Conversation between TKV and Aleksandar Zograf, March 2022.
In this episode of Street Art Residencies podcast, our friend Aleksandar Zograf interviewed TKV, one of the most persistent, active and internationally recognized stencil street artist from Belgrade. Two artists from different generations and different fields, that is – comics/graphic storytelling and street art, but with same drive for authentic life choices, result: one interesting conversation. More to follow at:
sound edited by Darko Pavlovic/MediaNova, transcript by Dzaizku
AZ: Okay, so we are speaking with TKV, street artist from Belgrade. Can you tell us, you started with street art when you were sixteen – what was the initial thrill of living your art in the street?
TKV: When you’re sixteen, everything is a thrill. You are discovering the world around you and you discover what you actually like, what are your interests. And, what I discovered with street art and doing stencils in the street is that you’re free, you’re completely free, you’re exploring the city.. Also with street art and all kinds of graffiti or street art you have this adrenaline rush, of doing something completely new for you, being in public space, adapting, walking around, you have a general sense of freedom. And I always go back to that feeling, even now after, how many years since 2004 until today…I always go back to that feeling how I felt for the first time when I started, and everything was a discovery for me, and I completely didn’t think about other people, whether others are going to see it or recognize it, I was completely free to do whatever I want, I was in my own world of doing stuff that I really really like, and also my motives for the stencils were the things that I was discovering at that time. I love and cherish that period, I even like some of the stencils from that period and it’s like a core of me, I guess.
AZ: Can you tell us about how your work and your style and your attitude developed from start until now, what was your inner dynamism that brought you to where are you now? I know it’s complicated question..
TKV: It is complicated and it isn’t complicated in my case, as I was very lucky not to be burdened with questions is it accurate, is it good or not good, what it is that I do you know, I just did it…and I think that when you start that early figuring out what you like, everything goes kind of organically or intuitively in that sense…i mean I do a lot of stuff intuitively, this is how I work. And I think if you made a retrospective of my work you can see a young person growing up, you can see how my topics change, how I switch to my own stuff…in the beginning I was doing other painters, musicians, films, stuff like that, things that were influencing me, and later on you can see also parallel to that my technique getting better and better and better, and everything went completely naturally for me, I discovered everything slowly. Which today a lot of young people I talk to have this pressure that they have to be the best, you know, or whatever like, and there is no, you can be just playful and make mistakes because from mistakes you get something, from experimenting with what you do, but not thinking about final what it is going to be, is someone going to like it or not, it’s just you and what you do, and that’s the best part. And I had luxury of never doing anything else in my life, I finished the faculty of media and communication and that helped me in sense that I could explain myself and communicate to other people, but I never did anything else but art. I am on this path that you go and you just try to discover, of course when you learn the technique and you feel comfortable with what you do, then you have to forget everything that you did and go completely crazy, be the person you were when you were sixteen, completely free from expectation of what is going to be..
AZ: One of the things that are characteristic for your work are faces, how did you choose to concentrate on faces?
TKV: I think my work is very intimate, I basically explore my own feelings and feelings in general, I am interested in how something feels, to think about it like you’re some kind of therapist of feelings, and feelings create different atmospheres. With portraits it’s a face usually but you can still set some kind of mood to it, so it’s not just a face, it’s what is this person thinking about, who is she, what does she do, why is she doing it…and anybody can have their own interpretation, and that is also very important to me that people who see it or look at it in the street, they have their own version of what it means to them. So it’s somewhere between me and them that you get the real deal, it’s not really a material, you cannot really buy it or sell it, you can just feel it. And that’s also important for me as human, I guess, to feel as much things as possible. So, I guess for me faces are the easiest way to communicate what I want to express in that sense.
AZ: How do you see the street art scene today in Serbia? Is it different now from some years before?
TKV: It is very, very, very different. When I was starting in 2004, you had a graffiti scene in traditional sense, letterings and stuff like that, you had guys who did all kinds of stuff even before, but you had no idea of street art. In 2004 when I was telling to people that I do street art, they were like ‘ok, can you explain that a bit..?’ and it’s different aesthetics to it, I guess, because I do stencils and there is much more street art in that sense, and if you look from 2004 up till now, it’s completely different. On one side you can buy much more different paints now, back then you had only one or two type spray paints that were really good.
AZ: So technically it’s easier now?
TKV: It’s much easier, also with internet…ok there was internet in 2004 as well, but we weren’t this connected, ok on the graffiti scene we were connected as that scene per se is connected, everybody knows everybody and then you call somebody ‘hey, do you wanna paint together’ – no matter where you are, but I think it /internet/ gave us more broad perspective of what people do. And for Serbia, especially had more and more people painting, and also it became a trend. We got caught up with the trend, you can build a career around it more easily if you really want to, you know there is people work/job/business wise/whatever because people like to use that aesthetics for commercials or whatever…so in that sense I think it’s easier and it became more recognized as art than just as something on the street…you can see huge change and also now you have more women on the scene
AZ: You mean, more female artists in general?
TKV: Yes, you have more girls who decide to persist in that way…and what people don’t understand is that the city or whatever environment that are painting in dictates how are you going to paint, and Belgrade is very easy to paint around, and people are very welcoming to it – compared to Germany, Netherlands or so where it’s not so easy to paint, you have to go through lots of hussle to get a permission if you want to paint a big wall and bla bla bla.. I mean I’m not saying like this here is super easy but it’s easier, I think. And for me that’s perfect.
AZ: There is some sense of freedom, in that sense that things are pretty much chaotic here so nobody will run after you if they see that you are painting a wall or something..
TKV: yes, it’s like two-sided blade I guess, because then you have a lot of, Idk, football hooligans or nationalist graffers who recognize that type of art and do their own propaganda through it, which don’t really like. But yes everything is pretty chaotic as you said so if you paint something nobody will really track you down.. Ok maybe we have this other type of censorship, like what if I decided to do political graffiti against current regime, I am pretty sure I would be tracked down in 24h and questioned why I did that. So on that side it’s not very liberal.
AZ: And now a question I wanted to ask you, as TKV stands for ‘The queen of fairies’, I wonder if you were aware of a great tradition of belief in fairies in Serbia. Fairies are part of common European tradition that comes from pre-Christian time, but in Serbia it retained until the modern time. I remember when I was a kid, one of our neighbors went to woman who was supposedly communicating with fairies. Back then I was quite young, I remember that I was shocked to find that such belief was still existing somewhere in the neighborhood, those were just simple people, not new age hipsters or something…
TKV: I really like that, and with whole Balkans actually, we call it pre-Christian, it was existing in these territories for long time and was connected with nature, but I think if you look at certain parts of Serbia you can see that type of folklore very much alive, and I think with pre-Christian religions magic was something that was practiced on daily basis, it had use in some kind of cultural segment, social segment of societies back then. And for me, I had my research on old Slavic religions in this area, and I really was inspired by that. I did couple of works as my own interpretation of it, but as for the fairies I think my father told me like, ‘you choose that name for yourself and that is not a coincidence – you carry certain values or certain sentiment that connects some people to fairies or magical world in that sense’. I really appreciate when people who see my stuff on the street give me their own version of what they feel, because that gives them a little distraction from the society that can be very burdening, and we live that every day. We need to connect even symbolically with something that is not just this. Just different type of sentiment. It’s about how we feel, as I said before.
AZ: You are also very active in exhibiting your art in galleries. How do you feel about this transfer from street environment to gallery spaces?
TKV: I think that became very common. It’s not street art if it’s not on the street, that’s the main argument, but still aesthetics belong to the street. Or you can make your own different concepts of exhibition if it’s in gallery spaces, for example I did one exhibition where I collected stuff from the street like garbage, objects etc., I repainted them and I put them in the gallery so that you have the sense of the street inside the gallery. I loved doing that because I find it’s important to recycle and give back new life to something that was discarded, in that sense. But I think it’s more about creativity of individual artist and what they want from the gallery space.
AZ: What do you think is the advantage of life of an artist, compared to walking down the office or working at the factory every day?
TKV: Well it’s the best, the worst and the best job ever. You have always these mixed feelings, you are free in this sense or way that you can choose your own work hours, it’s a job but it’s not a job, it’s a part of you so it’s a mixture of what defines you as a person, it’s also that you have to learn how to be more professional, if you have a deadline to do, but at the same time you can have so much fun while you do it and it gives you a lot of stuff in return, even sometimes when I do a commercial job that I am not really interested in and inspired with, I try to learn something from it so maybe I can use it in what I do for myself. To be an artist is a privileged place and position.
AZ: Yes you can just think about your place in the world, something, actually you can get philosophical…
TKV: I think in one moment I realized artists are allowed to go through different classes of society, to blend with people who have nothing or people who have everything, and everything in between, so I am kind of witnessing..
AZ: you see many different sides..
TKV: Yes you see many different sides, you are not stuck in one position, because people tend to stay in their place and for artist it’s like I am an artist and everyone is like, ok then – so you have this maneouvre space which is bigger compared to work in office…or whatever.
AZ: As an artist you are free to be a little bit crazy, it’s like part of what you do.
TKV: Before I was very upset before when somebody calls me an artist, am I an artist or an author…it was like ok, you had to go through all these phases within you, but then I realized – no, you have to be crazy artist, that’s good thing. You can just like, do whatever you want, or say whatever you want, wear whatever you want, and everyone was like ‘you’re very artistic’. And nobody can rush you, nobody can pressure art…
AZ: You are also very active on international scene, can you tell us a little bit about that and is it possible to travel during the Covid times? If yes, where are you planning to travel next?
TKV: If we don’t count Balkans, I didn’t move anywhere since 3 years, but now in January 2022 I went to Paris, because I had a lot of connections with Paris, I had exhibition there and got awarded the medal decoration for achievements in art in literature in rank of chevalier/knight, but that doesn’t really change anything until you go there and try to work and to connect with people. So I think my next trip will be in May also to France, I will do this project with an amazing theater group there, so I am painting their tour buses. I had chance to see them how they work in the theater and to realize how hard it is to do other type of art. They are completely in training, how you eat, how you sleep, when you perform, it’s like you’re in the army. And I really appreciate that experience because then you see how when you’re in this very specific level of making your own art you have to be completely submitted to what you do, to your art. And I really like that, long story short that’s the masterpiece.
AZ: Where will you go in France in May?
TKV: I go to Paris, then I go to Rennes, and maybe I will go to Arles, in 2020 I was supposed to have an exhibition in Amsterdam so maybe this year I have to reconnect with them to see if there is any available dates for that gallery, so maybe Amsterdam will happen as well.. Before I went to Paris I was a bit worried how is this going to look like with Covid and everything, but in the end of the day you just hope that you’re not going to get sick and everything else is just a routine.
AZ: How do you see yourself in the future, let’s say twenty years from now?
TKV: Ouuuh, twenty years from now… I will be 53-54..wow, I don’t know. I always wanted to, like, if you make enough money you can be able to support other artists who need a scholarship or something like that. That’s like a super big dream, it would be great if I could support somebody else with what I make. And in Serbia I think it’s very important to support other artists because this is very difficult environment for art..
AZ: You mean you would like to help other artists, maybe some younger artists?
TKV: Yes, younger artists, because people helped me. They helped me. Because I think like, forget the scolarships or whatever, artists need to do that, we need to inspire each other and talk to each other and brainstorm with each other, so it’s just like one big mix of what we do, because only then you can have something new from it. And I think all this society in general has this like competition between artists, who is better, or have more likes or whatever, which is bullshit. Because that means nothing, If you’re overburdened with that type of thing and if people don’t want to open to each other.
AZ: Will you do street art when you’re in your 50’s?
TKV: I will always love street art. Now I have a broken arm, it puts you in this position that your body cannot do what you usually do. And I discovered this limit, of course it’s just temporary, but still I guess when I’m 50 or 60 my body will not be able to do what I do now. So I guess I will always do it but in this moderate way. That’s why I try to be fit now, so that in 20 years’ time I am not completely run down. But it is a very demanding physical job if you want to paint a mural, it requires a lot of strength and body work. I hope that in 20 years from now, I have this feeling that it will develop differently and I think that’s the journey, you discover what else you can do and mix, so we will see.
AZ: Okay, thank you.
TKV: Thank you.