Diving into the digital renaissance with Oleg Dou

Russian photography artist Oleg Dou debuted in gallery Le Simoun in Paris when he was 23. In 2007 he received an International Photography Color Award, and attracted worldwide interest to his works. The border between art and photography vanishes in his work, exposing the breathless creatures likely made from porcelain.

Dou’s body of work includes the cover for the Adobe CS6 Photoshop box and splash screen in 2012:

And a collaboration with the author, Arseny Vesnin, and illustrator Sara Blake for a feature and cover in Designcollector Magazine, Winter 2012:

Vesnin sat down with Dou to discuss his career, work and process.

I’m an artist, but sometimes, some people call me a photographer. It’s not true. I’m an artist who uses photography as a medium for my works.

Oleg Dou

AV: What was your path to doing what you’re doing now?

I See You

OD: It started as a hobby when I was a kid. My mother used to be an artist , so I was introduced to art very early. I also have a younger brother, who I think was a more talented kid. I was comparing myself to him and felt upset. But this feeling pushed me to learn. A was doing everything from drawing and making some objects to filming and 3d animation. I also worked as a graphics designer and 3d modeller when I was a student. During the work I realised that doing my own ideas is much more satisfying to me. In 2005 I bought my first camera and started to learn photography. Last 15 years I have been developing my style.

AV: Did you have an “Aha!” moment when you knew that photography art was what you wanted to do?

OD: I can’t say that photography is what I always wanted to do, I would call myself an artist who uses photography as the medium. I started using Photoshop when I was 13, I never thought about photography. Later, working as a graphics designer, I was retouching photographs made by other people. Then I realized photography is a perfect basis for my own photoshop works. At the beginning I was not focused on any particular theme. I was shooting landscapes, still lifes, portraits and so on. Now I mostly focus on portraits. Using Photoshop I can fix and retouch some unperfect details, but I can’t change face expressions and so on , so shooting good photography at the beginning is very important. 

Now I Know

AV: You glided on your own style for a while  but then decided to evolve more and change. Was it a breaking point in your career? How does it influence your way of doing work now?

OD: If I look at my works from childhood till now, It is very easy to notice that the style of the works was always changing with the time. Then I had success with a big porcelain like skin portraits. This Is what people usually recognize as a style of my work. But It was just a step in my path. 

At the same time, the market prefers artists who always follow the same style. And It was quite challenging for me. But I never gave up and continued doing the work I wanted to do. I also like to experiment with different materials, so sometimes I do porcelain, sculptures or videos. 

My early work was made more by intuition. Later I learned art history and culture. I’m interested in archetypal stories in the culture and I try to combine them with modern days.  Visually I want to achieve something between photography, painting and rendering. 

AV: Do you collaborate with other artists?

Melting Worlds

OD: At the beginning of my career I had a friend who is also an artist, she helped me a lot and she was my main model for portraits. I also helped her make her works. I also work together with other artists when doing objects or sculptures. I’ve collaborated with fashion brands like Givenchy and Juun J from South Korea, my pictures were used as a cover for the books and I also did an album cover for Swedish music band Victoria&Jean. 

AV: As a creative person, do you ever have those moments where you feel like everything you create is just shit?

OD: Ha-ha. This is a very common feeling to me. It comes from time to time. Usually it happens while I am stuck doing recent work. I mean when I face trouble and can’t move forward. I also lose a feeling of beauty sometimes.  

Sometimes the reason is different. I developed as a human through the time and my perception of what is good and what is bad changes. Sometimes I look backward. I understand that my past works were made by different persons. Sometimes I notice technical problems in older or recent works and this also makes me upset.

Little Chaos

AV: Have you taken any big risks to move forward?

OD: There are different kinds of risks. One of them is not being accepted by the audience, galleries and clients. While working on new projects some of the people who loved my earlier work go away, the same with clients. Market and collectors do not really like artists who dramatically change their style. But taking this risk is really worth it and I can prove it with my own experience. I’ve dramatically changed my style 5 years ago and my gallerists were frustrated, but later they understood my new works. 

The other risk is investing money in doing some expensive production for the object and sculptures. But I also hope my investment in that will return with a profit. But moving forward itself makes me happy so I am not worried if I will fail. 

AV: Are your family and friends supportive of what you do? Who has encouraged you the most?

OD: I love my family for accepting me the way I am, as they never limited me

AV: Did you have a mentor? Who was it and how did they inspire you?

Impossible Love

OD: Unfortunately I never had a teacher or a mentor. I’m often thinking that It would be very good to have some persen guide me. So I move through my journey alone. I think it takes more time to learn by yourself, but you still can do it alone. A few years ago I had a life crisis. I was quite a successful  artist, so I was independent and could live the life I wanted to. But at the same time I felt unhappy. 

I was thinking a lot and was searching the answers around. And then I started to read classical literature and found their support. Classical culture inspires and guides me now. 

AV: Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community of people?

OD: Yes and no at the same time. I’m quite introverted and spend most of my time alone. But of course it is important to meet a part of the community of the people with the same interest.  I also want to add here that I’m shocked at how friendly and supportive the NFT community is. Gallery world is not that kind.  

AV: You’re already a successful and well established artist, what made you pursue NFT art as a medium?

OD: I’ve never heard about NFT until this mass media coverage this spring. At the beginning I was quite sceptical. But few people asked me when I will mint NFT, also my gallerist was looking for the chance to sell NFT. Maybe I’m a little bit slow and I am only starting , but it is very interesting to see how NFT market and digital rights for the works will be developed. 

Impossible Love

AV: What are your short plans for the next NFT drop?

Seraphim

OD: This year I started a project about life circle. This is a little bit conservative theme and I was already developed many times in classical art. But I also want to go through this and find my own answers. So now I’m developing Renaissance-like style works. It is totally digital, but refers to classical art compositions.  I already dropped a few images and will drop the newest ones soon

AV: Do you have any unrealised or unfinished projects?

OD: At the moment I’m working on a project about the human soul and what can happen to the soul during the life period. 


Learn more about Dou in this interview with Adobe from 2012:

To follow the first issue of the printed magazine for friends at Design Collector, I was invited to collaborate with the amazing, incredible, fantasic Oleg Dou for the second issue coming this summer. I’ve been mesmerized by Oleg’s imagery for some time now. I never knew quite how to categorize his art for myself. I’ve always gravitated to more handmade work even if it’s finished digitally. I feel that same handmade quality in Oleg’s work, despite its more digital guise at first glance

Sara Blake
Author profile
designcollector

Arseny Vesnin (Twitter: @designercollector), founder of Designcollector Network (2003) and curator of the Digital Decade initiatives, exhibitions and online collaborations. Interdisciplinary mediator guiding artists and communicating the future of art. Based in St.Petersburg, Russia.

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