“My Work is Akin to Propaganda”: Oleksii Sai’s War Posters
Based in Kyiv, Oleksii Sai is a Ukrainian artist working with all kinds of media. For one, he has been using Microsoft Excel as a means of visual expression since 2007. The Excel-Аrt series he created with it criticizes the global corporate culture with its own tools. Now he uses his experience of working for advertising agencies to make posters. Oleksii told Bird in Flight how the war influenced his art.
A painter and graphic artist, he has completed the Kyiv Arts and Industry College’s graphic design and National Academy of Visual Arts and Architecture’s easel graphics programmes. His art pieces were presented at global auctions and exhibited in the USA, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Also, he was nominated for PinchukArtCentre Award in 2009. Oleksii lives and works in Kyiv.
— I currently live in Kyiv, spending most of the time in my workshop. When the curfew begins, I go home and continue working there. War is a place where you need to make a choice. I deliberately chose not to interrupt my art practice, opting just to refocus myself on the war. Now I do something akin to propaganda: posters, banners, and such. I try to work as much as I can to be helpful to everyone here and now and donate many of my works to various auctions to support Ukraine.
I started making posters because I have experience doing it for advertising agencies. I mean, I know the how and the why of it. We had to similarly refocus from the first days of the war in 2014, so it was no problem for me. I get ideas for my works from the news. I just sit down, look up pictures on the internet and make them into collages or draw on my laptop.
I also have a son who helps me with 3D. Some art pieces are born fast, while others tend to drag on. However, I make a point of keeping turnover times to a minimum. Turnover is more important now than quality.
I make a point of keeping turnover times to a minimum. Turnover is more important now than quality.
Nowadays, a news story may evoke similar images among many creatives doing these kinds of things. It’s OK, and I believe it should be this way because it’s directed thinking, so to say. I hardly think at all about my own artistic persona and what I should do as an artist. My work is akin to propaganda — anything goes as long as it is effective.
I churn out the pictures for my News series (the ones with billowing smoke) relatively quickly, almost daily. These are pretty similar pictures of smoke and explosions. Since 2014, I have been making smoke out of metal, but it was the smoke from a grenade that landed under my feet during Maidan. Now it’s the smoke from something that is far from me, fortunately. I did see explosions from missiles rather closely, though.
My work is akin to propaganda — anything goes as long as it is effective.
The series of posters with medals for the Russians is about their propaganda. Like all of us, I was shocked by what their “military virtues” turned out to be. I don’t think this information is conveyed to them in their country, so, perhaps, I could try and do it with my posters. I know that these works of mine made their way into the Russian segment of the internet, so, hopefully, it will make them think.
My last exhibition in Russia took place around the beginning of the last decade. Since then, I didn’t actively follow Russian art and didn’t stay in touch with artists there. What would I like to say to them, you ask? I’d tell them to run! That is all.