Meshing Darkness and Light: an Interview with Masha Molyanova

I discovered Molyanova's work a few years ago scrolling through Instagram. When I saw her work, I got one of those nostalgic feelings you get hit with when something reminds you of the past. Her use of colors and form were so playful even though she was using darker tones.  Her work reminded me a lot of those 1980s paisley printed jackets, or better yet, a new form of prehistoric cave paintings.

First, I want to say that I’m blown away by how abstract and vivid your work is; it’s like you’re telling stories through your paintings. Could you introduce yourself—tell us where you’re from and about your work?

I am very pleased to hear that. Thank you for your kind words and for inviting me to speak with you! My name is Maria Molyanova. I live in Russia, in Nizhny Novgorod. My work is focused on painting clothes for my salamaaashop brand. It’s been running around six years. I was exposed to the classical technique of batik in college, where I began to experiment with textiles. My first solo exhibition, "Puddle," was in 2016, and included artwork and interior items as well as work on fabrics.

How did you develop your taste in the arts? Was it something you were interested in as a child?

My parents sent me to various artistic programs from a young age. I remember for a while I went to a beading class, took ballet dancing, and studied for a year at a liberal arts school for children, where we were taught acting, choreography, and even psychology. I studied piano for a year at a music school, but I was very frustrated by solfeggio lessons and I quit. Then I entered an art school and managed to finish my studies—I always liked to draw. All of these experiences definitely influenced my artistic perception of the world. By the way, I still have my drawings from kindergarten, and I noticed something in common with the salamaaashop vibe. I also remember that as a kid I was once given an illustrated, flat paper doll with outfits for it. I loved to play with her and design and cut outfits for her myself. I loved engaging in a world of fantasy and stories. One of the games I remember most was "The Secret": you dug a hole and buried things of value to you inside— Funtiki, which were collectible candy wrappers, corks, plastic BBs, pieces of colored glass, plants, letters, drawings. Then you had to cover everything with glass, which was also found on the street, or you’d bring some from home, and then cover that with soil. “The Secret” was usually only shown to your closest friends, or else other children would unearth and destroy it.

Your work gives me dark, spiritual folklore vibes. Is there anything historical about your style?

People ask me about that sometimes, but I am not directly inspired by anything like that—just my fantasies. 

Which artists inspired your work, whether it was painting, music, or film?

Nature inspires me the most, walking outside. In my school days, I often rode a bicycle, and went to the meadows on the Volga River. I loved to do this while listening to music. Around then I got into the electronic scene; my strongest influence was the Scotland duo, Boards of Canada. They blew my mind—my world was completely changed after that. I began to experience “internal deformation,” is how I think of it. Then I began to dig deeper and deeper into the world of sounds, which ultimately influenced my drawings. In 2015, I started writing music under the name “salama”— the first release was on the Mexican label, Snu. Also released on the British label Bokhari Records and Nizhny Novgorod’s VOLNA. And in 2019 I released my first LP on the Paris label Badance.

What goes through your mind when you’re starting a new piece?

Images come from the same “underground,” subconscious realm into which I sink when I paint or write music. Everything is interconnected.

I notice you use a lot of darker pigments in your work; is there a specific reason?

Didn't think about it. So far, it’s just turned out that way. Lüscher's [color theory] test would make it clear.

What are your key essentials to help you stay in a creative zone?

Honestly, I live without plan. For some reason, I feel that this is mine and I don't want to quit.  But anything in life can happen.

How did COVID-19 affect your mindset and work process when painting?

In general, COVID-19 did not affect me much in terms of work. There were some problems with delivery, parcels got stuck at customs. But after being sick, I felt the mental consequences. Of course, this topic is very sad for the whole world.

How do you feel about this sudden boom in digital assets such as NFTs? Do you envision yourself getting involved with them?

I got interested in the NFT topic just recently, but I'm not participating in it yet. I have been thinking about digital things for a long time and even created another Instagram account called "salamaaajpeg." In 2020, during the initial rise of the pandemic, all clubs of course were closed, and my Internet friend from New York invited me to participate in the Limp Pumpo online quarantine rave in the Second Life game. It featured a lot of cool musicians, even Kreayshawn, and there is a small documentary about it on Noisey VICE’s YouTube. After that, from time to time I started visiting this game and dressing up my character in the textures of "salamaaashop." It’s the same world, only virtual: people get to know each other there, build families, visit shops, exhibitions, and parties. Everything is almost the same as in reality. I have different thoughts on this, but the main thing is to find a balance to integrate the real world and the virtual, without excesses.

Have you been working in any other media besides painting and visual art?

In addition to drawing, I sometimes produce music and I DJ. On November 1, a new VA from different Russian and Swedish cities was released on the Moscow label MYBO. I recommend that everyone listen.

 What artist or songs would be on your desert island playlist?

Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Brain Eno, swampy cassette mixes, Kma Productions, Natal’ya Velitskaya, are some of the first ones that come to mind.

For those who’ve never been to Russia, where are some places you recommend people visit to meet fellow creatives?

Most often I meet creative people at music events, where I perform. Each city has its own spot—it depends on different things like personal taste, etc. But you always can find something interesting in classic places—for example in Nizhny Novgorod there's the contemporary art center, Arsenal.

If you could sit down and talk to any five people, dead or living, who would they be?

Sergey Kuryokhin, Victor Pelevin, Alla Pugacheva, Zhanna Aguzarova, Herman Hesse.

Cats or dogs, and why?

I love both, but I choose cats. I used to have an orange cat named Kesha. He lived with our family for almost sixteen years, and I loved him deeply. It was very sad to say goodbye to him. Now I don't have any pets, but sometimes I play with my grandma’s cat Ryzhik; he’s also orange. He has an unusual temperament and he always makes me laugh.

Any advice to any aspiring artists?

Be true to yourself. 


Maria Molyanova is a visual artist, fashion designer, and DJ based in NIzhny Novgorod, Russia. Her brand “salamaaashop” features clothing that she paints by hand, which form a collection of entirely unique textile pieces that share a moody, fantastical representation of the world. 

Soundcloud Link

Andrew Derenoncourt (a.k.a. “Sticks”) is a model, visual artist, and stylist from Queens, NY. When he’s not bringing eclectic colors and shapes to life through fashion, he curates vintage and luxury apparel through his upcycled clothing company BrentMore. Sticks has done consulting work for Adidas and Ralph Lauren, and aims to bring a relevant originality to all his creative endeavours. You can find him handing out buckets at your local basketball court.

Translation by: Ivan Tsukanov

Editor: Sarah Madges