By Katerina Pravdivaia
What is your artistic background?
I have my Masters in Art Education. I was an art teacher for 13 years. My graduate exhibition steered my work to have a focused exploration of dance, and eventually, a broader study of movement. It was my experiences with this exhibition that encouraged me to continue as an artist. Being a professional artist and an art teacher went hand in hand. Teaching my students opened constant creative avenues for my personal work, and being a professional artist allowed me to offer my students advice and guidance based on my experiences.
What does your work aim to say?
Although I have painted most of my life, it wasn’t until I was working on my Masters that I really began to choose a theme for my art. At that time in my life, I was also spending much of my recreational time dancing. I loved West Coast Swing. West Coast Swing is a social dance. This means that as a follower, I could go out on the dance floor and dance with someone I have never met, to a song that I have never heard. To me the dance is a language. Energy transfers between dancers without words to choreograph a beautiful experience. This is what I wanted my audience to understand. I wanted them to see beyond the people dancing and be able to see the energy I experienced when I danced.
How do you know when a work is finished?
When I like it. Most of my pieces hit a point midway through its completion that I contemplate giving up on it. Sometimes I walk away, leaving the canvas propped up in clear view so I can contemplate it. Other times, I work through my problem without pause until I am satisfied. There are never specific rules to what will determine a finished work, but in general I’m looking for movement throughout the piece, contrast both with value and colors, and harmony between foreground and background.
What inspires you? What inspired your series?
Earlier, I explained how my love for West Coast Swing inspired my initial direction of my dance and movement inspired art. Over the past 10 years, my work continues to “dance.” My work began so abstract that it could easily be described as more non-objective. As my work evolved, human figures began to emerge more recognizably from the forms that occupied the canvas. My movement and source of exercise changed from West Coast Swing in my college years to yoga as I began my family. Yoga poses became a source of inspiration for my lines and although Yoga poses often are about pause and stillness, the lines of the poses move. My paintings could express the moving energy along the lines of the figure, through the muscles and surrounding the body. Dance and yoga have always been the foundational inspiration for my work. Additionally, my work is embellished with color, textures, and dimension. My art is often described as surreal. Art, for me, is a way of processing the beauty in the world: blooming flowers, shadows cast upon folding leaves, bold sunsets, exotic underwater creatures, seashells, twisting branches, the list goes on. These beautiful and sculptural components of nature are a constant resource for my imagination. It is not the way that I render these inspirations realistically but out of a realistic context that gives my work such a surreal feeling. Many people are surprised to know that I work from photographs due to the abstract nature of my work.
Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?
Color! Color is my playground! I love combining color boldly and unexpectedly. I collect color combinations from fashion and what people are wearing. I collect color from nature. I collect color inspirations from store windows. I collected all of the paint samples at Home Depot. When I choose to paint with blue and orange, I flip through my samples to push the blues and oranges to go beyond my paint tubes. Color carries with it so many emotions. It fills the room with energy. When you enter my show booth, you will see a sign that says: “Dance like nobody’s watching and buy art that doesn’t match the couch.” I tell people to buy art that matches the soul. The colors that surround us can greatly affect our moods and energy. Sometimes, I choose colors based on the mood that I’m in or choose colors for the energy that I need to be surrounded by. Other times, it is a way of processing something beautiful that I’ve witnessed. If my paintings are about describing the dance experience, color is the perfect tool to reach my audience’s emotions. Dance is an inside-out experience. Internal emotions and energies are able to be seen as the dancer’s body reacts to them. Color is a crucial part to revealing this energy.
How did you start making art? Why do you make art?
I feel like I’ve always made art, but it wasn’t until very recently that I have started to understand why. Art is how I process the beauty that surrounds me. It is how I can find a deeper appreciation for what God has created. Creating art gives me the opportunity to process, inspect and experience things that have stimulated or moved me in some way. If you have ever tried to draw something you know that drawing invites you to inspect that item with great intimacy. Drawing helps me notice details that I haven’t seen before; my careful inspection gives me time to process and fully experience the beauty before me. It’s not just about “stopping to smell the roses,” it’s about getting to know myself deeper. If I can understand what inspires me, I can understand what drives me. I can then understand what is important to me, and what I should pay attention to. My art has become a very meditative and reflective process, allowing me to sort through thoughts and personal direction as I compose.
Does your opinion about the artwork change the longer you look at it? Why?
When I was in college, I usually started and finished a work of art all in one sitting. These days, there is no such thing as uninterrupted time to complete a painting. I’ve grown to appreciate these interruptions as opportunities for perspective. Something as simple as just stepping back can invite a new view point. Sometimes, after taking a pause, there is a completely new idea that evolves. Other times, there are updates and improvements made. Time invites critiques from others, mood changes and fresh eyes to contribute to alterations of the original direction or plan for the work.
How would you describe your artwork to someone who has never seen it?
Bold colorful abstractions of the dance experience.
How would you describe your style? How did you arrive at it?
I describe my work as abstract. I like to remind people that an abstraction is the simplification or exaggeration of something that exists in reality. I use abstractions in my work because by exaggerating and simplifying the figures of the dancers, my audience is able to look beyond dancers as they have always seen them, and start to see the energy that shapes the dance itself.
Where do you do your work?
I have a studio space in my house. In my old house, my studio was an extension of my girls’ playroom. I liked being able to create while they played or while they also created. In my new house, we created a studio space we could all share. All of my paintings are created in my studio. When the girls were babies sometimes it meant painting with a baby on my hip, or late at night when there would be less interruptions. My color pencil drawings, on the other hand, are almost never created in my studio. When the girls were little, I would share my color pencils and we would all draw together on the floor. I bring my color pencils on vacations, the waiting rooms of dance and gymnastics when the girls are at their activities, into their bedrooms, and in front of the TV to have mother/daughter drawing time. Whether I’m painting or drawing, most of the time I create on the floor. Sometimes, kneeling in front of a canvas, and other times, sprawled out in front of a drawing pad.
What is your studio space like? Do you keep it clean or is it messy?
We converted the formal Livingroom off the kitchen into our studio space. From the kitchen, through French doors, you enter our studio. To the right is a second room with doors for my husband’s office. The studio has been a work-in-progress since we moved in the spring, but we are finally starting to settle in. I’m very excited about the new space - lots of windows with plenty of light. We painted the walls “Monet,” a periwinkle color, with the most appropriate name for an artist. Many wonderful features come with this new space: plenty of storage, light, and lots of work space. The biggest change is that we now call the studio, OUR studio. I decided to create a studio space that my daughters and I could share. It has been a little bit of an adjustment to share the space but it has also been an opportunity. When I start a new creation, my space always has to be clean and organized. Sharing the space has helped us all keep up with keeping the space clean and organized. Keeping the space clean comes more naturally to some of us than to others, but the shared space means shared inspirations. We all spend a lot of time creating. Having this shared space means that we have more time together as a family.
What moves you most in life, either to inspire or upset you?
I feel like the ocean and all of nature in general is something that always moves me to find peace. They speak to my senses – the calming and curious sounds, majestic and delicate sights, and calming scents that evoke nostalgia, all come together to spark inspiration. Sometimes, the inspiration erupts inside of me needing to get out in some form of expression. Other times, the inspiration rests delicately on my soul, allowing for a spiritual peace that blankets me.
What is the role of the artist in society?
The artist is the inquirer. It is the artist’s job is to ask questions, to challenge the status quo. The artist invites fresh perspective and asks “what if.” The artist tells stories and exposes emotions. The artist ignites passions and motivates change. The artist inspires, instigates, stimulates, encourages. The artist helps others to stop and breathe in their surrounding world.
Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed?
Although I believe that process is just as much the art as the product, I would say that for me the quality of the final execution is of highest importance. The quality of the artwork is measured by the success of the ending aesthetics. I measure the quality of my art by the success of the composition. When I finish a piece, I’m checking in on the elements and principles of design, weighing much of the success on the overall movement and unity of these elements in the piece.
Do you prefer a smoother controlled technique or a more energetic expressive technique and why?
My work is inspired by movement so that lends itself very strongly to being very energetic. However, my brush strokes themselves are smooth, controlled and precise. My lines are often clean, crisp and smooth.
Do you listen to music while you work or prefer silence?
Music is a must. Music is therapeutic. It evokes contemplation. Creating is meditative and music invites further pondering. The process of creating is reflective, it invites observation of what evolves on the canvas in front of me, as well as what thoughts and emotions are stirred up internally. I can choose which thoughts and emotions deserve further contemplation or allow them to pass. Music can be suggestive - suggesting mood, thoughts, imagery, or awareness.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I’m working on a painting of an elephant for my bathroom. This painting is a bit of an experiment for me. I’m going to experiment with Indian-inspired line patterns, with which I will embellish the elephant and fill the background. I usually use smooth and highly rendered brush strokes, however, for this painting I’m going to experiment with using gel mediums to add a more textured effect to the paint. Also, to add to the experimentation, this painting will be a collaborative piece that I am painting with my daughters. They have already helped me with filling in the background and I plan to allow them to help me with the pattern overlay as well.
What’s next for you as an artist?
I stopped teaching high school ceramics about 3 years ago. I greatly miss my interactions with my students and I just as deeply miss my interactions with the clay. My paintings and drawings have a very sculptural quality to them that I wish to explore in more depth. In the future, I hope to render some of my ideas 3-Dimenstionally with clay, but in the meantime, I am going to work to demonstrate these dimensions on canvas.
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