How to find inspiration in the past: telling stories through art

Have you ever faced a creative block and wondered how to find inspiration for art? As an artist, I’ve found one place full of countless stories to tell. Today, I would like to take you there.

When I was a kid I loved watching TV.

Sunday noons had the best cartoons, while the best movies always aired late, at around 10 PM, and we had to beg our parents to allow us to stay up and watch Terminator or Rambo.

Needless to say, parents were never afraid that Tom & Jerry’s dynamite pranks or Die Hard’s “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” would make us cursing blood-lusting lunatics.

That magic box was everything a young boy could ask for: connect a VHS player and you had a movie theater, plug in a video game console and you had your own amusement arcade.

On weekends we rented VHS tapes or borrowed them from friends. Sometimes we had to make a hard decision and over-record one of the cassettes from the home library with a new blockbuster. And the most annoying, completely unacceptable thing in the world was — to get your tape back and find out it hasn’t been rewound (no wonder video rental shops charged fees for that).

A VHS tape, by the way, was an excellent present. I remember one birthday every one of my friends gave me a tape. A pile of fresh, sealed cassettes felt and – yes! – smelled exciting, although it was also the time I decided to never go mainstream with my gift ideas.

A special place in my heart is held by those late evenings, when after a busy day at work/school the whole family gathered before the box and enjoyed a film together.Some movies and shows were aired every single year, especially during winter holidays. Generations of families have developed special bonds with those actors and characters whom they warmly invited into their homes every season.

One of them was a famous Soviet comedian and circus clown Yuri Nikulin (Russian: Юрий Никулин). He starred in timeless classic movies, such as Operation Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures (Russian:Операция “Ы” и другие приключения Шурика, 1965) and The Diamond Arm (Russian: Бриллиантовая рука, 1969), which will always remind me of Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

In my first year at university, when visiting my family home, I got a little bit nostalgic. Instead of fighting that feeling, I decided to pour it onto the canvas (a few canvases, to be exact).


how to find inspiration for art in the past - soviet pop art
Portrait of Yuri Nikulin  |  50 x 60 cm, oil and spray paint on canvas
Юрий Никулин – портрет |  50 x 60 см, масло и аэрозоль на холсте  


At that time I was deeply influenced by pop art and street art. I was intrigued by an idea of deconstructing colors, mixing media, styles and techniques. That was mostly the reason to marry oil paint (read: fine, classic, timeless) with paint spray (read: modern, industrial, mass-produced).

The comedian Yuri Nikulin has made people laugh for decades, so it was important to me to find a photo of him with a big happy smile on his face. The circus-inspired background was to represent his career as a clown, and the fact that Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulvard was named after Nukulin.


storytelling through paintings - spray paint and oil paint pop art


I remember working on that artwork like it was yesterday: cutting out stencils in the living room of my childhood home, driving to my father’s garage on the outskirts of the hometown, waiting till the heater carried the late autumn cold away, spray painting and then going back to finish the piece in the kitchen with a cup of warming tea.

From today’s perspective it is indeed a memory of trying to capture a memory. A dream about a dream.

On the day the paint finally dried (and remember it takes up to 4 weeks for oil paint to dry), my father and I took the Nikulin portrait to a local frame shop. To add a bit of uniqueness and flavor to the tribute painting, I decided to paint the frame blue and make the paint “melt” and “drip off” the painting.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, there was a catch.

You see, the black color on the painting is spray paint, while those shades of grey are oil. I needed spray paint to create the drips. The problem was — I only had two cans: black and white. So I had to spray the paint out into caps and mix them up little by little until the colors matched perfectly. Spray paint dries fast, so it took a few tries and a pinch of frustration till I finally nailed it.


creative framing - pop art - dripping paint on frame


Strangely enough, I don’t watch TV anymore. Matter of fact, I don’t even have one at home.

Times are changing. But I am far from those playing the good ol’ “kids these days won’t get it” record on repeat. Of course they won’t – they will have their own precious memories they will dearly nurture in their hearts for the rest of their days.

The truth is there’s never been any romance in TV controlled by the state and corporations, showing you what they want you to see, telling you what they want you to know. But please, the kids of today, don’t blame us too hard for being so naive and easily deceived, while chomping the cookies you are fed to make your gadgets “smart” and tell you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear.

In the end it’s neither VHS tapes nor big bulky boxes we miss, but our families, friends and those moments we spent together – the moments gently washed by time, out of any troubles, frustration and negativity.

So remember that whatever keeps you up at night and crushes you down to the ground during the day, will soon become nothing but a memory.

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