This Studio Sunday meet Ekaterina Vanovskaya, a Russian born and Philadelphia based painter. She is one of the 14 international artists participating in PxP Contemporary’s exhibition ‘Faces & Figures’ and we’re pleased to be presenting two of her stunning figurative works in the show!
Ekaterina Vanovskaya was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. She received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009 and an MFA from Indiana University, Bloomington in 2015. Ekaterina has exhibited nationally, which includes shows in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, among others. She completed the Artist in the Marketplace Program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and recently participated in the Governors Island Art Fair in New York and the AIM Biennial at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Ekaterina received the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant in 2017 and 2018.
Pale, distressed figures inhabit my large-scale oil paintings. There are several repeating themes in the paintings: loneliness, nostalgia, longing, melancholia, and a search for a sense of place. There are often figures depicted doing mundane tasks, or caught in a state of hesitation or fear, in forlorn atmospheres. A specific emotional longing translates into a painting.
I was born and spent my childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia and memorable childhood experiences frame the core of my work. These memories symbolize isolated experiences and therefore have a strong emotional impact. The physical places I no longer occupy and they do not exist in the same state, as when I knew them, all is imagined.
How does our past impact our emotions, responses, and ways of being? These perceptions of our childhood inevitably define the way we live our lives today. Painting starts to serve as a reconciliation with the self. It is as if I am painting about a secret that nobody else knows.
When did you first become interested in art?
I started painting when I was fifteen years old, by accident really. Then during my senior year of high school I saw a poster on the wall for Portfolio Day in New York. (An event where you can show up with art work and get accepted into art school.) Completely on a whim, I gathered all my paintings into black garbage bags and made my mother take me to Portfolio Day. That’s how I ended up at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I did all sorts of things there, including painting, and generally had an amazing time. My last year there I already knew I wanted to go to graduate school for painting and I went to grad school a few years later. I think the School of The Art Institute of Chicago really opened my eyes to the world of art making and that’s where I realized that I can and want to pursue art seriously.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your work and what your creative process is like.
All my paintings start with a feeling. I was born and spent my childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia and a lot of my paintings are about memories of my childhood, my family and friends. I can think about a painting for months and years before actually painting it. There is usually a faint picture or idea in my head and the more I think about it the clearer it gets. I used to make a lot of drawings for my paintings - of each person, object, tree, room and so on. Now I don’t have to do that as much - and I try not to draw anything besides my composition sketches. I am afraid that making too many drawings will take away from the impulse of making the painting. I always have a sketchbook and I write down ideas for future work and notes about each painting as I am making it. Sometimes when I am trying to figure things out, I will write in my sketchbook something like, “Is the window in the painting blue?” And then the answer, “No.” It’s really funny. I usually have four or five paintings in my head and four or five different paintings that I am physically working on in the studio.
What do you hope your viewers take away from seeing your paintings?
I hope they take away an experience of looking that is memorable. I want to share something about my life and say, “This is how I am in this world, come with me”.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self?
I would say, don’t worry so much and do more stuff. Enjoy college even more, for example. But maybe it was good to be so stuck on one thing - painting, who knows. I was always too worried about how things are. Someone said to me once, in painting class, “Whatever gets you through the day is fine.” I still think about that phrase, especially in terms of painting, and I think it's good advice.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
I don’t. I have creative blocks all the time actually and until fairly recently I would think, “Oh no, I have a creative block again, but I must paint!” But I hate doing something just to do it and I think it’s a waste of paint, energy and time to work on a painting “just to keep going”. I only paint in service to the idea I have and if I don’t want to paint, I don’t paint. I used to be really regimented in the way I work and now I am trying to be more loose and instinctive because I am always trying to make my paintings more personal, more diaristic, different from the previous work. So that’s a strange demand to make while at the same time saying, “but you must paint continuously for this many hours just like you did in grad school" and so on. I want to be free to follow my pattern of thoughts in painting form. In my experience a creative block comes before there is a change of direction or approach in the paintings. I would say trust that change and go on in whatever way possible for the time being.
Are there any exciting exhibitions, projects, or collaborations going on the rest of this year that you’re currently working on or will be soon?
I was just invited to participate in a group exhibition at Mercer County Community College, October 28th - December 19th, 2019. There is also POST - Philadelphia Open Studio Tours in October, where artists open their studios to the public. I enjoy it every year and I am really looking forward to it.