Sasha Pivovarova on the rise of Beautalism

A woman in a black outfit sits in a studio with black ink drawings around the walls

Supermodel Sasha Pivovarova talks signing with Runway Gallery as an artist, the indelible link between fashion and art, and her part in a new movement called Beautalism

By Lee Sharrock    Above image courtesy of Sasha Pivovarova.    Wednesday 16 September, 2020    Short read

Russian supermodel Sasha Pivovarova is a known fashion force. She has graced every major fashion magazine, while also setting the record for starring in the most Prada ad campaigns (19 at the last count). What’s perhaps less known is that Pivovarova is also a talented contemporary artist – though this is set to change. Her expressionist self-portrait recently landed the cover of Russian Vogue’s lockdown issue – her distinctive features accented in a bold palette of yellow, pink and purple in an elongated, angular style reminiscent of Modigliani’s long-necked, 20th-century beauties. And it was announced by fashion-focused Runway Gallery that she has joined its stellar roster of artists, who all have a link to fashion and beauty, including the Connor Brothers, Alexander McQueen’s nephew Gary McQueen, Pandemonia and Pam Hogg. 

When we speak about this exciting new partnership, Pivovarova is isolating in the Hamptons where, despite the enforced solitary confinement, her practice is galvanised rather than hindered. As real-life fashion shoots were put on hold or moved to Zoom or FaceTime, Pivovarova turned to art. ‘I worked all the way through,’ she says proudly. 

A self-taught artist whose love of drawing and experimenting with colour palettes stretches back to childhood, Pivovarova reminisces about doodling throughout school. And even while she was making a name for herself as a successful international model, she was always using the travel time and downtime to sketch. She still refers to those earlier sketch books when making art now and they inform her expressionist aesthetic that can be seen in the body of work that Runway Gallery will exhibit.
A woman in a blue dress sits in a studio with black ink drawings around the walls
One thing Pivovarova is clear on, is that she has evolved from and rejects static art, working beyond the canvas. She often takes inspiration from unusual mediums, such as casting sheets, hotel stationery, red wine or lipstick, utilising the trappings of the supermodel lifestyle for her art and experimenting with different textures in her drawings and paintings. She explains what the starting point is for each piece and how she decides on what medium or scale to use: ‘I like to experiment with new media and often get inspired by material. When I shop in an art store and I find something interesting, such as new colours, I want to use it right away. I go back to my studio and experiment with it, and sometimes nice things come out of these experiments.’

I ask Pivovarova if this implies a lot of movement when she creates, and whether she takes inspiration from the abstract expressionists, or the performance artists of the 1960s who used the physical body as a medium. ‘When I create my big-scale installations, I often shoot the process on video, and in these videos I become like a drop of paint myself, moving and transforming the empty space, filling it up with shapes and colours. It’s also a transformation for me, as I let all my emotions out. It’s like some kind of shamanic dance that I feel I put on canvas. But the most important thing is to realise my ideas, my mood and emotions, rather than using my physical body as the medium.’

In her recent series ‘Les Filles’, Pivovarova experimented with scale and the female figure, creating striking images of feminine forms with large eyes and exaggerated proportions. When I point out that these images, like the celebrated Vogue cover, bear some resemblance to her own fine features and ask if she would describe her work as abstracted self-portraiture, she replies: ‘Yes, I can say it’s a self-portraiture, but the form does not really matter here. Those faces are like notes for me, and I am like a composer creating a symphony from those notes.’
A woman with a mask on in a black top in a lilac studio
What Pivovarova is keen to discuss is Beautalism, an emerging artistic movement identified by Runway Gallery’s founder SYRETT. The movement merges art with fashion, and embodies beauty and inclusivity. I asked Pivovarova if it was the gallery’s Beautalism theme that attracted her. ‘Runway Gallery is the bridge between fashion and art, and that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to achieve for many years. And like its theme Beautalism, I see beauty in many things and love to create beautiful works. I like the idea that you don’t need a written explanation of what you are looking at to understand it. I also think that art should not be a one-time thing, but rather something beautiful that you enjoy looking at and doesn’t get old with time.’

She goes on to explain how the concept of Beautalism relates to her own artistic practice: ‘I can search forever in order to find the right colour palettes or perfect media for my pieces. I take beauty very seriously.’
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