Visual Artist: Nikolina Kovalenko

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1. Name 

My name is Nikolina Kovalenko.

2. Where are you from? Where do you live? 

I am from Moscow, Russia but I currently live in Brooklyn, NY.

3. Profession?

I am a Visual Artist.

4. When did you first find passion in art? 

Both of my parents and my grandfather were artists, I always knew this is who I wanted to be growing up. And now I just can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I feel like creating art is my core, my strength and something no one can take away from me, it makes my gray days brighter and I always find peace and harmony with myself when I paint.

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5. Where do you find inspiration for your paintings and drawings?

My inspiration always comes from something I see. There’s always a reference, and usually it’s nature, especially tropical Flora. My work is about humanity's fragile connection with our environment and climate change, so I chose vulnerable ecosystems as my subject matter. Before I start a painting, I travel deep into the jungle looking for something that awes me then I draw it on the spot, and photograph it for additional details later. Once I’m back to my art studio, I need a couple of weeks to digest, and then a new body of work starts coming together, like multicolored pieces in a kaleidoscope, every memory starts coming together forming a clear plot, like a series of short stories united by the writers pen. 

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6. What is it like going to university in Russia?

Russian art education is very rigorous and based on years of perfecting realistic technique using old masters as a guide. Art schools there focus on art history up to the beginning of 20th century. Our day at school would look something like this: 9a-12noon-nude model drawing. 12.30pm-3.30pm-portrait painting and 4pm-6pm-art history, ending at 6pm-8pm-quick drawing sketches. I’m grateful for the wide range of skills they taught me and the ability to convey anything I see or imagine on canvas. However, when I went to Berlin as an exchange student, I felt that I have this vast void to fill from the beginning of 21st century to the amazing artists living and working now. First year in NYC I went to every single gallery opening I found on ArtCards trying to understand the culture and aesthetics.

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7. How does the art scene in Russia compare to that of the United States and specifically New York City?

I moved to USA right after I finished my masters, so I wasn't really participating in the art world in Russia the same way I'm involved in it in NYC, it's hard for me to judge. What I can say for sure is that New York is the best place to be an artist right now, freedom of expression and inspiration is in the air, and no other place gives me as much desire to create as NYC. There are many talented artists in Russia, but it's difficult to make a career and support yourself with your art, the market is just not there. Also I can't help but notice that everything what's considered "new" in Russia has already been happening in New York for years. The audience is definitely more open-minded in the USA.

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8. What is something that has been a struggle for you in the art industry? How have you overcome/are you working on overcoming this obstacle?

I can't say that there's any aspect of art industry I particularly struggle or disagree with, my struggle is mostly internal. I constantly push myself to move forward and try to paint better every day. This progress is intuitive and subjective, and no one can really help you to navigate your stormy creative waters better than yourself. I'm a firm believer that when you and your work is ready, the rest will catch up. 

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9. What is your favorite piece of work?

Oh, probably too many to list, but I most frequently find myself drawn to artworks where skills and intuition come hand by hand. Also color palette is also very important to me. I love Goya, Matisse, Gauguin, Rothko, Neo Rauch, and Robert Longo among many others.

10. I’ve noticed that you teach art classes, what is the best part about being an educator? 

It fascinates me to watch how my students open up and create the most amazing art and then look at their own canvas unable to believe that they could paint something like this! It is the most rewarding thing to give people this powerful tool to express their emotions and show them step by step how to paint what they see and to see what they haven't seen before. I learn as much if not more from my students as I teach them, and by explaining a concept to them I gain a new depth of understanding for myself. 

11. What is your motto in life? 

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.

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12. Website? 

nikaart.org

13. Instagram? 

@nikolinakovalenko

Street Talk, which supports emerging artists that merit being discovered.

Interview by Alison Hernon, Editor-In-Chief, PhotoBook Magazine.