Shop the TAIKAN By Shyfuck Collection here.
Where are you from? Tell us a little bit of your history?
I’m from a small town in Ukraine but I grew up in Calgary. I was a weird kid and always felt pretty out of place everywhere I went. The one constant in my life has been art. I remember being 10 or 11 at the public pool and seeing this person covered head to toe in tattoos, totally minding their business while other adults stared and whispered to each other. It blew my mind. All the people around me were constantly criticizing tattoos, claiming they were only for delinquents and criminals. I think that’s where my obsession started. As a first generation immigrant I was raised very strictly, and being an artist for a living was out of the question. I graduated high school and started a bachelor degree in economics. I was brutally depressed and had a mental breakdown a year in. Life without art was suicide. I dropped out and found a room for rent on Craigslist. One day I packed my bags and told my parents that I was done with economics and was going to be a tattoo artist. It was a nightmare. They were sobbing and furious. I was kicked out (luckily I had seen this coming) and I didn’t speak to my dad for months. My relationship with my family was really rocky for a few years afterwards. I find it interesting to think about how controversial art can be. I’ve really refined my art since then and proven that this is what I was born to do. My dad saw my tattoos for this first time this year, and wants me to give him his first tattoo soon. Having the support of my parents has been unbelievably life affirming. I’m really proud that we’ve come this far, and I’m excited to show them what else I have up my sleeve.
What has your artistic journey been thus far? Tell us about the highs and lows & what you have done to overcome the lows.
My art has changed a lot over the years. I lived through an abusive relationship that estranged me from my friends and family and really changed my brain and my art forever. I was pretty fucked up for a while and really lost control of my mental and physical health. I was severely anorexic and an insomniac. I would have waking hallucinations and extreme paranoia. Things were really scary. This is around the time I started to make some serious art. I’m not on board with the whole “tortured artist” stereotype but I do believe that having experienced some major lows does help inform my work in a way. My art really developed a “soul” after that. I’m lucky to have a strong support system of people in my life that helped pull me out of the weeds. In 2020 I was laid off of my job at the Rio theatre for a few months due to the covid lockdowns and had a lot of extra time to channel into my art and health. I painted my first major piece “The Empath” as a way for myself process that old trauma. I can’t describe the way that painting makes me feel. It’s a part of me. It was also the first time I truly believed I had a chance at making it as an artist. I was lucky enough that local Vancouver tattoo legend Nina Chwelos believed in me too. She took me under her wing and offered me a space in her studio. I was able to quit my job in June 2021 and I’ve never looked back. I’m endlessly grateful that this is my life. My need to create surpasses everything else. If you’re an artist you know the feeling when you’ve made something and it takes on a life of it’s own. It’s something really special. I’m constantly chasing that.
Where does the name Shyfuck come from?
I remember writing “Shyfuck” on a sticker with a fat marker a couple years ago and thinking “yup, that’s me”. I was definitely a little under-socialized as a child. I’ve always been a shy weirdo and at this point I don’t view it as a character defect any more. I think my art really embodies that. I love being an introvert. It allows me to really lean into my work.
Talk about the fluid gradients of colour that flow throughout your various works and how it establishes your iconic style.
My obsession with blending goes way back. I’m a perfectionist. There’s something about the way that a smooth gradient carries your eyes across a piece that really holds me. I actually find it almost impossible not to blend that way. It’s just how my brain works. I like carrying that psychedelic element into my art. I think my art resonates with anyone who has done hallucinogens or experienced deep meditation. My style is all about deeply satisfying the brain with meaningful colour and form. I love when a visual really sucks you in and mesmerizes you like that.
Tell us about your tattoo practice and how it has evolved over the years or how it influences your other projects.
I was 16 in my parents basement when I gave myself my first tattoo with India ink and a sewing needle. A few years later I bought a shitty rotary machine. I’d get tattooed by really talented artists and be too shy to tell them my plans of becoming a tattoo artist out of fear that they would judge me, but I’d always take mental notes on their techniques, tools, and set-ups and use it to improve my practice. There’s a lot of negative stigma in the tattoo community about being self taught and I do everything I can to treat the art form with respect and learn from tradition while still giving myself the freedom to experiment. Tattooing is such a beautiful thing. I think sometimes we forget how sacred it is. There’s a lot of trust involved. The medium itself is constantly surprising me. There are so many nuances and techniques that don’t exist in any other art form. I love being able to tattoo my paintings and drawings and give them a home with someone. Being an introvert, I’m surprised by how much I enjoy the one on one human interaction that goes down during a tattoo. It feels therapeutic. It’s a real bonding experience. I’m thankful every day for it.
What got you into airbrushing? How does the process go?
My roommate got an airbrush as a Christmas gift this year and was nice enough to let me use it. I was in love! An airbrush feels like a more controlled version of a spray paint can, and having some graffiti skills I picked it up very naturally. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes. There’s dozens of tiny little parts involved that all need to be carefully cleaned and maintained after each use, and supplies are expensive and hard to come by, but I think I’m really starting to get the hang of it. For someone like me who’s obsessed with blending and softness it was a major game changer.
What was it like to airbrush the nylon material of TAIKAN bags & what was the inspiration?
Nylon is a tricky material because it really soaks up and bleeds paint. There was a lot of layering and a lot of patience involved but I’m really proud of the end product and there’s a lot of my colourful Shyfuck energy there. I was inspired by downtown Vancouver graffiti and street culture and also wanted to make something that was true to the TAIKAN brand. Each bag is a totally unique personality piece. I’m really stoked on these.
What other mediums are you practicing or hope to get into?
I’ve always wanted to try sculpting. I think making that jump from 2D to 3D would be really interesting. Hopefully I get that opportunity one day. Until then, my focus has been on oil painting, airbrushing, and tattooing. I still have so much to learn. It’s an endless process.
Any other projects you see on the horizon?
My 2022 goal is to do some guest spots across North America. The ability of tattoo artists to travel and tattoo people from all over the world has always been a huge draw for me. That would be life changing. I’m also getting the urge to paint something really fucking big, maybe 10ft long. I’ve never done anything that big before and I’m still cooking up some ideas but I have a vision of something really crazy and dynamic. Stay tuned!
SHYFUCK X TAIKAN Spotify Playlist
Curated specially by the artist for the project, check out the soundtrack to the Shyfuck X TAIKAN collaboration.