Sasha Pivovarova

The Painter

"I want to touch people’s soul with my art."

The 2023 Pirelli Calendar celebrates the muses who have inspired photographer Emma Summerton and, more broadly, the remarkable power, passion and talent of women

Sasha Pivovarova is always drawing – on napkins, her clothes, walls – but whenever she picks up a pencil orpen she says she has no idea what she will create.

“I never know what I’m going to draw,” she said. “Usually I just have a feeling, I’m a little sad or maybe excited and that’s where it starts – from my emotions.”

The Russian supermodel has loved artsince childhood – she started taking art classes aged six, drew on walls around Moscow as a teenager and studied art history at university. Her expressionist illustrations, paintings and sculptures have attracted international attention, with her work exhibited in Paris and New York, and published in French and Russian editions of Vogue.

“I’m very happy anytime I feel that there is conversation between my artand a person, a viewer,” she said. “I want to touch people’s soul with my art.”

“I want to touch people’s soul with my art.”

Artistic expression

For Emma Summerton’s Love Letters to the Muse-themed 2023 Pirelli Calendar, Pivovarova embodies The Painter. Summerton is deeply inspired by painting – she almost became a painter herself – and many of the Calendar sets were influenced by favourite artists including Vali Myers and Leonora Carrington.

“Sasha was always going to be the painter,” said Summerton, who has worked with Pivovarova numerous times. For the Cal, she photographed her in a colourful, bohemian room filled with flowers, candles, lamps and rugs, many of which belong to Summerton and set designer Viki Rutsch. “This one is very personal,” Rutsch said of the set, with Summerton adding:“The room was based on a bit of Vali Myers/Hotel Chelsea [in NYC] sort of vibe.”

Before the shoot began, Pivovarova – who, with a cat, posed on a sofa in a bright red wig and a long, multi-layered dress of blue, white and yellow – drew freestyle over the room’s wallpapered walls. She sketched flowers and the face that often appears in her work – that of a girl with large eyes that looks a lot like her.

“I was like, just go for it and draw all over the walls so that your drawings are in the room that you embody,” Summerton said, adding that it was mesmerising to watch. “She’s in this sort of fever dream, creating her world, putting the finishing touches on her room... it looked amazing.”

“She’s in this sort of fever dream, creating her world”

Return to the Cal

Summerton, who has long admired Pivovarova’s artwork, also loves working with the model. “She is an artist in the way that she works in front of the camera, the way she loses herself in whatever character you give her.”

“She is an artist in the way that she works in front of the camera, the way she loses herself in whatever character you give her”

The shoot marks Moscow-born Pivovarova’s second appearance in the Pirelli Calendar; she was previously photographed by Patrick Demarchelier in Shanghai for the 2008 Cal. “It’s 14 years latera nd I’m still doing Pirelli! I feel amazing. I feel like a goddess,” she said.

“It’s 14 years later and I’m still doing Pirelli! I feel amazing. I feel like a goddess”

New York-based Pivovarova, who is also an actress, began modelling in 2005 after her then friend now husband, photographer Igor Vishnyakov, took photos of her and submitted them to modelling agency IMG. Designers including Miuccia Prada were instantly captivated. Two weeks later, Pivovarova opened the Prada show in Milan and she soon became one of the favourite faces of both Prada and Dior. Since then, she has appeared on countless magazine covers, including nearly every international cover of Vogue, worked with the world’s best-known fashion photographers and taken to the catwalk for Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton and many others.

Art inspires life

Throughout her career Pivovarova has sketched and painted, even if exhausted after long days of fittings and shows. “It’s like a meditation for me,” she said. “After work I’m so tired but I would get white napkins and take a pen and start to draw because for me it’s the way to relax, the way to come back to myself, to my reality.”

For her post-shoot interview she wore jeans covered in doodles and revealed that she sketches on the fabric every time shewears them, “like a canvas”.

The model, who has two daughters, also revealed an intimate detail about the face she often draws. “The funny thing [is] that I always would draw this girl who resembles me, who would have different [coloured] eyes, like one yellow and another green.

“So now I have a daughter, who’s just like me and she has different eyes [one blue, the other half-blue, half brown]. So for me it’s like my drawings actually came alive, like I was drawing this girl [all my life] and now she’s my daughter. Isn’t that amazing?”