You have heard the saying, "art is in the eye of the beholder." That is certainly true in Russia. When most Russians think of art, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg comes to mind.
"World treasures. The 2nd largest museum in the world after Louvre in Paris," said our Hermitage Museum tour guide. "We have the collections of Italian, French, Dutch, German, English art and surely there are masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci - we have two of them. Two favorite Madonnas. Raphael and Michelangelo. We have one statue but we are so proud of it. And one of the biggest collections of impressionists."
"There's over 3 million pieces in the Hermitage which is really cool. It a collection from all over the world," said IU graduate Ingrid Nelson who now lives in St. Petersburg.
While the crowds flock to the Hermitage to see masterpieces, there is another Russian artist at work 500 miles away in a different city. Nizhny Novgorod is a city of contrast.
"Look at this building. It has luxurious stores. It's new. Then look at this one. It looks so shabby," said our tour guide who points at an abandoned building.
The buildings where no one wants to live become the very places Nikita Nomerz wants to paint. The street artist who got a degree in interior design is armed with multiple cans of spray paint and creating the face of a man on a dilapidated building.
"This is a man who is sitting behind the bars, who is imprisoned. He strives to get away from this place. He wants to get free," explained Nomerz.
Every few minutes, Nomerz will step off his ladder, drop paint cans on the grass and take a photo to see if his creation is coming together the way he imagined.
"I have some works which are called live walls. The idea is to make abandoned houses alive. With my painting they start to have character and emotions," said Nomerz. "I think every object, every wall has its own soul and its own face. When I look at an abandoned building, I always see some image," said Nomerz.
An abandoned building is not the only canvas he seeks. Nomerz has created a smiling face on a water tower bordering a river in Nizhny Novgorod.
"Once I was strolling along the embankment and I saw this object. At once, I got the idea that it resembled a face," said Nomerz. "The whole series of my work which is called faces started with this one. It was the first face which I painted in my life. At that time, I didn't realize it would be a long story."
Nomerz has returned to remove graffiti from his first face that he painted on the water tower.
"Usually I never restore my work. I think what happens to them has nothing to do with me anymore. It's their life already," said Nomerz.
Nomerz uses a ladder that he stashes in the woods. A tree branch helps his paint roller reach the highest spots on the water tower.
"I think that every object has its own soul, face and character. Faces reflect our character and other people see this," said Nomerz. "I try to make kind and merry faces. I think we need more kind faces because we have too much aggression in this world. I don't paint my friends. But my paintings become my friends. In Russia, we have an expression that eyes reflect the soul. Or that our soul is reflected in our eyes. I completely agree with that," said Nomerz."
Nomerz has been painting all over Russia. After nearly 100 works of art, he realized what he was really creating.
"I understood that I had painted a whole family. A grandfather, kids, father and mother. This is big brother in the family," said Nomerz.
You have to travel through a heavily wooded area of Nizhny Novgorod to discover the baby painting of the family, hidden in an area with overgrown weeds and tucked away from where people would walk.
"There are old buildings that are very beautiful. I enjoy looking at them. I don't want to do anything to them. They are perfect without it," said Nomerz. "There are some abandoned buildings looking like this and I want to decorate them."
Nomerz who says he rarely runs into trouble creating street art on buildings or houses.
"Sometimes I have problem with police and pedestrians. But, I settle all these problems," said Nomerz.
Travel around Nihzny Novgorod and you will see typical graffiti. But Nomerz' work is street art with soul.
"It's alive. It's too alive," our tour guide said as she described the painting of the man in jail. "It has very bright expression of the face. Very vivid expression. It's really very expressive. I can see pain in his eyes. Pain. Struggle and probably despair. He's desperate. He's desperately struggling."
"I like it. I think this person definitely has talent," said the woman who lives next door to the painting.
The most famous art in Russia may be found in the Hermitage. But Russia's most unique artist is creating his own masterpieces. Most people may see a shabby building. But, in the eyes of this street artist that is the perfect canvas.
"My works, when I have painted them - they start to live their own lives. It's very different from being in the museum. I know the house may be demolished or some person can come and paint something else. It lives its own life. It has nothing to do with me anymore. I cannot influence it anymore," said Nomerz. "I like my art because it's really alive. Classical art, which is galleries and museums is closed for people. They pay money to get inside," said Nomerz. "My art is open for everybody. Everyone can see it."