While studying at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, Milana Kasianova experimented across a number of different disciplines, from graphic design and typography to 3D modelling. But it was her unusual pencil drawings that most attracted our attention, for their bright colours, clever composition and often-unsettling juxtaposition of the banal and the borderline surreal.
The Russian-born creative says that her process always starts with “meditation” and an attempt “to remember places from my past, mostly from my life in Russia, the feelings and the atmosphere”. Very few details pinpoint the location as Russia (although the eagle-eyed among you may spot a building topped with the logo of the state-owned energy company Gazprom in one of her drawings), but what Milana calls “the atmosphere” of the country is far more present and visible.
She left Russia when she was 17, so her “meditation” is really an exercise in recalling her childhood and adolescence, which she admits was “for many years, boring”. As she puts it, “I was just an observer while all the violent and beautiful causes were around me.” Yet it is out of this boredom that Milana creates her illustrations: “It seems to me that to use this experience to create my drawings is an interesting challenge.”
One of the first things that strikes you about her works is the use of colour – her drawings have a patchwork quality, appearing to be made from brightly coloured panels, all perfectly stitched together. “There is a long process of finding a balanced composition behind the colours,” Milana explains. “Balance in composition and colours means a lot for me. I’m not a minimalist at all, so to find balance in a mess, that’s what I find fun and an enjoyable challenge.”
She disagrees, however, that her work is intentionally surreal. “I never liked surrealistic tendencies,” she says. “I exaggerate everyday struggles and my own feelings. And again, my Russian background helps me a lot with all the crazy things you can see in my drawings. I think that country is a living surrealist novel. This is maybe what makes my drawings feel surrealistic. But the roots come from the real world.”
Nonetheless, as a viewer, it often takes you a few moments to understand exactly what you’re looking at. Milana’s drawings are populated by a crowd of bizarre characters, including a potato-man wearing what appears to be a Stetson hat; a jolly, smiling thistle; and what looks like a lonely apple with a face. And this points to something really important about these illustrations – they’re often quite funny. Milana references Caroline David, currently an art director at the ever-irreverent Bloomberg Businessweek, as an influence on her work and talks of her desire to depict “our society in a fun context”. As she puts it, “I find this way of visual communication honest and primitivistic, in a good way.” We’re with her on that.