karabas' spam

master of puppets

Alexander Livanov was born in Moscow in 1938. In 1955 he attended the institute of cinematography, graduating in 1961 with a degree in arts. Livanov was exhibiting his works since 1960s. In 1983 he started teaching at the Moscow Institute of Graphic Arts and Publishing.

“About people’s passion for crime stories… Every person craves the detailed attention that the detectives have for the victims in those.”

He picked up the name for the book himself. “Spam” is easy to explain. He watches a lot of TV, and shares his observations, which have nothing in common except for everything. He teaches his students to observe and draw, and to draw what they see. Any story he shared for the book could be paired up with any illustration in it. There would be no difference. They’re all random and yet united.

His method of constant observation has a lot to do with his education in cinematography. On the edge of two different arts Livanov picked everything that they had in common to distill the art of observation, depiction of shape and nature.

The cover flaps contains four incredibly formal speeches Livanov gave at his exhibitions in 1979, 1985, 1994 and 2011. He insisted on including them, but they had to be exiled.

The cover was made like for one of Livanov's favorite DDR books. Done using seriography, features a pen drawn sticker.

He inspired several generations of artists. Some of his works are stored in Tretyakovska gallery. His approach to storytelling and cinematographic dynamics is incredibly influential in Moscow. He draws a lot from the TV.

glass, space, glares — main themes of his works
Famous works of A. Livanov from the 1980s that were not included in the book

“End of October in Sudak. The seafront is sunlit and cold. Ferris wheel carries around slowly a single occupant in a brown hat and with a chest full of medals. They shine as bright as his golden tooth”.

Why did he call himself Karabas, after the omnious bearded puppet master from “Burratino”, the classical Russian re-imagining of “The Pinnochio”? One can imagine the first year students attending Livanov’s course from Livanov’s perspective. The moment he would open his mouth every student’s hand would jerk and start writing down what the Maestro had to say. And maybe he thought that it was a bit silly or stupid of them, because he taught to observe and not to copy. So he spammed his pupils with stories about what he saw from his garden in the childhood, what was on TV and what he saw in the movies and an elevator during his life. To show what it means to observe.

Another lamp from the 80s

“My parents came back from a play called “Our mutual friend” (Dickens). I was falling asleep and asked them “Is that about Stalin?”

Maybe puppet master never had the heart to tell the puppets to stop being guided and think for themselves.

His famous advice is “just start drawing something”.


Deliverables: Full production of a book of Livanov’s observations and drawings.