Posts Tagged ‘story of a painting’

kristina's world
Kristina’s World. 2009-2010. oil on canvas. 48″x60″

In the summer of 2009 I spent a week on the Ossabaw Island, It is one of the barrier islands in Southern Georgia with beautiful oak trees, wild donkeys and horses and rich history. I created a series of watercolors and sketches, made some pastel and ink drawings, and took a number of photos with the goal to create a larger image when I am back in my studio. I wanted to create a painting that would reflect powerful and peaceful Nature that I saw on the island as well as all the emotions and thoughts it provoked in me.

I purchased the largest canvas I had ever worked on – 48″x60″ to create an epic image of Ossabaw Island. It was a bit intimidating and at first I was just staring on a white surface. Then I began my work with the process that became quite usual for me – a dance in my studio with brushes in my hands, without a clear idea about what to put on the large canvas. It took a few days of dancing to cover the surface with random marks of paint. After a while I started seeing the image of a lonely woman sitting on the lonely beach of the island looking into the distance. This reminded me of the famous painting by Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World.

Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948. tempera on gessoed panel. 32″x47″

Coincidentally I had a classmate, a fellow MFA student, a talented artist, who was going through a romance in her life at that time. She was on the Ossabaw Island with our group, but her lover stayed on the mainland. She was missing him. Her name was Kristina. So, I decided that my painting will be about Kristina, a Woman Artist, and her love story. It was a little different story than one in the Wyeth’s painting. His Christina was a disabled, immobilized woman, she was longing for something, that she could not reach.

My Kristina is peaceful and content. She is confident as a woman and as an artist, and she is holding a brush in her hand. As my dancing progressed, additional figures emerged on the canvas. At Kristina’s feet is standing a nude man, ready to kneel, perhaps posing for her or proposing to her while presenting her with a flower. In the drips and smudges of paint I saw his figure and as he emerged, I painted his face looking at the photos of Andrew Wyeth. I posed for both figures: Kristina’s and Andrew’s, taking photographs of myself with the timer.

A peaceful, almost ideal scene is completed with the image of sunset and animals surrounding my figures. I observed and photographed all of these animals on the island: donkeys, armadillos, horses, wild pigs and alligators are all familiar creatures of the South Georgia coast and Ossabaw Island. The big pig in front of the painting was a big wild hog whose name was Paul Mitchell… He was conditioned to visit the house where we lived, and eat from the waste bucket. All the food leftovers were carefully collected and waited for his return.
The owner’s dog, who is also in the painting, was especially dear to me (on the left of the painting). He was almost an exact replica of my beloved dog from my childhood. The dog on Ossabaw Island liked me and followed me around. I believe it was a reincarnation of my childhood friend.

Anonymous photomontage. La Revolution Surrealiste, N15 (December 1929)

All figures in my painting have their eyes closed, even the donkeys. Why? The famous group portrait of the surrealist group – actually a photomontage of a photograph by Man Ray and a painting by Magritte might help to explain.

In this photograph all the members of the surrealist group have their eyes closed. It reflects on the philosophy of surrealism that things are not really what we see with our eyes. To see the real truth we have to turn to our dreams. The figures in my painting have their eyes closed because they are living in their dreams.

Then why the wild boar has opened eyes?

Pigs have often been used as a symbol of evil in paintings by symbolist artists. I wanted to use that symbolism in my painting and express the idea that evil never rests. My reason for doing this is similar to the reason used by Renaissance artists for placing a skull in a still life. Painters during the Renaissance often included skulls, a fly or other symbols of death in their still life paintings. This was intended to remind the viewer of the temporal nature of this world , about the fragility of life and human mortality. The figure of the pig in this painting is a transitional figure between the romanticized world and the Underworld – the world of Life and the world of Death.

After working for about a year on this painting and having all these thoughts running in my mind, I decided to add another panel to the painting that could create a vision of the Underworld. The idea did not come to me all at once. At the beginning, I had thought about incorporating the skull of a pig or some bones in a lower part of the composition of Kristina’s World, but there was not enough space.

Remnants of the Pigs. 2011. oil on canvas. 20″x48″

While walking on Ossabaw island I discovered an area where the ground was covered with partially skinned and boned remains of the pigs. There is a large number of wild pigs on the island and some hunting is allowed. I guess some hunters skinned their kills and left what they did not need leaving a gruesome site. I took photos of that scary scenes.

My initial idea had expanded as I worked on the Kristina’s World painting. While working on this piece, many unfortunate things happened in my life including the deaths of relatives and friends. I recorded these events on the back of the painting as if in a diary. I felt compelled to extend the piece by adding a separate panel under it. In doing this I was following the Renaissance tradition of juxtaposing images of life and death.

Remnants of the Pigs has a long and narrow landscape format, which was inspired by the Renaissance painting by Hans Holbein The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.

Hans Holbein. The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.1521, oil on wood,

Combining these two panels: Kristina’s World and Remnants of the Pigs creates a juxtaposition of the dualities of human life.

Finally, Kristina’s World is a reflection on the position of a female artist in a contemporary world. There is a reversal of traditional roles – artist and a model – in this painting. The woman, Kristina, becomes more important, dominant figure and she is represented clothed. In classical tradition showing a clothed man besides a nude woman was a way to portray a man as a more powerful and active figure, a creator, an artist. A classical example of that approach would be a famous painting by Manet The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe).


In the contrast with Manet, in my painting there is a figure of a man, kneeling, nude, presenting a flower to Kristina. His pose is subordinate; he is a secondary character, an object of our gaze in this painting. By doing so I am not trying to make fun of a male figure or make him look submissive or weak. My idea for this painting is a representation of a true Love. When people are in love they become vulnerable…

I am showing an intimate and romantic scene, with a sunset and the animals coming to adore the beauty of the moment. Love is glowing with warm colors as they come out of the man’s chest and brighten the world around him. There is a specific music I was listening while working on it – Mahler, Symphony #5, Part IV Adagietto. To me this music expresses the feeling of true love.

Kristina’s World is my reflection on life and death, beauty and ugliness and how we often see it in our lives side by side.


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