</Masha Somik: I Don’t Need to Follow The Traditional Career Path>

author: Natalia Borisova
photos: Lisa Merkulova
editing: Andrei Savenkov
ODRA’s Natalia Borisova has interviewed Masha Somik, a Moscow-based abstract artist well-known in the art community thanks to her 2022 personal exhibition at the GROUND Solyanka gallery, group exhibitions at the Tretyakov gallery and the reputable Triumph gallery. A graduate of the Camberwell College of Arts in London, Somik believes she does not need to follow traditional career paths for contemporary artists and says that her collaborations with Russia’s leading fashion brands happen “as if by magic.”

Entering Masha Somik's art studio

N: Would you define yourself as a confident established artist?

M: I’m in a constant battle between my head and my heart, because my heart defines me as an established artist, and I think how I price my work probably reflects that. I definitely do not consider myself a beginner or a young artist, because this year I'm 36, I am officially no longer a young artist.
And all the time there is a struggle, as if I don't have enough status exhibitions at some famous galleries on my resume. Not enough of my works are owned by famous collectors. But I am coming to the conclusion that this does not bring anything. Even the exhibition at the Triumph [one of the most influential galleries in Moscow — ed.] didn't really do much for me in terms of my self-actualization. I didn't feel like a cooler artist than I had felt before. Although there was a funny story with this exhibition. I wished for an exhibition at the Triumph and a month later my wish came true. I realized that my feelings are based on how much I like my works, and I like them a lot. And if I return to this struggle, it is always inside, and I went through this stage again recently, when I had an exhibition in my studio and here I was again lamenting that the famous curators, whom I invited, did not show up. But then I realized that whether they came or not doesn't change anything.

At some point I сame to the conclusion that I needed to go in a different direction. All of us artists seem to follow a predetermined path: you graduate, you get into the art community, and then you have an exhibition at one gallery, then at an upper-level gallery, then some collectors notice you and recommend you to their friends, and that's it. You're a superstar! But an artist’s path can be different.

When I had a consultation with an astrologer, he clearly told me that I'm trying to fit myself into a certain framework. So I gain no traction by following this predetermined path, it gives me nothing. We write the script ourselves. The steps that you take today affect what happens tomorrow. That's all there is to it. I want to get this message out to all the artists who suffer from being overlooked. Just follow your heart and your path will all unfold. My path is more through collaborations with various projects which may not really be about art. For example, I now have a collection with a brand called Sela which has a very wide audience and a while ago they did a video about me for their audience, to tell them who I am and what I do. Because maybe not everyone is ready to understand and accept what I do. It's just that I talk about things that, let's just say, people are still coming to.

N: Collaborations with artists and brands are a big part of your creative process. How do these collaborations usually come about?
M: Collaboration always happens in different ways, mostly the brands come to me on their own. Every month, during the new moon, I usually write a wish list and then most of these wishes come true, as if by magic. At the beginning of my journey as an artist, I took all kinds of commercial commissions. But now I am interested in doing things that are in tune with my style.

My first collaboration was with Agami Ceramics. Masha, one of its founders, came to me for a tattoo and during the process said she liked my work and suggested we do something together. And they gave me complete creative freedom. Now it pleases me when people come to me and tell me that they like what I create and tell me to create whatever I want, like abstract works or my characters. I have my characters that came into my art from tattoo sketches, they appear more often in my work, including the commercial commissions.
N: We're in your studio right now, which is a very magical, creative space. It is located in the very center of Moscow, in the area of Kitay-Gorod, and your neighbors are also artists. Can you please tell us more about your creative process and your studio?

M: I often do exhibitions here in my studio. Creating exhibitions comes directly from my method of creating art. When I have a state of fulfilment inside, meaning that I have certain feelings and sensations and I want to share them with the world, I immediately do it. Fortunately, I have a beautiful workshop and I can immediately implement my ideas in this space, without waiting for a gallery offer.
I'm not very interested in creating artwork and waiting for someone to see it, and deciding at which gallery or venue to showcase. I have realised that for me the process is inseparable. I create pieces and I show them right away. The moment when people come to me is also the moment of creation; it puts the finishing touch. If I make a piece of art and simply display it on my social media — for me this does not mean that it has been finished. It's important to me that real people would visit my art space and see it.
N: Your studio also hosts a lot of different art events, both exhibitions and performances. Which of your most recent projects are the most memorable?
M: One of the last was an exhibition about the sea. It was just about that state that I pulled out of my heart. One day while meditating, I have found myself in a space where there was just water, the sea, and a perpetual dawn, the one when the Sun has not risen yet, and the sky is pre-dawn. I kept getting back to that place in my mind and I learned to get to that place on purpose, and I realized that it's a space of power for me, where I get fulfilled, relaxed and reinvigorated and it's super important for me. And I go there from time to time and once I was there every day for a week and different things kept appearing there and I interacted with them.
It's a totally real place for me, but I can't take it and show it to you, it's inside me. And I kind of brought it down to the physical world, I was just making sketches when I was at the sea with my son in Turkey and I also brought all these shells and wood and integrated them into paintings. All the works at the exhibitions are about this mental space.
During the exhibition I have created 35 pieces of fabric, each of them embroidered with the word "sea" and I put it on each person's head, thus inviting them into my maritime space and a visitor could take the fabric with them.
N: Your artworks are very bright, light, and warm. Love and joy flow through each of them. Could we call your pieces therapeutic? Is it a part of a strategy or a straight reflection of you? Do you create them intentionally or does it flow through you?
M: Most likely it all comes together. I believe in destiny, and in order to realise certain things I put all of my experience, and not just this life's experience. I create my artworks, first of all, for myself, because I go through all this myself and creating art is kind of a support system. And also, of course, for the audience. Being an artist is a very responsible and important profession because you can really influence people, even if not directly, but subconsciously. And even if it is not going to be reflected tomorrow, but, for example hundreds of years later, I want to invest love and to share it.

When I was at the university I used to go to different exhibitions, and it seemed like there was a lot of very oppressive art. As I am a hypersensitive person, I cannot even watch movies with violence, I immediately feel physically sick. There's so much of it in the world, they remind us of it in the news every day. But I would like to remind people that there is another part of life, that just as there is darkness, there is always light. Yeah, our brain is wired in a way that it is easier to absorb negative rather than positive, perhaps because of the environment or upbringing. It's not about living in denial in rose-colored spectacles.
N: Recently you have opened a solo exhibition in the creative space on Pushkinskaya Street, what is that project about? And how do you usually prepare for solo exhibitions?
M: That is the exhibition “Greetings to the Sun“ in the Kaolin’ space. It's a creative space, not just a gallery, it also has creative studios, a ceramics workshop and it hosts various cultural events. When I was thinking about the next exhibition I realised that it would be about the Sun, but I was not sure how to name it, and then I visited my mother, who teaches yoga, and I saw her big poster with all yoga poses and the title "Greetings to the Sun" resonated with me. This exhibition is about that inner sun and light in every person, to which we can always turn to. For me it's about the kind of energy that the whole world is built on. Because, thanks to solar energy, we exist and all the processes in this world exist, so it's about life.
N: Wood, acrylic, fabric, plywood, found stones and artefacts — in your practice you work with a lot of different materials and tools, without trying to limit yourself within the paradigm of canvas and oil. How long did it take you to achieve your artistic freedom and what steps did you take along the way?

M: I was "strangled" with oil back in college and I still can't use it, but that's also because I do all my work very quickly as I'm a mom and I don't have a lot of time to work physically. Oil takes a very long time to dry, so I prefer acrylics and I like tempera very much. Recently I have been using different texture pastes which give more volume. My ex-husband told me about working with plywood and wood. He used to work at a carpentry workshop and once he has asked me to design a toy building set. It was made of plywood with such an abstract shape, and I thought it would be fun to make such abstract objects with plywood.

At some point I began to integrate fabric into my work, this stemmed from the fact that once I needed fabric, I went to a fabric store and stayed there like forever — I really like artistic, creative materials, I adore all these stores, I could sit there for hours. I have had experience with metal, for some objects I need them to be cold. I used natural objects for the first time in the exhibition about the sea, I liked them very much.

N: Last but not least: could you tell us about the magical aspects in your art, how do you integrate spiritual practices?
M: I was initiated into spiritual practices by my dad, when I was still in college he gave me the book "Conversations with God" by Neale Donald Walsch, it was the first book of that kind, then there were others. Spiritual life and spiritual practices have always been part of my life, in my childhood I may not have been particularly attentive to them, but after my divorce I began to turn to them consciously - quite often I take various courses on spiritual development and of course all this has a direct impact on my work.