Meet the Russian Artist Boldly Capturing Queer Life in China

By Fábio de Lima, August 3, 2021

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Denis Sdobnov is a 28-year-old Russian illustrator who has captivated the attention of gay icons to the likes of Shea Coulee, A’ Whora and Willam. Using just his fingers on graphics editor app Procreate, he has rapidly become one of the most praised and recognized queer artists in the Shanghai art scene. He shares with us his creative process, aspirations for the future and more.

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How would you describe your work? Why are you drawn to provocative themes?  
Born and raised in a traditional Russian Orthodox family, I grew up with a struggle for self-identity. These years of drawing have basically documented my slow but glittering process of self-acceptance and self-compromise. So, being an artist gave me a chance to be fully myself.

My illustrations are my instinctual fascinations about beauty, nudity and high society, as well as my observations on the individual body in solitude, susceptible to the inevitable vapidity of the fabulous and euphoric nothingness from the above and beyond.

When did you start drawing?
My first real artistic creation happened three years ago. I was urgent to express my burning love for someone and had set my sights on then the trendiest creative program in the Apple store – Procreate. Without any formal art training, I started outlining the love of my life (that’s what I thought it was back then) on the screen, with a mobile phone, an app and two fingers.

Although he was not impressed by the drawing after all, I have found the solace and tranquility of my inner world through such a creative and cathartic process. I think it is the most romantic and intimate way to express my feelings and thoughts to someone that I care about.

Who is your inspiration? 
Hockney is definitely one of my favorite artists, but I have been compared to him many, many times already (laughs). As much as I feel humbled and honored to be compared with art-historical canons like Hockney, I hope my works could present a more contemporary perspective of queer life.

During my creative process, I never conduct so-called visual research by flipping through other artists’ works, but I do believe that I am subconsciously influenced by artists I admire.

What are your plans for the future? Artist full-time?
One-hundred percent! That’s my biggest dream. Right now I have a few spots for private commissions every month and produce some merchandise like prints, silk scarves and beach towels, and that’s just the beginning. But if this won’t happen, I will buy a farm in a small Russian village, get cows, goats and sheep and start producing milk, сheese and some vodka-based liquors.

How has your work been received in a relatively conservative country like China?
China is the motherland of my art, and I feel loved here. I am more than lucky to be surrounded by positive and supportive people, and I feel like giving back the same energy to the community. Although enjoying all the pros that China gives to a creative crowd, I’m trying to be rather careful about the local laws and respectful towards them.

I do selectively showcase my works based on different public spheres and social media. Although my works never display anything absolutely obscene, I tend to post something that can be seen as more provocative and ‘risque’ on Instagram. By comparison, the works I choose to post on my WeChat tend to be subtler and ambiently sexy.

In February 2021, I hosted my debut solo exhibition ‘Midsummer’ in Shanghai, and it went pretty well! I have two more exhibitions in mind and hope to see you all there in the near future.

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How much has the pandemic affected your work and the art scene in Shanghai in general over the last two years?
I don’t know how much it is connected, but the outbreak of the pandemic in China became a very important point for my art as it was the moment when I found my personal style in art. For sure lockdown gave us more time to be focused on art on the one hand, but at the same time, the situation around wasn’t very inspiring.

Nevertheless, it turned out great for me, let me get bigger audiences as everyone was stuck at home and opened a lot of opportunities because of that.


To contact Sdbnov, check out his work and see upcoming exhibitions, go to @drawmedenis on Instagram. 

[All images courtesy of Denis Sdobnov]

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