By Edwin Houghton | The Fader – May-June, 2008
One of the most prominent and controversial Russian artists of his generation, Alex Melamid immigrated to the US in the late ’80s. Since 2003, he has focused on a series of meticulously realistic portraits of rap luminaries. Lucky for him, his son is former G-Unit video-guy Dan “The Man” Melamid, guaranteeing access to many of the artists Dan and his partner Whoo Kid brought on their G-Unit Radio show
on Shade 45. Melamid’s paintings were recently exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in an exhibit called Holy Hip-Hop, and he continues to churn them out, along with two concurrent series of portraits, one of various Vatican figures, and a new set of Russian oligarchs and oil barons.
When did your son’s work start bleeding into yours?
Alex Melamid: I was always interested in my son’s world, but he was not very generous to share.
Dan Melamid: Kids are always embarrassed of their parents, and my dad is the most embarrassing. He used to go into the supermarket and just yell “shit-stain!” in a Russian accent just to embarrass me. I think his real fascination started when 50 Cent mania became really crazy and I was touring with him all the time.
AM: I like painting these people because I’m really cold to them. I really have nothing to do with these people and I know even if I want to know them, I would never manage. It’s impossible.
It’s a window into another world.
AM: It’s not a window, it’s a keyhole. It’s snooping. How did they get elevated to this? I don’t believe in any god whatsoever, but when you see the cardinal you think, My god, there must be something.
[Pointing to a painting of Marley Marl] Why did he do this? All the people from his project, they say, “He did it.”
Who decides who should be in the series?
AM: That’s him [Dan].
DM: I’m trying to get Jay, Nas, Diddy. I want to finish off the greats that are here now. It’s like getting the complete set of baseball cards. Just like I collect videos under my belt, it’s the same thing with you, Dad. You collect oligarchs or rappers and it’s like, Ooh, I got another one.
Did your dad’s visual work influence you getting into video?
DM: No, I picked up a camera out of necessity. I always did documentary, storytelling kinda stuff. But recently I did that video for Styles P [“The Hardest”] and I collaborated with those Graffiti Research Lab guys, actual artists. We’ve been experimenting with some weird technology for my videos and I’m like, Holy shit, I guess I am an artist. I think it’s gonna come even more full circle, because I’m really embracing my Russian roots and I really want to pursue projects based on that.
So you’re going to start doing oligarch videos, while he’s doing rapper portraits?
DM: Basically. I think oligarchs are harder to get than rappers.
AM: Same. They’re the same.