen | That is a really interesting way of putting it. I am going to have a look at what I have saved and try to find the patterns ...
| Kristen | Collaborations have become a big part of the way the creative and fashion world has evolved in the past ten years. How has that influenced your career path, so to speak.
| Masha | I love the idea that first other people are involved, so the responsibility is not only mine. For instance, if I were to speak about my collaboration with Syndicate or Ellipsee ( Syndicate is a fashion brand I collaborate for the forth time and Ellipsee is a jewelry brand by my friend Sabina, I designed a jewellery collection for her recently), second we are bringing the work of one another to another level.
There are things that I am simply too lazy to arrange or it's just not my profession. Because of that, people are coming together to create a product or a project that will become better because of the investment of every member.
Also we all learn from each other - the model of a perfect art school that came alive.
| Kristen | You had a lot of press around your graduation collection. Is that how you began to get international exposure? How did your next projects come about?
| Masha | To be honest about the time that I graduated, I didn't feel that the work I had done reflected me in a best way. I had a feeling that I still have to find this core true self. My relationships with exposure have gone on and off throughout my career thus far, so I am not sensitive to the fact of whether or not am I exposed well or not. I have a believe that good/interesting work should touch ones feelings and it will find its audience in any way.
However I love to talk about work, it's like a lesson where you explain first of all yourself what and why you do.
| Kristen | Yes I can see that your graduation collection feels very different from your creative voice or creative output recently.
| Kristen | How did you start to find projects or brands to work with? Or did they find you?
| Masha | Well after graduation, as you have mentioned I had this graduation collection that was not really natural to me and I didn’t have a job. So I decided to go to basics - think about what I really love to do, and that was a process of drawing.
I started to draw, post my work on Instagram and little by little brands and collaborators started approach me. I love that I can communicate with the help of images. When my English wasn't very good I used to draw to explain myself to classmates, now it has become a concept of what and why I do what I do.
| Kristen | I think Instagram is a great tool to share what you do without being too loud. People can find you and the right opportunities can come.
| Kristen | A lot of creatives are worried they won’t be able to support themselves. Did it take awhile to figure out how to live from your craft?
| Masha | Yes it's a good question. First of course my kind parents helped me, and there was a point when I thought that it must be impossible to build a business out of so many chaotic skills but it worked to my surprise. I feel free and happy; of course I dream big and have to improve myself. The idea of collaborations work very well and I also have a number of people interested in my drawings, which is great.
| Kristen | Before we talked a little bit about creative collaboration and how that has been a big part of the creative world the past years. One thing I have noticed, is that at first it is great for creativity, fostering new relationships and exposure but at some point a lot of big brands would like to ‘collaborate’ for free and use your creativity and pull in the creative community to benefit them. How do you transition from collaborating out of passion to being able to support yourself from that?
| Masha | Yes, my father is my greatest mentor, he always say :' dream the craziest dreams, do the maximum so you won’t have any regrets'
I don't collaborate for free, only in cases where I love the idea and if it comes from my friends. In other cases it's business from the beginning.
| Kristen | I read that you had quite a few promising opportunities present themselves to you when you lived in London but you decided not to take these in order to follow what you wanted to do - move back to Kiev and work independently. Do you feel like where you live impacts your business or the clients you have?
| Masha | True, there is a certain impact of course. Sometimes people would like to meet me tomorrow and it's not that easy. Of course I travel or arrange meetings and projects from Kiev. I'm losing time one would say, but because of this lifestyle here in Kiev I feel balanced and can produce work.
| Kristen | One of my favourite series of your work, as I mentioned earlier, is your body painting series. How did you start experimenting with that? Also one thing I love is how spontaneously you work with your models and friends on this series… painting the vibe or first impression you have of them. Can you maybe decode some of these to describe the personalities or qualities you saw which inspired the painting?
| Masha | The story behind this project is quite personal but from the other side, the first time I actually drew on a body happened during one of my house parties. I drew a portrait of my friend and next request was to draw on my naked friend which I did easily. We took pictures, it was fun and when I saw the developed film I thought to myself that I could actually turn this into a project.
It may look that the process is spontaneous but it is actually planned. Normally I have to know the person better. I look at their social media accounts to get the idea what this person likes, what is the style; then I plan what drawing I'll make.
| Kristen | Thats so interesting. I was looking at the series last night after reading somewhere how you interpreted their impression in your painting on them and I was trying to imagine the people, based on your paintings.
| Masha | For example sometimes I associate a character with a color or a drawing style. It's translating your emotions into graphic elements.
I've recently got back from my masseuse and while she was doing the massage I thought about how I can interpret her moves into colors or shapes. It's an obvious observation. Basically all that brings me joy can be turned into drawings.
| Kristen | I love the way you link these emotions and impressions into visual pieces.
| Kristen | Do you have a favourite project that you’ve done and if so why?
| Masha | Well, it's hard to choose. There are a few, but the most memorable is probably the one I did with Armen. A mutual friend introduced us to each other and as a result we did a series of portraits with kids from Kiev. It was quite emotional because I was going through a tough time. I found a new way of working and a good friend. We became close friends afterwards and I think we still continue to inspire each other.
| Kristen | You work together often right? I think I have seen that you guys did quite a few projects together.
| Kristen | What project that you’ve done do you feel like showcases the most aspects of what you can do creatively?
| Masha | Each project to me is about people. People who are involved or people who have inspired it.
I don’t think I have done something that shows the maximum yet. I always find omissions, I believe that we always can do better.
| Kristen | Do you have a project in mind that you think could show that maximum ?
| Masha | I have so many things that I still want to try and then I make a book.
A book should be a place where everything will stand next to each other in a harmony and tell a story. I hope that it will be inspiring one.
| Kristen | I don't think you have to worry if it will be inspiring or not, I think you are already inspiring so many people and also influencing to a certain extent contemporary art movements.
| Kristen | So what is next for you ? Do you have a new project you will have coming out sometime soon ?
| Masha | Thanks ! Yes, I work on my exhibition of drawings that will hopefully take a place in March. A new collection that should be ready quite soon and I have few projects connected with art direction… And I keep this idea of book in mind !
| Kristen | Well I am really looking forward to seeing what is next from you. I also love the jewellery line which you did recently. I really love to see how your visual language is translated through all of these different mediums!
| Masha | Thank you!
Best coffee in Kiev?
Best coffee is at Kashtan (Reytarskaya 11)
Best place to get a drink in Kiev?
Kosatka is my all time favorite (Honchara 2)
Hotel you would stay in if you weren’t from Kiev?
This hotel is under construction right now , but I believe its going to be a good one - Bursa Hotel
Best unknown shop?
Up and coming talent?
My friend and photographer Dima Tolkachev
Best place to take clients in Kiev?
My home/studio probably.
Resources to help you with your career?
Well, I guess Instagram ?