Misha Most is Geography teacher turned graffiti artist. He is also creator of the largest mural in the world. But perhaps his biggest source of attention is his artistic use of drone technology. Today, this famous Russian artist uses specialized drones as a medium for meaning and new techniques in his work.
Misha Most, Graffiti Artist and Philosopher
A Soviet Vision of the Future Informs Environmental Duty
Years ago, in Moscow, Misha found a dusty Soviet book from the 60’s or 70’s, written during the American-Soviet Space Race. “It was a new era,” Misha said, “Humans going to space made people think they were closer to the future.”
The book predicted that by the 2000s, we would see flying cars and an end to war. “Of course,” Misha says, “this did not happen.”
Misha began to think about human perception of the future. Misha realized that scientists and artists alike had unified hopes and fears about the future. Innovators imagined a bleak humanity redesigned by genetic engineering, and science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Jules Verne feared a world overtaken by entertainment and bereft of human compassion.
Both scientists and artists foresaw that the face of the future would be inextricably enmeshed with technology development, and they realized the future could be ugly for each of them if humankind is not careful with technology’s development. So Misha decided a collaboration between science and art would be most appropriate to address the topic of mankind’s future.
Misha believes his concern for the Earth and its future may have come from his studies in Geography. “Ecology is the way we use the Earth,” Misha says. “There is a relationship between humans and technology, and this is going to shape our relationship with the Earth, for good or for bad.”
Because his art is about the role of humans and technology in the shaping of the future, Misha decided that “experimenting with the incorporation of drones would into his art would address my topic in a symbolic and relevant futuristic way.”
Art is Everywhere: Removal of the Artist
When you want to see art, you pilgrimage to the nearest museum, pay a small donation fee, and spend the day shuffling between golden frames with a crinkled brow. You squint at names on a small white card mounted on the wall and say, “Didn’t this artist have a tragic life?”
But for Misha, art is everywhere. “This energy of the street, the ability to do anything anywhere, is important in my art,” Misha says, reflecting that the street was his only education in art. This art is the background of life, and we pass it every day with generalized gratitude to the culture that palpably shaped our daily commute.
“The artist is not even seen with graffiti. It just appears! Making art for a gallery is different,” Misha says. He aims to emulate this principle from the street in his art, making it about doing something when it’s done without you.
Throughout time, there has always been degrees of removal of the artist from their work. Michelangelo, DaVinci, and Andy Warhol all had assistants, but these were live human assistants. Misha replaces this live system with a robot because the displacement of the artist is even greater with a technological machine.
From Artist to Maker: How Misha Most Developed a New Artist Tool Through Drones
Three years ago, Misha noticed a spike in public drone interest as affordable options entered the market. He saw Austin Haughwout’s famous drone alterations that shot a gun and sprayed fire, and he reasoned that there was no reason he too could not modify a drone – to spray paint.
Misha and his engineer collaborators at Interactive Lab Tsuru Robotics soon realized was that manual control of the drone would not be a practical way to create art. “By controlling the drone with a remote, you cannot make a precise circle or a line, and the drone will keep hitting the wall,” Misha said.
Katsu, another graffiti artist, uses drones to fly manually, but no other artists have ever used drones in their work, and none have ever pre-programmed them to fly automatically for the level of precision Misha requires.
Three prototypes later, the drone-artist completed its first successful test. The drones are made from scratch using 3D printing, with a mechanism that presses the cap on the can to make it spray. It has eight propellers, rather than the standard four, to handle the extra weight of the spray cans.
However, the propellers were powerful enough that they sucked paint into their motors, causing them to overheat and melt pieces of the drone. So, Misha and his team of eight covered the propellers with cut out plastic bottles to protect them, without interfering with their movement. “It looks brutal, but it does the job,” Misha laughs.
“The Drone moves like a creature in the depths of the ocean,” -Misha Most
“It was all an experiment, when we moved in, and we spent three to four weeks painting. We didn’t know what would happen, and we were happy with how it turned out in the end.” Misha reflects.
Misha said that having the drones speeds up his work, especially when he can have several going at a time. This new “brush” also paints with geometrical correctness that surpasses what any human could draw, with extended straight lines and perfect circles. Sometimes, the drones make mistakes, but Misha believes this is “also valuable,” as it provides actual contribution of the drone into the final product. It removes him another step from his art, giving more control to technology and speaking to the symbolic collaboration between man and technology. In the future, Misha hopes to do the same level of quality but independent from a closed space.
What’s Next? Artificial Intelligence Masks the Artist and Shapes the Future
Misha hopes to branch into other technologies, particularly artificial intelligence. “The connection between humans and technology themselves are developing even more through artificial intelligence,” Misha says. Misha is excited by the idea of creating a robot artist with the ability to take the human artist a step even further away from the authorship of their work.
Even innovators like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk advise us to have care with this new technology, recognizing that it can be used for positive or negative purposes. But by harnessing these technologies for creative goals like art, we are promoting a future world where the human-tech relationship impacts the earth positively.
With recent media attention on “Sophia,” the artificial intelligence robot and new citizen of Saudi Arabia, Misha is again on the cusp of an exploding market.