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Franko B, artist, on two works by Andrei Molodkin

GB Tell me why you chose these.

FB One is a homage to Malevich and the other is a punk statement. I know Andrei and I’ve seen his Malevich works in his studio in Paris and I’ve seen the Fuck You in a show in London. I really like his work, especially over the last twenty years. He doesn’t have a Facebook page and he’s not part of the fashion/art social network but he does have a fan club. He’s tough and he just makes work and doesn’t give a shit. He makes the work he wants to make.

GB I read that he was in the army.

FB Yes he was in the army in Siberia. He didn’t have a choice, He had to go when he was very young. He would swap chocolate and cigarettes for pens so he could draw and he started to do these beautiful biro drawings. They’re amazing and they’re massive. They take hundreds and hundreds of Bic pens.

GB So what is it about these sculptures that you find particularly beautiful?

FB They’re so still. Even when you see them live and you see the apparatus you still can’t really take it in that this beauty comes from the raw material, the oil. The Fuck You says, “fuck you” because we go to war and we kill for this raw material. There are so many by-products of crude oil, from plastics and acrylics to chemicals used in medicine. The Fuck You piece has usually been part of in installation in the past where it’s next to a huge pen drawing of the words “yes we can” – so it says “Yes we can fuck you.” Molodkin was chosen to represent Russia at the Venice Biennale in 2009 but he was censored. When the Kremlin realized that his work was very political and critical of the war in Chechnya, his installation was closed down. He did become famous through this and he’s done big shows in American museums. The Tate bought one of his huge installations too, so perhaps that will be shown in their new space. I think these pieces feel timely this year, after 20 years of wars over oil.

GB Do you think the political element makes it more beautiful to you? There’s a bravery there.

FB There’s a certain kind of integrity and dignity he has, in a punk-like way. The politics doesn’t validate the works for me, although certainly, that’s inseparable. But it doesn’t make them more or less beautiful as images. You walk in and you’re taken in by the smell first. It’s a very strong smell. I love it. Then you notice that it’s kind of machine. There are pumps that move the oil through the works. It’s super high tech.

GB Do you think there’s a beauty in the words, ‘Fuck You’?

FB Totally. I love that work and I want one!

GB Do you think about beauty a lot in your own work?

FB I think everything has a message, either intended or not intended. Everything’s political and everything is poetic or personal, depending on how you look at it. Saying you’re not political is a political position. Of course everything is personal! For me, beauty is what allows you to trick people into looking. Otherwise you just have shock. My current work uses beauty to seduce you like an insect into the light – and if you go too near, you get burned. The work I’m making right now is provocative but very beautiful at the same time and it’s going to upset people.

GB Do you find a lot of beauty in art?

FB I find a lot of beauty in Mark Rothko, not just in the work but in the installation of it. The original installation in Tate Britain was amazing. It was like entering another space. I haven’t found that experience anywhere in Tate Modern. The first time I went into the Rothko room, I don’t know if I spent five minutes or two hours in there but it felt like time had been paused. It was emotional and that’s when I really realized that I want to make art.

GB When did you start getting tattoos? Was that before or after you became an artist?

FB Well after. I got my first tattoos in 1993. I got one as part of my work. I wanted to make a piece of work about being a refugee in a personal sense. The Red Cross looked after me as a kid. I was looked after by them for years and they were protecting me from the damage my family did. So I tattooed a cross on my chest to indicate that the moment we come out of the womb we are refugees if we don’t behave in a certain socio-political way in the world we’re born in. You can be an unwanted outsider or they’ll try to fix you. I don’t want to upset real refugees but I wanted to make a comment on identity in a metaphorical way. We’re taught the etiquette of a certain community. Tattoos are addictive. I wanted more and I wanted to adapt the red cross to own it for myself. Now of course, everyone has tattoos. It’s interesting to see that a lot of straight men now have the kind of tribal tattoos that gay men (especially on the S&M scene), were getting 15 or 20 years ago. I guess it doesn’t mean anything to them. They’ve seen it on TV or something. But the same people who might have kicked your head in years ago now have those same tattoos.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

FB It has to have honesty and integrity and transgress propaganda. It has to be personal, political and poetic.

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