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Gleb Pesoc Little birds, little flowers

Some of Gleb's best work is created without permission, seemingly as and when inspiration strikes him.

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@g.pesoc

I met Gleb Pesoc in St Petersburg. He gave a friend of mine a tattoo - a yellow sunflower on his sternum, drawn in a childlike style. This tattoo was a point of controversy among friends: was it art, or a regrettable mistake?

I loved the tattoo: it had never occurred to me that tattoos could be so colourful, so playful. I'd never even seen colour in tattoos, aside from the classic black-blue and the red of a bleeding heart. In this piece, like in all of his work, Gleb eschewed the classic thick, purposeful lines for thin, feathery strokes. They reminded me of the doodles a kid, bored in an endless lesson, draws in their exercise book.

But my love for the tattoo went beyond liking the aesthetic: Gleb seemed to have created something that mirrored Oli, on a deeper level than tattoos I'd seen before. The tousled petals reminded me of Oli's own bleached blonde curls. The sunflower's stem was aligned over the boundary of his ribs and when you laid your hand over the seeds, you could feel his heartbeat. The entire image seemed animated with joy and enthusiasm, and a clumsy, unselfconscious cheerfulness.

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@g.pesoc

Gleb deals with the extraordinary every day - knowing his childlike, dreamy style, people come to him with their most outlandish ideas, stretching the typical understanding of what can - and should - be inked onto one's skin forever. And if he's not sketching other people's proposals, he's drawing from his own imagination. He showed me the sketchbook he uses to collect ideas. I recognised some characters from his Instagram posts: the cherubs, the long, stretched hearts, the lion staring wistfully at its own reflection.

Tattooing is usually thought of as something that alters the body, but some of Gleb's tattoos seem to stand in defiance of this, allowing themselves to be affected by the uneven, imperfect nature of the skin. Scars, freckles, and stretch marks - blemishes on the canvas, in a sense - all have an influence on how Gleb realises his designs. Often this is a natural process, the variations in bodies necessitating adaptation, but occasionally he seems to take inspiration from these elements, particularly when scars are self-inflicted. FML, he prints, next to a series of healed self-harm cuts. A safety pin is poised to close a red mark on a subject's forehead. He doesn't always incorporate the peculiarities of people's bodies into his tattoos in such a self-conscious way, though. Sometimes it seems almost coincidental: a cowering ink tiger is caught in a lightning storm of stretch marks.

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Some of Gleb's best work is created without permission, seemingly as and when inspiration strikes him. A signed portrait of a walking man is daubed on the ramparts of the Great Wall of China. This piece could be seen as an act of vandalism, but to my mind it speaks of an artist testing the definition of public spaces, probing the boundaries between creativity and crime.

When he was in Tokyo, Gleb visited Akasaka Palace, a former imperial palace which is now used as accommodation for visiting dignitaries. Gleb painted on a wall in the grounds - minimal flowers and birds in neon pink paint - and signed it with his characteristic G.Pesoc.

Back in the capital, journalists were in uproar: Gleb, unknowingly, had vandalised a very important building. Worse, the G-20 was being hosted in Japan at that time. Politicians, journalists, and the authorities were convinced the artwork was politically motivated, although they couldn't think of an agenda to attribute to the little birds and flowers.

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@g.pesoc

Gleb was no longer in Tokyo, and didn't know about any of this - the first he heard of the small sensation his work had caused was weeks later, when a journalist got in touch to ask if he was the artist. He flew back to the capital to face trial and was sentenced to a year and six months in prison. He was released on probation and deported after three months. Landing in Vladivostok, Gleb left the country as soon as he could, flying to South Korea to continue his East Asian tour.

I asked Gleb what made him do it - it seemed unnecessarily risky to paint on a government building. He couldn't have expected to get away with it. Gleb seemed surprised at the question, puzzled by the implication that he'd been arrested by accident. He views the fallout from the work as a form of performance. The process, trial and imprisonment, he told me, are an extension of the art itself.

At the time of writing, Gleb is confined to his St. Petersburg home. He's using the time at home to explore different creative avenues, collaborating with his girlfriend Yana, and experimenting with music.

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