Bio: Marc Londo is a media scholar and popular culture critic. When he is not writing about the arts, his creative energy is spent researching the effects of mass communication on our global culture. Marc has always been fascinated by culture. An avid traveler, he is intrigued by the celebrations of humanity that bond societies and transcend differences across cultures. Through writing about the unique expressions that touch his imagination, it is his ambition to serve as a bridge between global networks. Presently, he is working toward completing his doctoral dissertation at Temple University.
Posts by mlondo:
Deviba Wala believes in the ability of art to foster connections. A self-described cultural nomad, Wala’s artistic style is an intriguing perspective of interconnectivity through space and time. Each of her linear formations is autonomous, yet forebodes an inevitable interaction. Collectively, Wala’s linear formations resemble network typologies. However, the formations never quite connect.
In her artist statement, Wala describes her work as an “ode to a life’s pure existence.” Through that lens, her work could be seen as a magnification of the body’s artery network, each working together to sustain life throughout the human body. Or perhaps the dynamic streaks across her canvases are the tails of large comets, meteors and planets through space. Wala’s line formations could also represent the interactions between protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom.
I first became acquainted with Wala after interviewing Anastasia Alexandrin. As a resident artist in Ahmedabad, India, Alexandrin worked closely with Wala, who manages the Tvak Residential Art Studios. The residency is a derivative of Studio Verve, a fully functional art studio in Ahmedabad that Wala co-founded in 2000 with her fellow art students. Today, Studio Verve has members from all across India. As the manager of Tvak Studios, Wala works with artists from around the world, sharing creative spaces and learning from other cultures through art. It is a program designed to encourage empathy and appreciation for humanity by lowering barriers that prevent someone from understanding global networks.
As contemporary social critics, artists provide an essential function: they open up windows to the world, both real and imagined. As technology allows global communities to grow closer together, the bandwidth of these creative networks becomes more and more dense and the very essence of “pure existence” comes into focus. Wala welcomes this process and actively bridges these divides with the Tvak residency program, her personal work and appearances in international art shows.
Wala’s traditional Indian upbringing reflects her position within the international art scene. A sojourner at her very core, her minimalist style employs an elemental deference that peels away the gratuitous layers of ideology. As such, her art celebrates humanity and the self-efficacy of the individual to engage with community. The themes that illuminate her art – individualism, transcendence through self-actualization, and an appreciation for nature and humanity – give her work a unique transcendental worldview.
Wala took time out of her busy schedule to chat about her art career and promotion of her art across India and around the world.
AA: Talk to me about Verve and your artist in residency program.
Deviba Wala: Verve started in 2000. It honestly started as a result of the intense energy of a few young artists and subsequently bloomed into a multispectral art forum. Since then, it has expanded to an even bigger platform, something that was not part of our initial plans for Verve. It is an artist collective and various artists around the country contributed to add to the rich diversity that Verve can today boast of. My role went from being one of the co-founders to managing the residency and closely working with artists.
AA: As an artist, you have traveled extensively through India and Europe. Did your experiences abroad have an influence on your development as an artist?
DW: Most definitely. The international exposure received during my travels added volume to my basic technique of art by observing the works of international artists. The travels significantly helped me appreciate the ethos of these places and countries, and that added another layer to my art form. As they say, the culture and ethos of a place speaks through its art. Between all those layers, the influence is progressively becoming prominent. Most importantly, it has extended my thought process at the sketching stages. My work is my own but the exposure offers a new energy. I am today much more confident of having a macrocosmic presence and acceptance.
AA: You say your art is “an emotion, a journey, and each of them have a space of their own.” I’m sure your travels led to great friendships with artists of other backgrounds and cultures. Do the lines in your work represent a greater view of the world, in which people cross paths with each other but always maintain a space of their own. In essence, I wonder if your abstract art could be a biographical statement of your life, crossing paths with so many other creative people, while maintaining a sense of solitude within communal chaos. How do you feel about that interpretation?
DW: I am surprised by how closely the interpretation sums up the essence of my work. I often say that it is my life in code! I am essentially an anchored nomad. The Indian in me keeps me rooted. Nonetheless, I travel profusely. I have met some amazing people and formed lasting friendships. We belong to other cultures and lifestyles that are so drastically different, and yet to see beyond that and connect is intrinsic to art and being an artist.
In a way, it is also an internal journey. I love being with people but I am also a recluse; the essential “community individual.” I do retain a certain personal tone but also revel in working with others. Our family is originally very traditional, from a remote village, and yet I have been fortunate enough to see the world. There are so many parts and sides to me and they must all co-exist.
AA: Did your exposure to other cultures, art perspectives, and international worldviews, inspire you to start the Tvak Residential Art Studios?
DW: Tvak Residential Art Studios was a natural progression of sorts, and just a matter of time. The more artists I met, and the more world art I saw, I realized the clamoring need for a place which served as a melting pot, a place where artists can truly concentrate on creating great art and learning about new cultures, by sharing creative space with other artists,
Tvak is Sanskrit for cinnamon. It is the bark of the tree and literally means “second skin,” something that is all around or the sense of touch. It was the feeling of clay in my hands that got me hooked to art.
AA: I am intrigued by your progression as an artist. After starting out primarily as a sculptor, your body of work grew to include installations and painting as well. What led you to branch out into these other art forms?
DW: Certain ideas can only be expressed in a certain medium. Each has its qualities and technicalities, and some ideas are so strong the medium is just a means. I flow freely between the various mediums, doing what I feel like at the moment. I don’t want to create boundaries around myself, as far as work is concerned.
AA: You have described your work as having a “naïve depth” in your artist statement. Could you explain that quality, and how that naiveté is expressed through the mediums you work with, from sculpting to painting to installations?
DW: Naïve in the sense that my work follows no set pattern or does not seek to please anyone, yet to me it is profound. My work is what I see and what I feel. It stays true to form and style. While painting I am not thinking about anything else but the quality of line and shade on my canvas. If it is a piece of physical material, I see it as just that. It’s all a play of space and arrangement of elements.
AA: I asked Anastasia Alexandrin this and I am intrigued to hear your answer as well. What inspires you to work in primarily black and white (and monochrome)?
DW: With black and white or a single color, the effect is more striking, contrast stronger, and with its tints and shades I have been able to achieve the desired results. I feel color only “takes away” from the subject and is an unnecessary distraction. There is some kind of preconceived association that people have towards color and I want my work to be stripped of that.
AA: In you view, what is the global role of art?
DW: Art has power to break barriers, both geographical and linguistic. Being an artist comes with social responsibility. You are in a place where you can reach out to your viewers, so what you say has impact. Every time I talk to young students, I feel the weight of how impressionable their minds are. And it matters what I am going to say, right now, because someone in that crowd is going to listen, and some change – however small – is going to come about. I try and spread the passion I feel for Art, and that we must all be better and more sensitive individuals. I see art as being the cement that can hold our social fabric together and build bridges.
Comments Off on Deviba Wala: an ode to life’s pure existence
Serena Kovalosky can hardly contain her passion for art. Widely known throughout the blogosphere as the Artful Vagabond, Kovalosky has made it her mission to spread her love of art to the far reaches of the world. Working from her studio in the foothills of New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Kovalosky continually engages her readers with uplifting stories of an artist’s life. Her blog is informative and empathetic to the legion of artists in her network. Making art can be a solitary lifestyle, wrought with deep soul-searching and constant barrages to one’s commitment. Kovalosky’s blog recognizes this isolation, and breaks down walls that can be both a comfort and a curse for many artists.
Early on in life, she put her dream of becoming an artist aside for a career in the travel industry, managing major events for travel companies. Despite enjoying the benefits of a financially rewarding career, she felt that something was missing; she couldn’t shake the overwhelming urge to realize her dream of becoming a sculptor, seeing it as a spiritual necessity. Her evolution into a working artist led her to a loft in Montreal, Canada, where she has become widely recognized for her exquisite sculptures.
Since relocating to Montreal, Kovalosky’s life’s work has become to bridge connections between ideas and people. A lover of travel and culture, Kovalosky uses her blog to tell stories of artists from around the world. It has been said that the “act of humanity” is passed on through its storytellers; as the hub of her artistic network, the Artful Vagabond ensures that these “acts of humanity” resonate beyond the walls of an artist’s studio.
Because of her background in business, Kovalosky is involved in all aspects of her craft, from its production to marketing. As an artist, art writer and curator, she is able to address a wide range of issues that affect artists, both directly and indirectly. Her simple words of encouragement and insightful interviews reconnect her readers to their passion for their craft.
Art Animal had the privilege of speaking with Kovalosky about her life as a well-known artist, blogger and curator.
Art Animal: What initially planted the seed in your mind to become an artist?
Serena Kovalosky: I didn’t “become” an artist – it wasn’t a conscious choice. Art was just something I always did. My bedroom was my studio as a child. I drew every chance I could but I never showed my work to anyone because I never considered myself to be an “artist.” For me it was simply my way of being in this world. As I got older, I remember trying to figure out how to capture feelings and put them in my work, rather than just copying what I saw. I never knew at the time that was the path of the artist.
My first hint was during my teenage years on a school trip to my very first art museum: The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, NY. As I stood in the gallery, surrounded by Rembrandts, and Picassos and Renoirs, I thought to myself, “This feels like home.” Despite that moment, I returned to the real world and set my sights on college and getting a job like everyone else.
It took me 18 years to finally realize that the life I was building was not my own, so I left a perfectly good career to explore the potential of my creative talents. That first day I walked into my artist studio in Montreal, I knew I had made the right decision. I felt like I was finally exactly where I belonged.
AA: In today’s art market, professional artists have to concern themselves with so many other tasks than just making art, such as marketing their art and developing an online presence. How did you transform from Serena Kovalosky the sculptor into the Artful Vagabond?
SK: I love marketing. I did it throughout my 18 years in the travel industry – creating brochures, writing promotional copy. Tourism is great place to learn how to get people interested in going somewhere to experience something. I applied those same principles to my own business when I started working as a sculptor.
Before the days of the internet, artists had to rely on the news media to promote their work. I understood the value of developing “stories” that would get journalists interested in my work but the local news cycle might offer a feature article once every two years. Social media allowed me to expand my marketing potential and take my message to a broader audience.
As my art career evolved, I found I wanted to hone my creative writing skills and eventually incorporate that into my business. Blogging became the perfect vehicle for testing the literary waters. I launched Artful Vagabond as a combination of my two passions: art (Artful) and travel (Vagabond). I started interviewing artists around the world, sharing stories about their creative process and their lives as artists, and people started subscribing to the blog. I added Facebook and Twitter accounts and we now have an incredible community of artists and art-lovers sharing thoughts and ideas.
All that writing has prompted me to start working on my first book – a retrospective of my work – which is scheduled to be published this fall. Subsequent books will expand on some of the blog posts from Artful Vagabond.
AA: As The Artful Vagabond, what unique perspective do you try to bring to the art community?
SK: I want to bust some of the stereotypes about artists and provide a positive, supportive environment where artists can share thoughts and ideas with each other and the general public. If we want to see an increase in the perceived value of art in our society, then that perception has to start with the artists. I encourage artists to drop the “starving artist” excuse and realize that we all have just as much chance of success as any other entrepreneur. Our unique way of doing things is just as valid as the status quo and can provide valuable life lessons.
AA: In your blog, you mention the value of art in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. I agree so much with that statement. How do you see art helping to create a healthy lifestyle?
SK: I had an art mentor who once told me: “I’m not going to teach you how to draw, I’m going to teach you how to see.” Art teaches people how to see, which translates into a greater appreciation for all things in life. When was the last time you stopped to admire a sunset, or noticed how blue the sky was today? Art makes us stop and take the time to truly look, to appreciate beauty, to be curious.
Art appreciation can be a tool. It can relieve stress and spark new ideas. Visitors to my studio become visibly relaxed after a few minutes with my work and as the art opens up their creative mind, I hear them excitedly talking about new ideas for their home and garden projects.
Some art can be challenging. It can change your perceptions. By taking the time to understand more about the art and the artist, you can develop a broader appreciation of the world.
AA: Art appreciation has a lot to do with the narrative tied to an artwork. How important do you consider the ‘story’ of art to its financial success?
SK: The story is everything if you’re talking financial success. When I’m looking for artists to interview for Artful Vagabond, I’m looking for a story. It doesn’t have to be the story of a particular work of art; it can be the artist’s personal journey or creative process, but there has to be something for me to bring to my readers. Publicity provides the path to financial success. Sometimes a piece will get sold on impulse, but over the long term, stories are the marketing engine that sells art. And stories are more readily shared, which increases market potential.
If you take out the financial aspect and just talk about the art itself – you don’t need the story to appreciate great art. The story can enhance the appreciation of the work, but a degree in art history isn’t necessary to enjoy it.
AA: As a blogger, you contribute to the storytelling side of the art community. For artists that are navigating their way through the contemporary art world, what do you think is their best route to getting their stories out to the public?
SK: Know what your stories are. Keep them consistent. Put those stories out there every chance you get. On social media, in interviews, in conversations about your work. Do artist talks. Write a book. Get as many interviews as you can.
AA: As a writer myself, I’m curious as to your perspective on writing about art. Do you feel an artist’s background contributes greatly to the resonance of their stories?
SK: An artist’s background gives stories their depth and integrity. When I’m working with an artist on their press kit, I’ll go through every aspect of their background and creative process and find there is always a thread. All art, no matter what inspired it, passes through the filter of the artist. I may not include the background in every article, but it helps inform how I present the story.
Anastasia Alexandrin’s style is unmistakable. Interlacing lines of charcoal and gritty overlays infuse her female subjects with an ethereal quality. Her masterful integration of line and tone within the framework of her narratives evokes nostalgia and introspection. But though her work reflects another time and place, nonconformist message speaks to a uniquely modern view of womanhood. For, in an Alexandrin piece, women are free to create a life beyond the manifestations of societal expectations.
Alexandrin dares her female subjects to seek out their individuality. In the process, she constructs an elaborately surreal world of angst-ridden reflection, captured through metaphors that address female efficacy. Her use of archetypal symbols allows for greater identification between the viewer and the subject. However, Alexandrin quickly points out that each woman’s experience is unique, and her art speaks to a greater societal incongruity. “Who am I?” she asks unassumingly, noting that one’s identity is shaped by so many forces that her art will quite naturally be perceived differently depending on the perspective of the audience.
Alexandrin earned her BFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art in Philadelphia. Her art has appeared in solo exhibitions throughout New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, as well as in group exhibitions all over the United States.
What is important to Alexandrin is that women recognize their power to transcend societal expectations. In that regard, her interwoven lines of charcoal could be likened to a butterfly net that has been cast between the audience and subject. This illusory barrier is reflected in the expressions on the faces of her female subjects, who often appear to be conscious of the viewers even though they remain static; they have their own worlds to conquer.
Seeking to understand the diverse worlds in which women navigate the traditional expectations of social structures, Alexandrin has traveled the world as a resident artist. Earlier this year, she spent three months working at the Verve Artist Residency in Ahmedabad, India. It is an immersion process that she engages in enthusiastically to escape the cocoon of her studio.
Donning a sari that reminds her of her time in India, Alexandrin spoke with Art Animal to provide further insight into her work.
Art Animal: You just returned from an artist residency in Ahmedabad. As an artist who gives social commentary on forces influencing female identity, did you find yourself impacted by the gender role expectations of Indian women?
Anastasia Alexandrin: India is an amazing country with many facets. It is hard not to be affected by all that I saw and experienced. Indian woman have my respect. They fulfill many roles and are not seen as equals. It was tough to see. But the woman I met were so strong (stronger than I have ever met) and so smart. They were very aware of the circumstances and yet they held their heads high and did not dwell on the bad. They always looked at the good things in life. It was a humbling and eye-opening experience.
AA: How has your work as a residency artist helped you grow as an artist?
AA: The more places I travel to, the more people I meet, it all broadens my views, which I then put into my work. I can relate and share broad views and pictures of what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world. My journey is far from complete and there is plenty of room to grow. I can’t wait for my next trip or residency to broaden my horizons.
AA: Do you feel your own cultural background as an immigrant from Kharkov, Ukraine, has contributed to your artistic interest in issues of female identity?
AA: I think being an immigrant has helped me become more aware of who I am and where I was from a younger age. In many ways, it was easier to identify differences and similarities in my environment. It also made me search harder for a life I want to live.
AA: Being a charcoal artist, your art has the same sort of timelessness seen in vintage photography. In some of your work, it even feels as though you are tapping into social memory to comment on issues that women are still confronting today. Why do you work primarily with charcoal?
AA: I don’t know if I chose the medium as much as it just always felt right. Charcoal drawing has always been a very honest medium for me. There is so much transparency within the layers of lines. Even the darkest darks have light coming through. My subjects and topics are timely and relevant. Every moment I feel today becomes the past like a vintage photograph. Some are worth keeping and others are not. Hopefully, they are worth another look.
AA: Who have been some of the biggest influencers of your style?
AA: I don’t think anyone has influenced my style. There are many artists that I admire and of course I am a sucker for black-and-white photography. I am a great admirer of Kathe Kollwitz. She drew and printed images that moved her and were relevant to that time. They are still beautiful and relevant today, too.
AA: Your art has a repetitive visual vocabulary. In Reach, a wave crests just beyond the outstretched hand of your female subject. A wave also served as the antagonist in Grace, Three for the wave and No wave big enough to stop me. Where do these symbols come from?
AA: My inspiration is very visceral. It just comes to me. Sometimes, I can’t put it down on paper and sometimes I can. I sketch a lot. That helps keep an inventory of my ideas for the future. In that way, it comes out very different from the original idea at times. Water is very fascinating and full of meaning to many cultures. It can be kind, generous and sometimes deadly. It is a great symbol of our time.
AA: In many of your pieces, your female subjects seem to be aware that they are being watched by the viewer. Do you feel as though there is a bigger microscope aimed at women that make judgments about beauty rather than ability?
AA: As John Berger said, women are watching you watching them. While I don’t agree with that as a general rule about woman, in art there is a certain feel of that, which I like. I want my pictures to be looking at you as much as you are looking at them. As if they are aware of your gaze and know someone is watching. We all look and form decisions about what we see. There is always a chance to change what is decided in this day and age. It’s always changing. I feel we have learned, as a society, to not assume that beauty has no brains. We have learned that there is complexity there. A beautiful complexity is what I love to draw about.
AA: How does your art respond to popular culture objectifying the female body?
AA: I don’t know if I respond at all. I focus on the strong, beautiful complexity of females of our times. The power of female abilities is my subject.
AA: Much of your recent work features a modern Egyptian motif: a female body with the head of various animals. Would you consider these pieces to be a progression of your earlier work, or is this a completely new direction?
AA: It all comes from me and in some way is connected to my earlier work. My hope is that it holds its own. Animals are great symbols of transcendence and I use them to further ideas in my work. We all have animal instincts and reactions. I convey that in my imagery. Egyptian motifs have a message. They were not made for the simple sake of beauty and pleasure. They were telling a story. Mine, too, tell a story.
For more about Anastasia Alexandrin, visit her website at aalexandrin.com.