Pokras Lampas can usually be found perched atop scaffoldings spray-painting his way across walls and rooftops, changing the ambience of entire cities from dreary to riveting with his large-scale murals that combine calligraphy and graffiti. In 2015, he created the world’s largest calligraffiti artwork in Moscow on the Red October factory plant roof spanning 1,625 square metres with 730 litres of paint. It’s what earned the renowned Russian calligraffiti artist collaborations with big brands like Fendi and Mac cosmetics, as well as a nomination on Russian GQ’s Man of the Year award list.
While the acclaim is a welcome perk, what drives the 28-year-old artist to further the cause of calligraffiti is how it’s a bridge to understanding multiculturalism and what connects all of us, despite differences in language and nationalities.
We spoke to the artist who was recently in Dubai to revamp the surroundings of the outdoor super-club Base about how he wants people to see beyond his writings on the wall.
How did your interest in graffiti start?
I grew up in Moscow where graffiti was everywhere – in the train station, at school, on the street. Graffiti equalled an act of freedom on the street. I was very inspired by it and I started to write things myself, be a part of the community and learn from them. When I started to work with calligraphy, I realised a combination of the two is the best medium of expression for me.
How does calligraphy, which is so rule-bound, find a space in a format like graffiti, which is about freedom from rules?
The two forms actually share values: while traditional calligraphy has rules and it’s about focus and measured movements and precision, in the last century it has evolved to merge with abstract art, typography, and graphic design and become experimental. One of the main values of graffiti is to be original. You need to develop your own style, own tag, you need to be different from others but at the same time you always have to be yourself.
You describe your work as calligrafutursim. Is it different from the calligraffiti movement?
It’s not different, it’s just my take and it focuses on multiculturalism, the commonalities between languages and scripts, and how this affects communication. I try to explore the harmony of different languages when mixed together – so I can take a part Arabic alphabet and see how it can be shaped as a Chinese character, which then might have similarities to Cyrillic letters. The idea is to see a single shape’s influences from different parts of the world.
What do you feel is the role of art?
For me it’s just the best way to do something that will not fade away. Contemporary art (of which I feel calligraffiti is a part) is changing the way we understand things around us – we have new tools of creation such as digital, virtual reality that help us play with context and turn anything including buildings and entire cities into a canvas for huge installations.
Is that one of the reasons why calligraffiti become so very popular in the last couple of years?
Yes! Calligraffiti occupies huge amount of areas, so it’s very arresting. It’s not just pictures but it’s also communicating with people; they get some message from it. So it’s a good balance between something decorative and something meaningful.
What’s more satisfying for you as an artist – when your work is hung in a gallery, or when it’s out on the streets?
What’s satisfying is when my work starts a dialogue, a conversation, irrespective of where it is. When I create on a canvas, I’m raising the range of my skill – I can add deep messages to it that might take audiences repeated viewings over a month or even a year to find hidden loops and connections to different languages. It’s about the experience. When I create things on the street, I know that people might only see it for a minute as they pass by, but tomorrow they might spend five or 10 minutes more with it and then they might be interested to go see my work in the gallery, or look it up on the internet – so it’s all connected.
How has social media influenced calligraffiti?
It’s made it more experimental and given it a virtual canvas – my art has been used to create augmented reality filters on Instagram. And social media is key to spreading your work now – it lives on beyond a single viewing as people can share and spread the work and explore its history. Digital advancements are headed to become an important part of the art sphere.
What’s the energy of Dubai that you’re trying to convey through your work?
I’ve always had positive memories of Dubai since I first visited in 2016. I like how the community and the city grows and the interplay of modern architecture with traditional structures and how materials are used to execute that [harmony]. There’s always beauty everywhere you look here. With my work at Base I’ve used silver to reflect the light of the sun, and the energy of the people – it’s more than just shapes.
Why did you decided to collaborate with Base?
We decided to work with Base because I like ambitious projects – it’s one of the biggest clubs in Dubai and designing their space means putting my work where there’s a lot of footfall and attention from people. Plus, it’s a great feeling to connect music with art and do it in collaboration with a new artist such as Andrey Berger.
What are some other exciting projects you’re working on?
I’m making a lot of artwork for a new exhibition that will hopefully be a part of Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial in 2020. I have a lot of outdoor projects in Moscow and other parts of Russia.
What do you do when you’re not creating art?