Yuliya Muslimova, 34, born in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan (this city is called differently in Kazakh – Almaty, the last vowel stressed). In 1999, she enrolled at an academy of arts to become a theater and cinema art director and stage designer. She cooperated with Kazakh film in the Nomad project. When the project ended, she started painting on stuccowork, imitating natural stone and wood, making interior paintings, participating in the decoration of the residence of Kazakhstan’s president, working with a private company making columns. Ten years ago, she completed her training as an aerography artist in Moscow. She has been managing her art workshop for the last five years.

Yuliya is married to a Tatar and Tatars often take her for one of their own despite the fact Yuliya’s ancestors include Russians, Caucasians and Lithuanians. Yuliya thinks it is the Lithuanian genes that may help balance her temper and prevent her from “screwing up”. However, there is always a risk of “screwing up” because an artist is a creative person first and foremost. They live by feelings and perceive the world around them differently from other people.

Talented people are many and finding them is an easy job in the Internet age. Thanks to the website www.autotattoo.kz site, a link I was sent by a friend, I got acquainted with Yuliya Mulsimova from Kazakhstan. A picture, another one, someone’s portrait, an abstraction, surrealistic paintings – all of this would be more appropriate in a gallery but for one slight problem: these are pictures on cars! Veritable paintings on wheels.

Me and Yuliya conversed via Skype, the vibe being most creative. The camera was conveying a bright picture – the open face of a charming young woman with a shiny smile, and a lot of paintings in different styles, from realism to abstractions and landscapes resembling works by French impressionists, in the background, behind Yuliya’s back.

A car with an attitude

Judging by your site and what I see, you do aerography in different styles and your pictures don’t resemble each other either. Do you have no preferences when it comes to art movements, do you like everything?

All of this for me is a way of self-expression, this can be done differently. Yet aerography is the love of my life, and when the opportunity to do what you like best is denied to you, the soul suffers. Unfortunately, aerography was officially banned in Kazakhstan five years ago under the pretense of the fact that the pictures inconvenience drivers on the roads, distracting them from the traffic. Before that, traffic policemen started stopping painted cars, started denying registrations, without even explaining the reasons.

May be there’s something in this ban? A driver gets carried away, distracted while looking at a picture – and here you are, an accident.

Well, it may be so. But I believe that banners, the brightly flashing advertisements on billboards along roads is far more dangerous. The hotties wearing shirt skirts and going along the sidewalk pose a danger, too. So, drivers just have to be more attentive. A car may be an objet d’art, it may be admired, it may be viewed and one may drive it. After the picture is applied, 50 percent of its surface is its main color, 50 percent being the picture. One could specify in the certificate that the color is combined, and better still – consider aerography as a type of tuning rather than state that it is a change of color. However, the legislators decided it was unacceptable. There is a ban on aerography in several countries, for instance, in Belarus. It is permitted in Russia and the US. Moreover, this market has big prospects – one can apply not only pictures but also advertising on the car, promoting one’s projects.

Aerography is quite costly. Many people try to save money nowadays.

Thus, my customer is a well-off person, ready to pay for an opportunity to stand out radically and qualitatively. But it’s not just about money. It’s important for me that the customer is content, important to see this joy in one’s face when the person gets the car of his or her dreams, jumping and crying with excitement like a child. Paintings also bring joy, of course, but the scale here is on a somewhat different level. The level of ambition is different.

It is important for me that people understand what art is, that they enrich themselves culturally. Today, it’s too complicated to think about art, people became deeply concerned with their future, stopped paying attention to spiritual stuff. They are looking for the meaning of life, but it’s all simple: you have to start with bringing joy to others. A benevolent attitude opens various potentials in a person. That’s why it’s so important for me to see a smile, that’s why I try hard to surprise customers. When I manage it, I understand that I don’t work in vain, that this occupation doesn’t just bring money but also helps me make someone happy.

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Do you copy the pictures that already exist or do you make up images on your own?

The customer often says: “I don’t know what I want – something space-themed or animal-themed.” I offer the sketches and collages I make in Photoshop. It is proprietary work, I do something of my own, something individual rather than just copying. When I do aerography, I feel like I’m merging with the car, it’s a living organism for me rather than a piece of metal. The idea of the animate is presented in a narrow sense in our culture – even animals are inanimate in certain nations, and in the Russian language, the animate includes all living being, while, for instance, plants aren’t. When you approach the car, it’s a living thing for you, you apply a picture that exactly suits it, that constitutes a whole with it, being a continuation of it, on it. I even talk to the car: “Well, let’s work a bit?” If the work fails, the choice of the picture may be incorrect, not reflecting the character of the car.

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If the picture doesn’t suit, what to do? Repaint it?

I pay attention to signs, and if I see from the start that the picture doesn’t go down well, I change the concept while I actually work, take other colors intuitively. The main thing is the owner’s consent. Aerography allows trying a wide array of effects.

Moreover, it is a very painstaking work that requires particular accuracy. How much time does it take?

Everything depends on the fact what part of the car the customer wants to paint. Artists have different speeds; for me, working with the hood takes 3-5 days. If the car is painted whole, it takes three weeks. After all, it’s more than just painting. You have to remove super fluous parts and cover those that can’t be removed with paper to hide them from the paint because it is very acrid. Then, you have to wipe out the varnish and prepare the surface. This is the job of an auto lacquerer. Then is the time when I start, diluting certain colors, starting with the background, then displaying the main details, covering them with color, giving a shade. Then comes the elaboration – the volume, painting small details, the texture. When the picture is ready, the lacquerer covers it with varnish, removes the protective elements, paper and tape, puts parts into place. Then comes the polishing.

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You said a car is a living thing, which means it has a character. Is it different from car to car or a generalization can be made for each brand – for instance, Fords are this way, and Mercedes are that way?

This doesn’t depend on the brand of the car. Each car is individual. And it has nothing to do with its technological peculiarities – speed or design. I don’t know where it comes from. It may be of importance where the car in question rides, in what territory, in what country. For instance, people in Kazakhstan like eating delicious stuff, buying expensive things and showing them off, like simple pleasures and entertainment. And it makes an impact – the car should be bright, eye-catching. There is an energy field over each country, it dictates a person’s character, interests, the attitude to the world around him or her. Furthermore, the car as one’s favorite toy reflects a person’s inner world.

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There is a portrait of Marilyn Monroe on your site, where your aerography works are exhibited. Why it is this image that you chose?

We wanted to put a car as an objet d’art next to one of the malls (and it stood there for a time). When I was just a beginner, I had to establish myself somehow, show what I’m capable of. We took an old Volga no longer drivable, your tuning specialists made something resembling an old foreign car out of it. And what can be associated with it? America of the 50s. I made an aerography: black-and-white Chicago and New York on the left and on the right, and Monroe’s portrait on the hoods. This is character and beauty. If she had lived to an old age, I think she wouldn’t have been this famous. Monroe is a symbol of beauty one should be capable of catching. An image of an eternally young woman.

When the name matters

If not aerography, not painting, then what? What occupation would you like?

I’m interested in many things. There are things I want to try out. For instance, I also like the technique of props. It is a very interesting work. I worked as a props woman in Kazakh film, on the set of Nomad from 2002 till 2003. All the books in this film are made with my hands. I had to invent technologies along the way. For instance, people bring you a piece of raw leather two by three meters, and you have to cover wooden bars with it so that they look like old books. I had a bath where I soaked the leather and pull it over the bars; when it dried, it would fit the bars closely. But you also have to make up the décor, the straps and stuff. I used wax, laid patterns in gold thread. I also had a machine with which I imposed the books – a frame with threads to which each broadside of paper had to be tied. I would get full-blown old books, only without any text.

However, it’s not just books that I had my hand in. There was a lot of work for props people, there were different props shops – weapons, household items, clothes, furniture… A whole city was built for the filming, we would paint the tiles with which the entrance gate is decorated and make adornments for the yurts every day. At least 30 people of us worked to create the old things, supervised by our Italian colleagues, who taught us a lot.

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An endurance race

Now you have an artistic workshop of your own. I guess not all artists will dare to make a business out of their occupations. Many either stop creating or fail at business.

We (my husband and I) originally thought of a family business that would allow using my skills. We got interested in the fresco technology – an image printed on a paper base is stuck on a wall, which results in a fresco-like effect. However, if we had started doing it, it would only be as dealers of a Moscow-based company, it is pure sales and not exactly what we wanted. The same company had paper-based paintings strained on a stretcher. These are easy to make, but such pictures also tear quickly. We started thinking about the technology, how to make pictures so that they look like oil paintings but aren’t so costly at the same time (“oil” is costly and takes a long time to dry). We invented a technology of our own that facilitates the artist’s work: we apply mastic on the canvas, a solid base is formed, the paint doesn’t soak in and dries more quickly. An intermediate option is printing on canvas, a sketch for an artist. Printing itself cannot be named full-fledged painting, it’s an imitation, and with our technology, we get painting, but in a different form, a different shape. At the same time, you get a unique product, each work is individual. The technology is of use to designers if you have to quickly decorate a large hotel, restaurant or cafe. We give the artist an opportunity to create more paintings with no enormous energy and time input, as it is this input that makes the works very expensive, they aren’t for a common customer who wants to have an objet d’art at home. If a common painting takes at least a week, with our technology, it takes three days. We use this technology in our workshop and the pictures are in no way inferior to oil painting in terms of quality. We are currently planning to file a patent for our invention.

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What do you get commissioned most often?

There are many portrait commissions. A real portrait boom. There were days when I would even spend my nights at work because I was over whelmed. I didn’t want to upset people because many make commissions as anniversary gifts. I try to use various techniques in each specific case. Before taking a commission, I learn as much as I can about the person, what is his or her hobby, what character does he or she have in order to reflect the soul. You can, for instance, take a common photo and make a surrealistic portrait. You’ll get an objet d’art rather than just a portrait in the classical sense.

Can one do one’s business without thinking of survival?

No. At the moment I’m working to survive. I spend days and nights in the workshop. I complete current commissions, prepare for large-scale projects, plan to train youngsters in aerography, wanting to show them what a tremendous, interesting path for self-expression it is. My husband is extremely helpful in all matters and his parents help as well. We have two daughters, 6 and 3 years old, they are very creative and despite the fact they are still little, I think they could keep my ball rolling.

In order to sell your paintings, you have to make your name. There is a joke: “If you want to perform whatever occurs to you, you have to become Grebenshchikov first.”[Boris Grebenshchikov is a well-known Russian poet, musician, singer and composer, founder of Aquarium, one of the oldest rock bands]. Sometimes people with names do whatever sells well, the art level being low. I don’t judge, it’s everyone’s right to earn money with commissions. Creation must not be stopped and converted to money. If I could arrange the work in the workshop, I would get down to working on my creative project. For instance, relax pictures not complicated in themes and putting in the right mood to free one’s consciousness, feeling-oriented. I would like to make a series of such paintings, put all my powers and soul into them.

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The classical legacy

What is the main distinction of modern painting from classical painting?

Modern painting is bright, garish, sometimes lacking in the elaboration inherent to classical painting, such as Dutch painting, for instance, when an object is so real that you want to touch it. There is more abstraction now, the method of execution being combined. All of this stands for a fast pace of life.

What is it that inspires you? Whose paintings you could look at endlessly?

First and foremost, Vrubel. I like all his works, his Demon is one of my favorite paintings – despite the fact the painter had a sad fate, and the paintings were affected by his mental condition. The person has a subtle worldview and this affects his works. I like Van Gogh’s manner of execution – his circles, cosmogony. When I made a copy of his Sunflowers, I understood how fast he painted, mixing multiple colors on the canvas, creating a blend. This results in freshness of painting and lightness. I could look endlessly at these vibrant colors and riches of coloration. I studied the details of his biography – he painted in such a pastose and cyclic style when he had a mental disorder, and when he was stabilized, he painted in a more conventional manner, which makes you feel sorry for the artist. Whatever happened to him, he created for eternity. As for Degas, I like the lightness and airiness of his materials, he is amazing at painting ballet dancers. I also like Monet’s and Manet’s emotional components, the luxury of their color palettes. Each of them delights main his own way. I like pre-revolutionary art, I’m a fan of it – I like Petrov-Vodkin, Aivazovsky. They all paint not just to entertain people, it’s their inner world. How they pore dove reach painting is admirable.

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You gave examples from the classics. However, mustn’t there be those whose paintings you like among modern artists?

There is the artist Vladimir Volegov, he paints children and family portraits in a delightfully sincere manner. I also like the sunny works (mostly still-lives) of Mariya Pavlova. These paintings inspire me, give me a good mood.

Can one learn to understand art? For instance, experts at an exhibitions talk about the conceptuality of an exhibit of rusty nails and wire with sophisticated faces. How to figure out whether it is a creation of genius or no?

If it is done for the audience’s fun, it has no value. How to feel it? You have to synchronize yourself with the object, try to understand whether this touches your subconscious. You must live everything. If there is a vibe coming from a work, if something catches, then it has not been done in vain. I never criticize: I don’t like it, but someone does. A thing should please, bear information. Yet… After all, there are shocking things in art, but they also should trigger emotions. Paintings with no spirituality and vibe are deprived of a personalized approach and cease to be art objects. Many follow fashion and it breaks the concepts of beauty and art. The audience is spoilt, waits for impressions, and one can try standing out. For instance, I cannot call Malevich’s Black Square art.

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Did he seize the right moment?

Yes, maybe it was something special at that moment, it intrigued people.

On stereotypes

What’s your attitude to the widespread idea that men are better cooks, hairdressers and artists?

I don’t agree with it all. As far as cooks and hairdressers are concerned, there may be a grain of truth – where it’s not about the emotional state (and you cannot but agree that women are more emotional), men do it better. There were times when women occupied a certain position in society – their rights were limited. A woman could not aspire to a higher status, equal to that of men. Have you watched Big Eyes? A female artist could not fulfill herself because it was the general understanding that she had to be a homemaker and submit to her husband financially and emotionally. But she made extremely unusual paintings and she managed to gain recognition – but only because she sold her works in her husband’s name. Women’s liberation is a relatively young phenomenon, the age-old habits of “a woman owes this and that” are hard to erase and the male population of the planet has a condescending attitude to the fight for equal rights: “They’ll play a little and come back to the hearth.” And it’s new for a woman to be not just a wife, mother or daughter but also an artist, a creative person. These times are yet ahead.

There is a strong stereotype about women at the wheel as well.

Dividing things and occupations into masculine and feminine ones is a misconception. If a woman is more emotional than a man, she has to learn how to control herself. There are no bad women drivers, there are bad drivers in general. There are extremely daring women, they manoeuver and cut off people on the road. You draw level with the car exactly in order to look who’s at the wheel, and there’s a woman! This destroys all the myths. I have a very warm relationship with my car, but my driving style is masculine. When a person is flexible, he or she is given an opportunity to grow. Men and women shouldn’t be compared. The alternative point of view should be respected. I don’t agree with derision of the way women think, allegedly being more naïve and light-minded. I don’t agree with stereotypes of men and women in general. Every person regardless of gender is individual.

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You can’t do aerography, so you’re going to develop your studio? In what direction?

My dream is to gather talented people, artists, sculptors, woodcarvers, specialists working with metal, fabrics and crockery around me. So that a person comes to us and chooses whatever interests him or her, so that everyone can fulfill his or her needs in our studio.

There should also be charity. Every month I do some kind of charity project – bring some of the paintings to orphanages and give some away to my acquaintances. Once, while being on my maternity leave, I painted the walls in a kindergarten for free. I did a bright picture, 3 by 6 meters, on the wall. That was how I decided to thank the universe for what I have. You don’t have to look for happiness intangible things. You need to do what you get right, what you like. What makes me happy is my work, whether it is a commercial or creative project.

Elena Nelinova