WINNER OF "GOLDEN BRUSH - 2004" PRIZE - The Moscow Contemporary Art Competition.
Born in Moscow in 1970. Lived for several years abroad after graduating from the Monumental Department of the Moscow Stroganov Art Institute. Her personal exhibitions were organized in Great Britain, the U.S.A., Hungary and Yugoslavia during this time. Now she is again in Moscow and trying her possibilities in pedagogics and of course continues to devote herself to creativity.
There are no stark and sharp forms in Shagina's artworks, the contours of emerging sometimes objects are scrappy and not developed totally. They resemble blurred pictures of half fogotten dreams and can be difficulty associated with any definite style. It is neither geometrical abstraction nor abstract impressionism, it is just images of the artist's inner space, both symbolic and emotional.
Paintings by Shagina hang in the prestigious State Russian Museum, State Literary Museum, corporate and private collections at home and abroad.
"In January 1980 a ten year old ballet student in the Moscow Hall of Young Pioneers was peering through the keyhole of the sculpture class when someone opened the door and caught her a fearsome blow to the forehead. The teacher, worried that on the next occasion she might be knocked senseless, told her "If you want to learn art, you had better do it on this side of the door". And thus began the art career of Olga Shagina; first at the Pioneer hall, then at Moscow's Children's Art school Number One and private studios. Every day after school she attended extra-curricular art classes at one or another institute and on some days more then one. This regime continued after school to the age of 16 and after work from the age of 16 to 18. All this was in preparation to enter the famous Stroganov Art Institute which generally required preparatory training at a special school from the age of 6. Four years had been lost and somehow had to be regained. She gained admittance (having first spent two years employed in the Institute library) to the faculty of Art Restoration. Training in the Institute comprised Theory of Restoration, Practical Restoration, Drawing, Painting, Composition, Art History, Chemistry, History of Ornament and Iconography. Two thirds of this study was spent on drawing and painting and, as Olga puts it with suitable ambiguity "I had such a wonderful teacher of painting that I gave up everything else".
Olga excelled at the Institute. Early training in Mathematics and Philosophy and an interest in archeology gave her a fresh approach to art, not altogether conventional and not altogether popular at the Faculty of Restoration. It soon became clear that Olga's interest in painting was not for the purposes of restoration and the faculty became worried that one of their flock was definitely a black sheep. "They were unhappy with the direction of my mind."
Already at 19 Olga had had a number of exhibitions, first with friends, and then alone. Painting became her life, she painted day and night, led an almost monastic life and exhibited when she got hungry. Living space, let alone studio space, was hard to find and she lived for a time on the rooftop of a student hostel. Eventually crafty dealers were finding buyers in Tokyo, Los Angeles and Bonn and Olga enjoyed a period of affluence unknown to friends and family in Moscow.
Olga Shagina does not talk much about her work, "It is like music" she explains, "or love, you can't explain it with words, you can only experience it."
Still, the art critic must try. So one tries to corner her with questions about who influenced her, what was in her mind at the time of painting, who did she most admire.
"In the beginning I, like all art students, tried to become proficient at making on canvas realistic representation of real objects; first a piece of fruit, and pot, and piece of material; then more difficult 'still lifes' with more difficult subjects like sculpture heads, real heads, figures dressed and nude and so on. On and on, repeating things endlessly until perfection was achieved. Technical skills was mastered in drawing, painting and composition. Landscapes were done and discarded, on and on, over and over. Psychological portraits (showing emotion and personality) were repeated again and again with different goals and nuances. At first you don't really know what you want, but after long years of finding various solutions to inevitable problems, you begin to choose your problems, like research scientists. Eventually some find, as did I, that the kind of verbal reality articulated by literature on the one hand, and realistic art on the other, puts limitations on their spirit, confines it and holds it down. This is so because it is against their particular nature; they are like modern dancers in ballet shoes."
Olga Shagina has been exhibiting pictures for many years and her current work bears little resemblance to what has gone before. From a very academic style in painting she was moved to the abstract. Only now figurative elements begin to re-emerge. I asked her how this metamorphosis transpired. "Each artist must find his own truth. What is 'true' for me can, for someone else, be quite the opposite. I needed some discipline that would free me of my own conventions. I had to rid myself of my own academic manner with its figurative imagery, to dispose of what was frivolous and unnecessary, to depart from even that which had thus far been most successful. One must pursue the Holy Grail in art and the Holy Grail is your own very special vision."
"Like a snake leaving its skin, all that I had hitherto known to myself and my art was shed and painfully left behind. One must wriggle away from that old skin because it sticks and resists rejection. Slowly, necessarily, one squirms free and becomes a new being. From then on one must be true to this new self and to the new principles, resisting what works, for what is true, pure and honest."
"My purpose was not to escape realism, indeed, I may well find my way back to it. It's like your first look down a microscope: suddenly there is a reality you didn't know was there. You are wholly amazed and with inevitable increases of magnification find that one reality yields to another; the known to the unknown; molecules to atoms; atoms to neutrons, and at whatever level a new reality is perceived and grows in complexity and detail until it fills a world of knowledge and thought. With each magnification, most of what one has known disappears, but what remains becomes more pure, clear and interesting."
"When you find something new", she says, " you develop it. It is in the beginning full of creative impulse, it is alive, it is strong. But in a short while, everything possible has been extracted and it is done. Great discipline is required to leave an idea that has proved fruitful and still successful. But to develop, to reach the next level, you must begin anew, reject what you already know and, in the end, there is a new reality and, probably, a new realism."
Art is like Chess, at a basic level anyone, or at least anyone who knows the moves, can understand what is going on. At a higher level, only the better players know. At the highest level, only a handful of people in the entire world can fully appreciate the minds at work. So it is with art: every first year student tries to master the basic technique of making faithful representation of simple concrete objects and then more difficult objects. And every observer knows what it is about and how it is achieved. But as you progress, only the connoisseur knows, and as you become more elite your 'audience' dwindles until only few know and then only you know and finally only God knows what you are up to. God knows what you are up to Olga Shagina, but I like it."
Ron Akira Akamoto