Text and photos by Stacie Joy
Over the past few months I’d been watching with interest as artist Urban Russian Doll NYC created her large murals around the neighborhood.
I first noticed her dog portraiture (with one pastel calico kitty in the corner) piece outside Dream Come True K9 on Houston and Attorney, which features a cameo of her own pup. Then I spotted her and Lecrue Eyebrows doing a shared piece on the wall outside of Parkside Lounge, and more recently, a composition as part of East Village Walls on Second Street near First Avenue.After a day spent painting, I toured the completed works with the artist as she answered some questions about her name, her tag, and why she loves the neighborhood.
You go by the name Urban Russian Doll NYC — why did you choose that as your non de plume?
Though my parents are originally from Ukraine and have multiple ethnicities within them, they moved to Moscow before I was born. At the time, Ukraine and Russia were still considered USSR.
My parents are former musicians, and my sister and I grew up listening to every kind of music, except for rock and metal. When I was about 15, I enjoyed Russian rap and hip hop. Usually their music videos were filmed in an urban setting with old buildings full of graffiti in the background.
Even the word, “urban,” which sounds very similar in Russian, was used frequently by Russian hip hop artists. When I decided to become a street artist, I had to choose a name for myself. I was talking to my friend about it and she said, “Why don’t you name yourself Russian Doll?”
I immediately added “Urban” to Russian Doll and it just felt right and organic. The Russian doll is the most popular souvenir that represents the authentic tradition, femininity and beauty of a Russian woman. It is a kind of nesting doll and can have many different dolls inside. To me, they represent layers of a person. Depth is good. Layers are good. Everything about that souvenir is wonderful, so why not?
Right before COVID-19 hit the city, I went to an art show curated by fl00d at 198 Allen St. That day, I met Kristy Calabro, who introduced me to Manny, owner of the Doggy-Sitters Club, Lecrue Eyebrows, Token, who curated the event, and other amazing artists. I became friends with many of them.
Manny and I had a lot of conversations throughout quarantine, and I shared with him that my dream was to paint a wall by myself. When the BLM protests began, I was painting on plywood in Soho. Manny hit me up and asked if @art_by_eyebrows and I wanted to paint for East Village Walls.
He said they were seeking artists immediately and, of course, we said yes. Then, I met Ben, an art lover who curates East Village Walls and started my work on the wall on First Avenue and Second Street, which was also my first solo wall work. After that, I just could not leave the East Village. Because to me it’s like the soul of NYC. And I’m in love with NYC.
What has the experience of working in the neighborhood been like? How do the locals react to your work?
After painting a couple of murals around the neighborhood, I want to say that streets are streets. They teach you where to be careful and where to relax. I had different, but mostly great experiences painting in the neighborhood. I learned not only about the wall painting flow, but also that once the neighbors get to know you, they become your family.
Once, when my mural was defaced, I felt like someone just did me a favor — because I’ve never felt as much support as I felt the day when I was fixing it. The mural is about unity. And it proved my point. Because people care and unite and they were uniting for me.
Through the message “Why Wait? Love Now,” my art represents the transition from vulnerability to strength — a quality that all brave souls possess. As we emotionally evolve, we expose ourselves to diverse levels of emotional transcendence and open up to engagements with others, which is a courageous and an extremely vital thing to do.
This allows us to take risks that lead us to meaningful experiences of love, joy, and happiness through others and ourselves. Having gone through emotionally abusive relationships, I was able to preserve my formula of happiness, and my art is a visual expression of that formula.
“Why Wait? Love Now” is a whole movement I created to support people on their journey towards joy that’s immune to all externalities, in a whole-hearted way. I invite people to rid themselves of fear and let themselves love
It is also about healing invisible pain and soothing hurtful scars through accepting love, strength of soul, and building self-resilience. It’s about every kind of love, just like my art.
You can keep up with the artist here.