Time for your close up
We spend some time with Sergei Sviatchenko, the artist behind Close Up and Private.
What makes a blog interesting? Usually, it's a unique viewpoint. Forgive us for this incredibly pretentious and high minded comparison but, in a weird way, blogs are similar to politics. Decades ago - in the UK at least - politicians used to hold jobs elsewhere before taking up positions in parliament, which gave them hands on experience and an understanding into how their decisions affected others which, in turn, gave them a stronger viewpoint once they got in office. Now there are career politicians, of which a majority fail to view people as anything more than key demographics. You could throw a similar accusation at menswear bloggers in recent years. While, beforehand, people started blogging to share their viewpoint, we now have people who learned to blog from other blogs, which, inevitably, brings a second hand worldview. Which is why a blog like Close Up and Private stands out from the rest.
Close Up and Private is helmed by Sergei Sviatchenko, the 58 year old artist currently residing in Denmark. When I meet Sergei in a cafe in Copenhagen, he's wearing a Thom Browne blazer, navy overcoat, grey flannel trousers and Sebago loafers, looking every inch the best dressed man in Denmark that he was awarded by Euroman. 'Yes, I got best dressed in Denmark in 2010!' He notes with a mixture of surprise, joy and slight bemusement at the grandiose title.
This reaction could explain Sviatchenko as a whole, who's still amazed at the attention that Close Up and Private has received. Seen primarily as a style blog to those into menswear, he saw it as a continuation of his previous art projects. "I think it's very interesting that a pure artist has done this and not a designer. This gives it a twist. It's the first time there's been something like this, there aren't many artists, ones who do installations and work in a gallery which does serious business, who've suddenly opened a site."
Born in Kharkiv in 1952, Sergei is the son of famous Ukrainian professor of architecture and water colour artist Evgenij Sviatchenko. Evgenij, who taught at the Ukrainian Academy for Architecture, is one of Sergei's main inspirations and one of the reasons he originally trained as an architect. Despite all the artistic things Sergei has done, he still refers to himself as an architect first and foremost. He moved to Denmark in 1990, hosting numerous solo and group exhibitions across the world. Eventually he founded Senko studio in 2002.
When Close Up and Private started back in 2009, it's original purpose was to function as an ongoing artwork. "I wanted to share my experience and how I understood style. This is why it's very personal and very private!" he chuckles. Most of Sergei's work is collage based and he sees Close Up and Private in the same light. "The idea is, with my knowledge, with my style, how I understand it, I mix the clothes exactly the same way as I do my collages. So the combination works in the same way a stylist would work with the clothes." While the clothes are classic he says that "When I put them on Eric, my 19 year old son, it's suddenly extremely twisted."
While his daughter models for the site, the main model is son Erik. While he's known around these parts as 'that guy from Close Up and Private', he's a professional footballer by day. A defender, he plays for Denmark's FC Midtjylland and Denmark's under-19s national team. As you'd expect from any proud father, Sergei beams when talking about his son’s achievements.
The other thing that he noticed was the new audience CUAP opened him up to. "From the beginning the audience has been full of quite young people. We are talking about between 18 and 35. It's changed slightly since I started the blog but it's still relatively the same age range. It's all blown up, new people, new blogs. It's gone up extremely. I'm surprised because it's a very particular and I think, specific, style project."
Specific though it is, it did benefit from arriving at a time when the timeless and classic was being heralded in menswear, something he was blissfully unaware of at the time. "I always look for timeless clothes. I used my own wardrobe in the beginning. Most of the clothes are things I've had for fifteen years!" With a love for the quirkier things as well as the classics, he labels Gant Rugger, Ralph Lauren and Thom Browne amongst his favourite companies.
What really makes Close Up and Private stand out is the use of pictures of colours mixed in with clothing and the tinted hues. Sergei points out that the blocks of colour are from his previous work, 'less'. He also puts some of his collages into each edition, creating a work that's considered and thoughtful, as opposed to the random gathering of photographs you might see on a tumblr. "It's an inspiration blog. It's my clothes, my style - this is Close up and private. I wanted the younger generation to be inspired by my site. It's particularly photography I like. I'm very bored by all these magazines. Same, same, same, same."
Despite his predilection for Ralph Lauren and the likes, Sergei wouldn't necessarily call the style displayed on CUAP preppy. "Americans call it preppy, it's not. It's more Beatles style, more the '50s, '60s London or hippy 70's. Americans see yellow trousers and call it preppy but what could I have said? I was like 'ok, if you want to call it preppy, ok'. But the biggest inspiration for me is the Beatles." Sergei's a huge fan, owning nearly every record they've ever released on vinyl, in addition to several bits of memorabilia. "I especially liked the Beatles from '62-'65. I do like the Take Ivy book. it's fantastic because it's just style - people just dressed like this. I admired this style, but it's not a copy. But it's also a collage. We're talking all about the details, colour and collage. It's more than just preppy."
One of the main things that can be taken from spending time with Sergei is his, forgive the cliché, lust for life. Endlessly positive, the only time I can eek something bordering on a negative opinion is when asking him about decades he dislikes. And even then he has to issue a disclaimer afterwards. "I'd like to show as much as we can with Close Up and Private so young people will look at the style '50s, '60s and '70s. And totally forget the '80s. I hate the '80s. It was a disaster in the fashion industry, the '80s. Terrible stuff. In my opinion!" Given his love for timeless clothing, I'm surprised to see that he liked the style of the '70s. "Yeah, totally different from the '60s. But there was the big movement in music, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, this is style. Jim Morrison, this is style. Marvin Gaye, He's my favourite, I'll listen to him forever. But my favourite era was the '60s, it was a pure era."
Since Close Up and Private garnered some press attention, Sviatchenko has started working with magazines like Euroman, styling and photographing shoots. Although we do wonder, wouldn't it make sense for an artist to have the work in a gallery? "People have started to ask that", He says. "So there will be a big exhibition in Hamburg for Close Up and Private." And, a few months after this conversation, he emails me to let me know that there'll be another Close Up and Private exhibition, this time at Roja Nova, a creative event in Rio De Janeiro.
Speculating how much of this interest is due to the internet, he says a lot of it. "I think it's very nice that I get emails just saying 'good job' or 'keep going'. It's fantastic that people have reacted like this. I have people from 47 countries, like South Korea or Malaysia. There's approximately about 1,000 or 2,000 people a day, which is a lot for a niche. Also, because of the internet, I got a completely new audience for my art." And this new audience has allowed him to do some new things, such as painting, which he did under the name Sergey Nielsen. It's these paintings that will exhibited in Hamburg in June at the CCA&A gallery, the first Close Up and Private gallery exhibition.
With exhibitions on the horizon and a possible clothing line in the works - he already has the tags sorted - he talks of future plans, including a possible blog and magazine with Garmsville's Jason Jules "I'm thinking about doing a collaboration with him because I like him so much. Maybe we'll do a blog together, it'll be my images and his writing. We have the same ideas aesthetically. I'd also like to go out with the paintings and to sell them and maybe do some different work with magazines and work with them as a stylist, I think that should be interesting." Whatever happens, we'll be paying attention.
(published in 2011)