Wild women and sci-fi scenarios: painter Dasha Shishkin’s crazy world

In a solo show at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Moscow-born painter Dasha Shishkin creates sprawling installations out of her hyper-detailed Mylar drawings. Seen here: a small fragment of "analyte detection via protein nano spores," from 2014.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Imagine a louche Weimar-era universe of crowded salons stuffed with nude ladies deep in conversation. Now imagine that universe as a comic book drawn by German expressionist Otto Dix, a man for whom no scenario was too strange, no color too brilliant.

That provides some approximation of what viewers are in for at painter Dasha Shishkin’s second solo exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in Culver City. With the simplest materials — Mylar, Conté crayons and acrylic paint — the artist has created a wild retro-futuristic universe that is somewhat akin to plummeting down a rabbit hole.

Cupcakes sprout faces, cherries have eyes, people have tails and a schnauzer casually dispenses cocktails to a reclining female. Figures emerge and dissolve into blobs of paint while red-capped mushrooms sprout from surreal landscapes, as well as a woman’s bare behind.


Shishkin, who last year had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, says the unusual scenes in her paintings are her way of living vicariously.

“I like the idea of smoking, but I don’t smoke,” she laughs. “I like the idea of long hair, but I don’t have long hair.” She adds: “I’m very quiet. I only go to places I can take my schnauzer.”

Shishkin was born in Moscow but educated in the U.S. — she has an MFA from Columbia University — and now lives in New York. She is good-humored and low-key. And even though her pulsating works might seem like they’re all about explosive color, they are actually more about the simple act of putting pen to paper (or in this case, the more transparent Mylar).

“I always think of these as drawings,” she says. “How a simple line can express an attitude.”

“I love Tintin and I love Chris Ware,” she adds. “The economy of line they have is incredible. It’s something you find if you go to an artist like Toulouse-Lautrec and any of that art that was influenced by Japanese prints. It’s very flat. The line becomes the action.”

And with just a few lines, Shishkin does a lot. Her large-scale works recall the pandemonium inherent in paintings by 15th century master Hieronymus Bosch, in which something bananas is going down in every last square inch of canvas.


At Vielmetter, an installation that wraps around a corner has wild patterns, dancing women, conversing figures and a surreal intestinal structure in the shape of a mushroom cloud. It is strange — and totally beguiling.

On another wall, “analyte detection via protein nano spores” features a reclining nude in the style of Manet’s “Olympia” and Titian’s “Venus of Urbino,” except this muse turns her rump to the viewer in a gesture of defiance. She is waited on by a dog, a schnauzer modeled on Shishkin’s own pup, Muhtar.

What is also remarkable about the artist’s work is her economy of materials. In an industry that has given itself over to behemoth, expensive productions (the art world’s carbon footprint is no doubt appalling), Shishkin shows that it is possible to transform a large gallery space with just a few well-placed Mylar sheets.

“I can build up scale without having to create something that is difficult to transport,” Shishkin says. “All of this can travel with me on a plane.”

It’s all part of a philosophy of keeping the act of art-making simple, even if the ideas expressed are complex.

“I like to set limitations on the materials I use,” she says. “Doing that makes it more interesting. Sometimes I will say, ‘Can I make this drawing with just two lines? Can I make it with one line?’”


The answer in Shishkin’s case is most definitely “yes.”

Dasha Shishkin, “where there is a wand, there is a way,” is on view at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects through December 20, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City,