Let me introduce you to Dmitri Aske, aka Sicksystems, He’s a multidisciplinary artist from Moscow, Russia and ‘sick’ is the appropriate term for his work (in a good way)! With a background as graffiti artist, a healthy interest for typography (not in the last place because his father is a typeface designer) and a love for geometric figures, Sicksystems has been pushing boundaries since he began back in 2000. He’s active as illustrator, graphic designer and by lack of better words, craftsman. His works vary from digital illustrations to very tangible installations of plywood, reliefs and murals. Besides being an artist, he’s also co-founder of a popular street wear brand, magazine, and site called CODE RED.
“I realized that if people like what you do, your art will be in demand and you will get many more interesting opportunities as an artist.”
Hi Aske, what were you doing when you received these questions?
Hi! I was sitting at my computer with a headache writing back to you that I’d send you over the answers within a week.
Have you always been a creative kid?
I guess so. I’ve been drawing since my childhood and I’ve always liked to make things with my hands. Since I was six years old and until about thirteen, I was obsessed with Lego, and it definitely influenced my art. The funny thing is that I thought about this connection not that long ago when I found a box full of Lego details at home and had a powerful flashback.
My Dad is a typeface designer, and, though I never discussed my work with him, I think that in terms of taste and creativity I inherited a lot from him. By the way, he introduced me to the Internet in 1995, and it influenced me a great deal.
How did you develop your geometrical style?
It was quite a smooth process. In 2000 I started doing graffiti, and it was the first step in my artistic career. I always wanted to paint something new, to experiment, and not to do the same thing over and over again. So at some point, I began mixing up graffiti with typography both in my street pieces and in my digital works.
Then, in 2009, I went to Kiev and met Vladimir and Alexey from the famous Ukrainian street-art duo Interesni Kazki. Their works inspired me to move forward and to try to experiment with characters rather that keep on painting letters. I was really impressed that their murals were appreciated not only by their fellow artists, but also by common people. I realized that if people like what you do, your art will be in demand and you will get many more interesting opportunities as an artist.
That’s how I gradually moved away from letters to illustrations with different faces and figures; it’s much easier for people to relate to characters rather than to letters. Since my typographic works were very geometric, I decided to keep developing that style. Besides, it seems to me that lines and polygons are universal: you can construct letters with them or you can use them for more complicated shapes and forms.
In 2009-2011 I was mainly making digital illustrations, but in 2011 I felt like making something with my hands and came up with an idea of transposing my digital works onto the plywood. The idea was very exciting, and the process turned out to be pretty challenging, but it was definitely worth it. I loved both the process and the result, and my plywood series were very well received by fellow artists and art lovers.
Also, I’d been looking for a chance to work on a large scale for a couple of years already, when finally this year I had an opportunity to paint on big walls in three different Russian cities, including Moscow. That was a very pleasant and rewarding experience.
Could you tell us a bit about life in Moscow as an artist?
Well, I’m not a typical artist, because besides being an artist I’m also a co-founder of a Russian street wear brand, online magazine and store called CODE RED. It all started as a printed graffiti magazine back in 2005, and it’s grown a big deal since then. On the one hand, working on the CODE RED project requires quite a lot of time and effort, but, on the other hand, it’s interesting and I have a pretty stable source of income, so as an artist I don’t have to take commissions I don’t like only to support myself financially. At the end of the day this gives me more artistic freedom. Moreover, by working on the online magazine I learn a lot about other artists from around the world and I think it’s had a good impact on my perception of art and has helped me to make great connections.
As for my fellow artists, who also started as graffiti writers, some of them have office jobs and make art in their spare time, and others try to live off of their art often taking commissions they don’t like to make some money. Taking this into consideration, I don’t think that an artist’s life in Moscow is very different from that in any other European city. Although it’s true that there are many rich people in Moscow and there is a lot of money here, the problem is that there is no demand for street art and the art market is not interested in this kind of art yet. So it’s extremely difficult for Russian graffiti and street artists to support themselves financially. However, this year a number of exhibitions and street art festivals were held, and I hope that this positive trend will continue in the future.
Your style has a huge appeal to brands. Why do you think they like you so much?
You’d better ask them, though I can tell you why I like working with brands. The companies I’ve worked with so far asked for my style, appreciated it, and paid well for my work. What is more, when you collaborate with big brands you get a lot of publicity, which is good. Moreover, I have some experience in clothes design and production, so I know, for example, how to make graphics look good on a t-shirt. Actually, I really like making t-shirt graphics because t-shirts are very affordable and people can wear your art in their everyday life.
Not long ago, it occurred to me that murals and t-shirt graphics have a lot in common. In both cases your image enters public space; it’s often placed in the center of your composition, and it’s perceived by people as an independent piece of art. However, I’d like my murals to look more like pictures rather than t-shit designs: I try to cover all the surface of the wall with a picture, a composition with a foreground and a background, and put a story behind it.
Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment you can tell us about?
I hope that next year I’ll be able to make an exhibition in Moscow and maybe to participate in some group shows abroad. I’m planning to start working on a new series of artworks soon. Though I enjoy working with different media, right now I’d like to focus on creating material artworks: canvases, plywood reliefs, and maybe sculptures.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m very happy that I had a chance to paint on big walls this year, and I hope that I’ll be able to paint more murals in the future. I’m also planning to further develop my style and to pay more attention to self-education. In my opinion, it is great when pieces of art are not only beautiful and skillfully made, but also have meaning and stories behind them as well as transfer artist’s ideas and thoughts. That’s what I’m looking for in my art.