«B» is for Boyarsky

Illustrations by Sofia Kolovskaya

Beginning last week, visitors to the Etazhi loft project can learn some of “Petersburg alphabet”, where each letter is associated with something meaningful from the city. It is the first exhibition of young designer and illustrator Sofia Kolovskaya, and also her confession of love for Saint Petersburg.

Sonia, dressed in the colours of the exhibition – red, black and white – meets her first guests in one of the stark spaces of loft project. According to her words, her emotional journey in the leadup to the event is unexpectedly boundless, from the despair to self-reliance and excitement. And everything Sonia feels she turns into sketches.

Sonia's self-portrait in the leadup to the event
Sonia’s self-portrait in the leadup to the event

Having trained to be a graphic designer, she says this craft has almost nothing to do with illustration: it’s a separate line of education everywhere in the world: “I’m quite lucky I can do all by myself – to draw, to write accompanying text, to make an event poster.” But it is not luck what makes a talented illustrator successful; it is hard work, the constant search for new topics and techniques, and the need for everyday challenges to keep on drawing.

Kolovskaya has created such challenges by herself, having launched the “One day one sketch” project – a public page in Vkontakte, which has risen from 100 to more than 4000 subscribers in 9 months. She receives a lot of positive feedback from inexperienced illustrators with gratitude for inspiration; it is also a creative way to get commercial offers, as well as to help people. About a week ago she made a comic strip as a message of personal support to the guy struggling with lymphoma, in the fourth stage of the cancer, who refuses to give up. “His story pierced my heart. It is great that doing my business I can support and make a stranger happy, and he will see it and appreciate it.”

When I made the group in social network, I couldn’t have imagined an exhibition at the end,” Sonia says. The true “Petersburg” perception of the Russian alphabet includes, for example, writers – Brodsky, Dovlatov and Dostoevsky, Akhmatova, – and local food: Korushka (seasonal fish), Shawerma and baton (white bread). Also, there are singers that evoke the image of Saint Petersburg: Shnurov from Leningrad, Sasha Vasiljev from Splin. There is also Boyarsky – the singer with shots named after him in local bars around the city: vodka, grenadine syrup and a dash of tabasco.

Of course, this city image couldn’t be complete without architecture. Sonia admits that this part of work took a lot of time: “I can say the Stieglitz State Academy and the Academy of Arts were the most difficult to draw. And almost every letter has it’s building”. However, the alphabet itself is incomplete – there are no И, Ж, Ы letters in it, and no У. “Udelnaya (a popular Saint Petersburg flea market) is too gloomy to draw,” she laughs.

Kolovskaya has been preparing her first exhibition since November. The technique of these works is phased: first, every subject is drawn separately on paper with pencils, red and black ink, and liners. Then scanned images are compiled on computer, together with final captions.

The idea of using alphabet for city positioning is not new. From 2013 the works of Saint Petersburg artist Alexander Florensky with a similar message (though expressed in a very different way) are the first thing foreigners see when they arrive to Pulkovo airport. There was also a project with huge letters standing in the yard of loft project, symbolising districts of the city. Obviously, Saint Petersburg citizens love word games: Kolovskaya’s exhibition had more than 170 visitors in its first hour after opening. It can be seen on the First Floor space of Etazhi until May 10th.

Sonia Kolovskaya
Sonia Kolovskaya. Photo by Margo Lysenko

Where? Etazhi loft project, Ligovsky 74, free entrance

When? 18/03-10/05, 9.00-21.00

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