Alexander Ovchinnikov


The interview of Alexander Ovchinnikov by the chief editor of the Medved magazine Stanislav Yushkin.

– Sasha. you were exhibited in Malaya Gruzinskaya, when it was the centre of alternative art. The main exhibition hall of the country’s intelligentzia.  Can you tell about that?
– I noticed a long time ago that I have a strange connection with some districts of Moscow, its like circles in the water. To begin with, my first profession was a technician-mechanic, and back then, at the end of the seventies, in the first circle, I had a long  practical training at the factory Rassvet in Stolyarny lane. Sometimes, unofficial cultural events were held in the factory club, with half-underground performers like Gradsky. The conservatorium campus was near that place, and there we drank, talked and read typed copies of Yerofeev and Master and Margarita (it was not allowed to take them home, we could only read them there). A little further was the Mecca for artistic underground , the famous “Malaya Gruzinka”. We tried to visit all exhibitions, met artists, visited their homes and workshops. For example, at Vlad Zhdan’s house I first saw Sakharov’s portrait and the Polish “Zolidarnost” pin (I liked the logo very much, perhaps that is when I desided to work with graphics). By the way, that is where we tried the cocktail “Zolidarnost”: half-glass of tomato juice and the rest is vodka poured along a knife’s edge; its kind of Russian version of Bloody Mary, but with a certain implication… It was an honor to be exhibited in such a hall, even a bit dangerous, and it seemed unachievable.
In the second circle, already in 1986 after graduation from MAAS, me and my friend and good artist Andrew Khodakov learned that works were being accepted for the exhibition “Object-1” and during the next week we made a couple of very nice and chamber objects, and brought them before the exhibition commission (vystavcom). They were accepted! It turned out later that we chose the wrong size, but we were still proud and happy. It was our first exhibition! By the way, at the opening there were some persons in plain-clothes walking around with video cameras, extremely rare in those times. We proudly turned away. The “Perestroika” was only in project back then.

– What was it like for you in 1986-89 – exhibitions in the Manezh and Kuznetzky Most, the beginning of freedom. How did  you live, what plans did you have?
– Well, there was not much freedom yet. It was clear that I needed to make my living somehow and provide for the family, so I couldn’t work as a janitor or coal-heaver. My profession was designer artist, which means a specialist in organization of space (museum expositions, urban environment, exhibitions, fairs). I could only work in my specialization in an artistic combine back then, orders, fees and other benefits were all there. To get a job there, one needed coat-tails (which I did not have), or being a member of the Artists Union. And to enter the Union one needed exhibitions and recommendations, and to participate in exhibitions one needed  to pass vystavcom, where once again,  coat-tails and good acquaintances were necessary. An enclosed circle.
There were lots of ideas, but no money. Then I came up with a certain plan: we assemble a team and go to see the director of some museum and offer to draft a project of a museum exposition for free – it is a very labor intensive and expensive work. Naturally, the director joyfully agrees. In return we only ask for a place to work and materials. Then we exhibit our works and get official recognition, and the director gets financing for museum renewal.
That way, the projects of the museum of Komsomol in Krasnaya Presnia and the museum of the Animal Theatre in memoriam V.L.Durov were born. With our first project we got to the republican and then the national youth exhibition. In those times it was a huge success. The way to the combine and the Artists Union was open! I joined the youth section of the Artists Union, but I didn’t join the combine. But that is a different story.
By the way, in our Animal Theatre museum project we planned to use audio, video and kinetic effects, computer control over these effects and light, a complex system of cabling in the halls and other innovations. The Museum of Komsomol project was carried out, but our most favourite Durov theatre project was not. The era of free speech, perestroika and self-accounting began. We continued our exhibitions with painting and graphics in various places. For an artist, it is very important to have the public’s attention.

– In 1991 you had an exhibition in Denmark. Going abroad was a big deal back then, and taking your works abroad was a great achievement. You had other exhibitions in Denmark later. Could you tell about them?
– At the very end of the 80s Izmailovsky Park became an iconic place. Very decent paintings could sometimes be bought there. We went there every weekend, as if it was our work. Pictures were selling. Not all, of course, so little by little an “exhibition bank” stocked up at home. Taking part in exhibitions became easier, vystavcoms somehow faded away. A group of different, but very ambitious artists formed absolutely by itself. An idea was born to make a joint exhibition with Danish partners, first in Moscow, then in Copenhagen. The project was called “Parallel 56” (both cities are on the same parallel) and preparations began. We helped each other wherever we could: some of us arranged the hall, others answered the correspondence and translated it, created posters and catalogue, the Danes got state financing for the project…
And in May we opened in a luxurious hall on the second floor of the CHA, and in July in the very centre of Copenhagen in Heligands Huset. After the first exhibition our group was offered another one, then another one…
At one of the exhibitions at the end of 1991 I earned my first 2000$ and bought my computer – an x386 processor, 2 megabytes of memory, 80 megabytes hard drive. Kind of like a modern cell phone. But it was quite enough to start learning Illustrator and Photoshop. Applied graphic art put pure art into second place.

– You started working with advertisements in 1979 – what kind of advertisements were there during the Soviet regime?
– Well, those were not quite advertisements. After allocation I was to work in a postbox, but I hated the idea of tracing (my first profession is a technician-mechanic) and I applied for the job of an artist, which was luckily vacant. I was lucky, I was going to enter an Art College anyway, and this was the right job. Our mailbox was a construction design institute and I had to do loads of typography: booklets, posters, leaflets, banks, plackards, holiday and election banners, congratulatory addresses… All had to be done manually, with quill, brush, via a template. That is when I learned all techniques from aerography to gluing text out of font photobanks. Now it seems funny, with modern computers and their abilities.

– You worked in “Commersant” for five years, what experience did you get? In the early 90s it was the strongest school of advertising in the country.
– Got lucky again. The end of 1991. A friend asked me to help him make an advertisement and brought me into the advertising department of Dusia Habarova. There was free time between exhibitions anyway, so I decided to make some money. They already worked on Macs in “Commersant” at that time. I am proud that I started on Mac Classic with a nine inch monochrome screen.
We made one ad together, then another one, and then it just happened  - they offered me a job. The department became one of the first advertising agencies in Russia, called “Znak”. Things happened quickly those days: first a weekly edition, then the daily A2 newspaper “Domovoi”, “Autopilot”, a weekly magazine… And the ads in them were 90% made by us. We numbered 3000 A4 pages per month at the end of 1994. And in half of all cases we did everything from idea to its implementation, from slogan to films. Very often asap, in a day or two. It cannot be called an education, but it was a unique practical training, that’s for sure. By the way, graduates from MIPT, the faculty of physics of MSU, MSUPA, MIA, MAAS, Stroganov University, MICE, SARTU and many other respected institutions. We learned from each other. My first publishing projects started there.

– You were the person who created the artwork of the first men's magazine in the country the “Medved.  Can you tell us how it happened?
– Early in 1995 people from “Znak” with Dusia Habarova moved to another agency – “Ivan-Press”. The general project was the magazine “Muzhskie Igry”, which later got another name – “Medved”. The project was financed and supported by Vlad Listjev, Albina Nazimova, Igor Nikolaev (“the Mourning Mail”), Andrej Razbash and others. The first chief editor was Ivan Podshivalov. The pilot edition in a single copy was ready, we composed the first and were readying it for printing. And then, out of the blue, Vlad got shot. Everybody really loved him, we were very sorry. Then the cover of the first edition appeared with his portrait with his palm covering half of his face.
Later there were other editions: with the famous photo of general Lebed on the front cover (a photo by now-deceased Fedorov), and the one that failed to sell with Jegarkhanjan, and aesthetic with Kuriokhin, and others, and others…

– By the way, what other publishing projects did you do?
– here were many, more than 20. All very different, some of them short (2-3 editions), others long-running (like “Medved”, which had more than 80 editions). But the most favorite is the magazine “Drugoi”, which we made together with Igor Malcev and Nina Bogdanova. The first project on my memory, when we were told from the start – do whatever you want and don’t pay attention to anyone. It is being remembered even now, and I have a full collection at home.
And also the OPEN magazine, the only project where I can relax mentally and physically (figuratively speaking, of course).

– After the “Drugoi” magazine you started working on your own and started your own design-bureau.
– That’s because I’m lazy… I can’t make myself get up at 7 AM and one has to arrive at work in time. I am a classis “owl”. So I had to tune the work for myself… At the second attempt it seemed to work. From 1996 to 2000 the agency was called “Parovoz”, and it brought first awards in advertisement festivals, and since 2002 it is the studio Design To Business. A great team of professionals was created, many still from “Znak”, “Medved”, “Drugoi”. It is very interesting and comfortable working with them.

– What projects of Design To Business can you name the most interesting, what projects were the most difficult?
– There were lots of different projects. The most interesting were the most difficult: rebranding of the Trust bank, in which we participated together with the London Interbrand, “Uralsib” rebranding was entirely our project (by the way, we are still cooperating), brand-guide and rules list for decoration of the whole Russian network of Castorama shops, book projects - Proskudin-Gorsky in two volumes, gift edition of “Money Protection”, “Sodis” company catalogue. There were also joint projects with  McCann-Erickson Russia for Megaphone, Fruto-Niania and others. I like the project of “Pizza Fabrika” rebrending very much. We created a new format for them – “Bistro”. Some projects last for years, some are finished within several weeks. It’s a pity that the work of designer art in advertisements is very short and impersonal, but it is the only thing in my work that saddens me.

– You have grown up children – a son and a daughter. They have also chosen creative professions. Do you have your own child-rearing practices?
– To be honest, the work takes almost all of my time, and I am a bad mentor. But I have a recipe – find a wife like mine and you’ll be fine.