Russian Artist Living on No Income


Russian artist Sergey Balovin has been living in Shanghai, China for the past several years completely broke.
How does he survive? Instead of having customers pay for paintings, he asks for a trade of food, other necessities, or items of interest. He calls this system of barter the “In-Kind Exchange Project.”

“At the beginning I thought of this lifestyle as temporary, yet now I cannot imagine how I can come back to money,” said Balovin in an article with Visual News. “My life is much more colorful than it was before.”

For two years, Balovin has been painting the portrait of anyone who comes to his apartment with a gift for him. The portraits only take him about 10 minutes to complete, but he always does two – one for the customer, and one to put on his “Wall of Faces.”

Recently, Balovin has branched out into a new part of his project. “In January 2013 I’m going to make a world trip money-free,” he says on his website, “All I need (from food to tickets) I’m planning to receive in exchange for the portraits that I’m going to do for everybody who takes part in ‘In-Kind Exchange.”

So far Balovin has traveled throughout China, Russia, Croatia and Chernogriya as part of his trip. He has not shown any signs of giving up.

He has mentioned that he wants to visit the U.S. but has not gotten a visa yet.

Urbana High School Freshman Sierra Trammel says, “I think it’s a very interesting way to live. Since he is trading things for the things he gets, I think it’s fair.”

On Balovin’s website, there is a form that can be filled out to get your portrait made. You can even send him a photo and have him draw your portrait from that. Everyone can participate in this community-oriented project. Visit his website,, to check it out.

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