Stanislava Pinchuk: Mapping a Connection

Jo Higgins talks to artist Stanislava Pinchuk, also known by her pseudonym Miso, about her heartbreak over the civil war in her Ukrainian homeland, a pain that is meticulously and beautifully mapped in her recent pinhole works.

Words: Jo Higgins

Photography: Zan Wimberley

Stanislava Pinchuk’s reputation arguably precedes her. Born in Kharkov, Ukraine in 1988, Pinchuk moved to Australia aged 10 and came to popular and critical attention shortly thereafter as part of Melbourne’s vibrant street art scene. Operating under the pseudonym Miso, Pinchuk was just 14 when she started creating her illustrative paste-ups, usually of finely wrought women.

As Miso, her work was included in the 2010 Space Invaders exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia and in 2012 she was in-residence at the National Gallery of Victoria, creating a new-site specific mural for the Crossbar Cafe.

In 2010 the self-taught artist and illustrator, whose commissions include Chanel, Ballet Australia and Thames & Hudson, began tattooing friends in exchange for meals, drawings and bottles of whiskey. Like her paste- ups, these delicate, portable works of art also caught the popular attention of the design and art world blogospheres and for good reason. These intimate, finely inked constellations record the emotional connections between people and places, like memory clusters, and are truly breathtaking in their beauty and poetic simplicity.

These ideas of mapping connections, of geography, topography and personal record remain ongoing themes in Pinchuk’s work. Which, given her nomadic tendencies, perhaps isn’t surprising. Even before graduating from the University of Melbourne in 2011 with a bachelor of arts and double major in art history and philosophy, Pinchuk was spending considerable periods abroad and she currently divides her time between Melbourne and Tokyo.

Pinchuk’s most recent body of paper-based work marries the meticulous, labour-intensive work of tattooing with her interest in empty space and ephemeral experience. These seemingly intangible works are drawn from collated geographical data and rendered, pinhole by pinhole, with an etching burin and hand-held mallet.

Pinchuk describes these works as being drawn with “empty space, sculpting back from the plainest thing I can think of, a blank sheet of paper”. She adds: “A lot of my work is about the tension between beauty and physical pain. I’ve always felt that a lot of the mediums that are seen as women’s work – things like lacemaking, embroidery, textiles and tattooing – are often written off as decorative. But what I really love is that for all their beauty, they carry so much silent tension in how physically painful and technically difficult they are to make. I love that tension and think it’s such a beautiful visual language and resilient history that women have made.

“For me, the pinhole work and tattooing are incredibly difficult, physically demanding processes, time-consuming, dot by dot by dot. They require a lot of strength and resilience, a lot of sweat and pain. But I really hope they also look effortless and beautiful to the eye, really inviting in how they present something very complex in a poetic way. There’s a lot to be said for treading softly! And it feels really appropriate to map conflict in this way; a more gentle, subtle way to communicate the feeling of war.”

Conflict, specifically the current civil war in the Ukraine, is the focus of Pinchuk’s upcoming work for her debut show at Melbourne’s Karen Woodbury Gallery. Here, her pinhole drawings of the topography of the war (mapped using swathes of fabrics) will be shown alongside a series of gestural drawings of the sounds of war, also rendered in her painful, meticulous pinholes.

Of this body of work, Pinchuk says: “It’s really important to me that these works are beautiful, but they are completely mapping heartbreak. I never thought I would ever see the day where my country was invaded. I never thought about civil war. It’s been a really difficult, heartbreaking year. The show comes from a lot of anger and a lot of sadness, but I wanted to show this in a more gentle way; the feeling of what it’s like to stand on fragile ground, how movable borders and land feel at the moment. I suppose this really covers it from a female perspective – in some ways it’s more about heartbreak and suffering than political agendas.”

Beyond the exquisite visual poetry rendered by Pinchuk with her mallet and etching burin, and setting aside too, her tens of thousands of fans on social media, there is a powerful, quiet energy that resonates in her work – a trace element perhaps of Pinchuk’s labour and explorations. The author of several books on tattooing and street art and with work already in several major national collections including the NGA and NGV, Pinchuk says: “I love seeing artworks where you really feel that the artist has lived with the work while making it. Not necessarily taken a long time to make it, but really sincerely lived with it. I think it’s a beautiful feeling and such a nice connection to have between artists and viewers. It’s a really powerful way to bring more challenging ideas into the work, to make them more of an invitation than a statement. It’s something that I really hope comes across in my work.”


Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Australia

“In 2010 the National Gallery of Australia acquired two enigmatic cut-paper diptychs by Melbourne-based artist Miso that were included in its popular touring exhibition of street art, Space Invaders. Each pair of life-size women has a detailed drawn face above a simplified body formed from geometric patterns. Initially conceived as paste-ups, these figurative works were installed in laneways around Melbourne, enabling an interaction with the architectural elements of the city. Their anonymity represents a universal female; the circumspect elderly woman gazes away from her twin, while the young women appear to be singing in unison.

“Continuing to follow Miso’s career, the gallery acquired two exquisite pin-pricked drawings in 2013, assisted by the Rotary Collection of Australian Art Fund. Moon (Kharkov) and I looked to the devil, I looked up to the sky (constellation map) were made in response to the artist’s recent travels through Europe and America. Exploring ideas about the way we remember places, Miso punctured the topography of skies seen above cities onto blank sheets of paper. The restrained palette and spare composition create a calm and meditative space, a contrast to her experiences travelling through chaotic locations, such as London during the riots, Tokyo after the Fukushima earthquakes or Saudi Arabia after the Arab Spring protests. These fugitive images are composed from tiny shadows that form around each hole, yet when not framed behind glass a work like Moon (Kharkov) can be held up to the light where the lunar landscape glows out of the paper itself.”

Director, Karen Woodbury Gallery

“Without knowing who the artist was, I first encountered quite a few of Stanislava Pinchuk’s (aka Miso’s) paste-ups around Melbourne. At that time I was quite taken by the narrative quality of the work, with its Viennese Secessionist elements, and Stanislava’s individuality stood out from the throng.

“It wasn’t until 2014 that Stanislava came onto my radar fully, when I was visiting Adelaide and happened upon her solo show at Hugo Michell Gallery. It was one of those rare moments when you stumble across work that makes your heart beat fast and you have a physical reaction to the visual. I was completely and immediately taken, by not only the beauty, but also the universality of the themes. The work is so delicate yet so full of big ideas – exploring connections, collective consciousness, mapping, travelling, relationships and being. It just touched me in a very metaphysical way. Of course I wanted to own the whole show, but fortunately most of it was already sold!

“Stanislava already has a massive following on social media; she’s the only artist I know with 77,000 followers on Instagram, that in itself must say something of the common language she speaks. That aside, it is encouraging to see the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria have already acquired her work early in her career. There is a sophistication and intellectual rigour in the work, which is a rare thing in an artist so young and I‘m excited to be witness to the unfolding ideas.”

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 73, JUL – SEP 2015.


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