Nicknamed the Russian Salvador Dali, celebrated Russian artist and serial property owner, Nikas Safronov shares what prompted him to travel from an early age, and his best-loved cities.
According to the website Russiapedia, the artist Nikas Safronov is noted “for his numerous love affairs and active socializing.” Born in 1956 to a large family – he has six brothers and a sister, the adventurer left home at 16 and joined the navy, before a stint at art college and a return to the army. All through this time, he says, he was painting, using his visual talent as a form of escapism. In the eighties he started showing his work and today he is known as one of Russia's most celebrated artists, creating portraits and iconography of world-famous actors, musicians and politicians, often in historical settings. Collected by celebrities around the world, he has amassed a fortune that has allowed him to buy houses all over the world. One such property, his Moscow flat, is a grand fifteen-room affair, decorated in an eccentric style that references various historical periods and is full of grand gestures, including a public exhibition space.
Dreaming of adventure
I was born in the Soviet Union and I love my country very much but I realized early on that I lived in one of the world’s most closed-off lands.
At school I loved reading adventure novels about distant adventures, especially pirate sagas like Captain Blood: His Odyssey. But where were the Caribbean Islands and the Galapagos Islands and where was I? I lived in a nice town - Ulyanovsk – but I could only dream about travelling to faraway places.
Having read the first few dozen books I learned to make up stories and they excited me even more than well-known novels – my internal travels were my secret, my dream adventures. I didn't write them down, but I did draw them. It was easier for me – my unique way of communicating my odyssey.
Dreams do come true
Much later, when I was able to travel to any part of the world, I was very happy because it felt as though my childhood dreams had came true. And I still have that feeling – each time a new journey excites me with unexpected discoveries and grants me moments of clarity. I do not know if the happiness and the pleasure associated with travelling would be so acute were it not for my childhood fantasies.
Travelling around the world I began to understand that Russia is particularly diverse. I have never seen such natural and cultural contrasts in any other country. Recently I opened my exhibition at the Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg and around the same time I also had an exhibition go up in Astana, Kazakhstan.
St. Petersburg and Kazakhstan in spring are very different, the exhibitions are also different – St. Petersburg is in a public museum, entitled The Road to the Temple, many of the paintings will be given to the Patriarchate as a gift, while the exhibition in Astana is in a private gallery. These two simultaneous exhibitions are like reflections of the journey of my spirit and the journey of my work.
I do not know if I could live without a sense of homeland. There is a place near Ulyanovsk – Vyshky Village. My father and mother lived there until they died and long ago my paternal grandfather served in the church in Undory. Some part of me lives there as well, and if I had more spare time I would go there just to sit on the ground where my mother and father lived and to look at the sky. I do not know what will happen to me in the future, but although I now live in several countries my heart is still in Russia.
I travel a lot - too many business trips. Sometimes, even more than I would like but during my endless trips I always remember that everything I do in the world I do for the sake of my homeland, Russia, in order to represent its contemporary culture and its image as a whole. I hope I am good at it.
From London to Venice
Moscow is absolutely my town – I love the rhythm and the spirit, but I often travel to London, mainly to visit my son Stefano. London is a beautiful city, I like to relax there but I would not want to live there. Usually, I stay for a few days before taking my son away somewhere, to Italy, for example, where his maternal grandparents live, not far from Venice.
We usually arrive in Venice in the morning when the whole city is sinking in the fog, I have never seen such visual effects anywhere else. The old Venetian walls, splashes of light on the water and the fog led me to a new painting solution which I call DreamVision.
The Turkish Shore
Recently I fell in love with "the Turkish shore" and now I am decorating my own apartments there. The surroundings are very beautiful but I'm primarily interested in the surrounds – there is the remains of an eighth century church nearby and it is here St. Nicholas survived a shipwreck and thereafter showed miracles of healing. The church was robbed by pirates and abandoned by the monks in the 15th century. Now it is almost destroyed but I would like to try to return its glory and splendour.
One more dream
I have a long-standing dream - to fly around the earth in a balloon before going around again in a submarine. First I would like to enjoy a birds-eye view of the earth, followed by the view through the eyes of a deep-sea fish. After this I'd probably have a broader view of where and how we live and I could sail to a desert island to start painting and writing memoirs and describe everything I saw.