The Watercolours of Alexandra

Watercolour is a fickle and rebellious technique. And does not readily reveal the secrets its of substance to just anyone. The circle of its admirers is extensive, not so for the number of artists mastering the technique. This technique is one of dabs, breathy strokes, and delicate subtly highlighted shapes. Alexandra Otieva is a master of watercolour on wet paper—one of the most difficult watercolour techniques.

When looking at her work, our first impression is that the artist is guided by the spontaneous perception she has of the world. A slight sadness felt on a pale autumn day, the magic of the Russian winter snow, and the sensation of the materiality of the world are revealed in a vine without leaves, in a sunflower, in the mother-of-pearl of a shell, or even in the radiant reflections of a samovar... Diversity and emotional generosity are qualities not only of the watercolours but also of the artist.

An exhibit, an album, or any other presentation of the works offer the artist the opportunity to associate her personal world with the world in general, to place herself in time, and to make known the place she occupies in the history of art. The artistic individuality of Alexandra Otieva, a Russian-born artist, was shaped in the difficult conditions specific to a place that is indeed peculiar, but surprisingly conducive to creativity. Alexandra entered the School of Fine Arts in the 90s—a brave choice for a Russian. In fact, this choice corresponds to the transitional period during which the artistic limitations imposed by the official style of Soviet Realism had disappeared. Before that, being in the mainstream guaranteed a bright future and made it possible to have a studio, supplies, and stays in artists’ residencies.

In 1990, artistic freedom became deafening. Surprisingly, both the young and the more experienced artists had lost their bearings. It was in this year that Alexandra made her decision, which was a difficult and risky one, since, as an economist by training, she chose to devote herself one hundred percent to studying art. She opted for a double profession... that of an economist and an artist. Until then, she spent time in the studios of the Central Artists' House of Russia, where she was greatly influenced by watercolourist Natalya Kozlova.

In the 90s Natalya Kozlova was a truly brilliant watercolour artist. She perfectly mastered this capricious technique revealing her strong individuality while respecting the objectives in watercolour fixed by the Soviet regime. In the 1970s watercolour belonged to the artistic genres and had its place in Soviet art. It thus went from an intimate technique of domestic albums of the 19th century to become a real means of embodying images of this multifaceted world. Watercolour became an art to be taken seriously, and in 1965, the first national art exhibition of watercolours took place in Moscow. Masters such as S. Gerassimov, A. Deyneka, N. Volkov, V. Konachevitch, A. Fonvizine and many others took part in it. This exhibition gave an important impetus to the development of this genre among artists.  Not only did sketches and intimate still-lifes emerge, larger scale works did as well. Perfectly mastering the technique taught in the "Bogolubov" School of Fine Arts in Saratov—the oldest in the country—Alexandra discovered the secrets of the material’s flexibility with N. Kozlova. Like her, she achieved exceptional results, played with the mobility of watercolour, improvised, and applied all the means the technique offered in order to translate her thoughts and express her feelings and emotional state.

It is likely that the influence of this artist contributed to her choice to fully express herself as an artist.Alexandra had the deep conviction that she was predestined to take this path of becoming an artist, which gave her great interior stability, and confirmed her ambition to fully express her talent. Indeed, she knew she was an artist from an early age and perceived the world in images.

Her mother always told her that she began drawing when she was very young—from the very moment she could hold a pencil. The world seemed upside down in her drawings. On one hand there was the peculiarity of the child's vision and on the other, the ability to perceive the world absolutely freely. In her creative vision gradually structured itself and she became aware of her artistic desire thanks to the influence of her father, Valeri OTIEV, who worked in the decorative and applied arts. He worked with metal as an engraver and he was the first one to teach her how to draw. Alexandra was always very happy when her father would take her with him to his studio in the city centre. Being in this world and observing the evolution of the parts in metal was nothing less than wonderful.

Little by little, the teenage artist populated her inner world with images that bring substance to her creations. The theatre was the second source of inspiration for Alexandra who even considered becoming a costume designer.

In 1990, in Russia, making the choice to become a professional artist was equal to committing suicide. The reality was that most painters, actors, and musicians also studied something pragmatic. And Alexandra did the same. However, after her first international exhibition in France in 2001 bringing together professional painters and photographers, her desire to be an artist was stronger than reason. Her work attracted the attention because of their sincerity, their purity and originality. Alexandra remembers one spectator who cried in front of her painting of a winter landscape with small houses buried in the snow. The woman explained that she had Ukrainian roots and that this painting was the exact representation of her grandmother's village... Some of her paintings were even purchased by private collectors at this exhibition.

Alexandra decided to put aside everything that hindered her creativity.

She went abroad and despite the difficulties (learning a foreign language, trying to be admitted to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, material deprivation, and doubts) she remained steady in her path, which brought her to Nice. Nice is undoubtedly the French city that speaks most to Russians. It is here that A. Chekhov, N. Gogol, and I. Turgenev wrote certain of their books, and that the passionate energy of Diaghilev's Russian ballet unfolded. Members of the Tsar's family lived in Nice, and contributed to the development and the harmonious life of the city. The Russian soul is found on every street corner and Alexandra is connected to this history and sees it as a sign of destiny.

Among the family of the Tsar Nikolas II, his sister, the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna Koulikovskaïa-Romanova lived in Nice. Known as a painter, the heiress of the splendid Romanov house, who also experienced the privations of emigration, likewise found her calling as an artist. She is known for the quality of her watercolours in different countries. The universe of her work includes small churches, river banks in the forest, and battle scenes. After leaving Russia, watercolour became the only means of existence for the Grand Duchess.

Alexandra's first years of Nice were also harsh. She found an attic maid's room. The money from the sale of her watercolours was hardly enough to pay for both lodging and food. She spent time at a dance school where she helped the teachers, and had to go there by foot. In exchange, they allowed her to attend exercise and dance classes. Meanwhile, she continued to produce new watercolours. The two experiences

In her youth, Alexandra used several techniques as a watercolourist; however, watercolour on wet paper best suits her character. This technique consists of properly impregnating both sides of the paper with water and laying the colours in one sitting. First used by Turner, this technique came back in use in recent years among painters who aspire to dynamic touches, colourful effects, and the unique transparency and fluidity of the emerging image. Learning this technique requires time and attention from the painter who must know the exact amount of water to put on the paper in order to get the desired effect (watercolour is paint that dissolves in water). Errors made in this genre are irreparable.

It is this precision that distinguishes Alexandra's watercolours. Her album contains works that can be classified according to the following themes: "Flowers", "Landscape", "Still-Lifes", and "Impressions".  Each of these themes makes it possible to appreciate her skill. In the flowers series, the painter's attention is concentrated on the decorative qualities of the object: a wide floral range is embodied with the lotuses, poppies, sunflowers, hyacinths, and irises. The iris series is the most extensive. The refined and striking mixtures of purple, violet, and yellow merge at the will of the painter and transform into the fantastic curves of the leaves, showing the character of the iris, known since the dawn of time. Present in the earlier period of the Flemish school, the iris has always been considered a symbol of peace and tranquillity. Indeed, the fantastic play of colours calls for us to be still, and provides aesthetic pleasure. The task of the painter is that much more difficult given that they aspire to convey the magic of the flower.

The wetness of the leaf fosters the fragile contours of colour, gives freedom to the petals of a flower, from the red accents of a field of poppies, to the motley abundance of a summer bouquet. In fact, in this flowers series, Alexandra's creative fantasy fully flourishes. She works in her studio under the influence of nature. Sometimes, to capture the moment she uses a camera. When looking over the images, she pieces together her sensorial memory of the places where she walked, the sensation of the cool breezes, and even the smells. Her visual memory unites with her emotional memory. From this union is born and develops a vision which, at the right moment, pours onto the wet paper. One has the impression that the watercolours are trying to escape the control of the painter. Yet, they are guided to the right path using small brushstrokes, tracing the details in "Les Artichauts", or adding subtle nuances in "Les Pivoines".

Still-lifes require more detailed, more intense work. The world of objects is more realistic, as such, Alexandra adds the shimmering light reflecting from a samovar, the pearly surface of a shell, the slice of a lemon. The starting point here is fantasy. Here is how the artist tells the story behind ​​"Le Samovar": "I have wanted to draw a samovar for a long time. Even since my arrival in France. I wanted to draw a Russian samovar because it is an integral part of Russian culture.  I thought about my childhood spent at the dacha with the entire family gathered together, we would heat the samovar, and I loved drinking this tea. I remember the smell of firewood, the herbal tea and the "home-made" jam made with fruit from the garden. The tea was delicious, accompanied by conversation. We would drink up to five cups without even realising it. But, I wanted to paint something special, I do not know why, but the works of Chekhov and Turgenev came to mind. For two years, the image took shape in my head and then, suddenly, the samovar appeared to me, just like that, beautiful, with the reflections of Russian churches."

In the landscapes series the decorative effect becomes secondary. The mood is predominant here, it is a mandatory component of a watercolour landscape. The graphics "Le Sentier du matin", "Venice", " Après la pluie", "L’Automne", and paintings of the series "Le Reflet" and "L’Hiver Russe" are coloured by the emotions and realistic visions of the painter. Alexandra intuitively finds the singularity in the landscape that transforms her works into poetry that is simply inimitable. Thus the painting "La Bourgogne", which depicts the typical red roofs of this "vineyard" region, reflects the love of the life of this earth. The wintry Russian landscapes where, through the branches of the trees, you see a church, are a homecoming of sorts. A number of the landscapes of this series are painted in a very realistic style. Alexandra loves to travel, take note of architectural details, and the characteristics of the light. Nevertheless, the author's intuition plays an important role. Her early works such as "Venice", "Amsterdam", "L’Autriche", and "L’Irlande" were created before Alexandra even visited these places. This was a complex subject for the painter who had to imagine each of these cities. Later, when she discovered these places for herself, she noticed that certain of the specific features and atmosphere of these places were very well represented in her drawings.

The abstract drawing "Le Ciel " composed of chromatic harmonies is indeed the quintessence of the author’s feelings. It is closely tied to the painter's personal experiences—her departure from Russia and her beginnings in Nice. "I always knew and sensed that I had to live abroad, near the sea, but I didn't know where. When I arrived in Nice, I found a maid’s room in an attic with a sea view. One day, several years later, my mother came to visit me. Early in the morning I heard her call me and she said, "Look out the window, this is exactly the landscape you drew when you were 15...the sunrise, the mix of colours, the palm trees and the sea." All these feelings give rise to a series that can be called "Les Impressions". They are very different, by the deep red bursts of dawn, by the signs of an impending storm, and the water lilies blown by the wind. The largest painting in this series is "La Liberté". It recounts Alexandra's life. She chose Nice, the pebbles of the beaches, and the deep blue of the sea. She chose to live and create here and has never doubted that decision. This delicate and poetic watercolour called “Le Garçon rêveur” represents this moment that brings together her childhood dreams with their symbolic realisation. The strong and colourful lines contrast here with the general structure of the cold and aristocratic work, reminding us that a person who is truly passionate overcomes all obstacles.               

Olga Zotova, art history candidate,
member of the Central Artists' House of Russia









2019 - Exhibition "Journey to a Dream". Watercolor and Silk. Exhibition Hall of the State Museum of A.S. Pushkin. Moscow. Russia;

2019 - Personal exhibition in Cannes. France;

2018 - sélection for exhibition Monaco -Japon . Monaco

2018 - selection for the exhibition at the « la Maison de France » in Monte-Carlo to celebrate the anniversary of the French House -90 years .

2017 - International competition. PRIZE OF THE CITY OF MENTON 2017

2017 - Participation at the exhibition at Salon Pictural in Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

2017 - Personal exhibition at Chapelle Saint Elisabeth in Villefranche-Sur-Mer.

2017 - Exhibition during the international bouquets contest of Garden Club Monaco, founded at 1968 by Princess Grace.

2017 - Exhibition during the feast of roses at the villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.

2017 - Participation at the exhibition Monaco-Japan, PRIZE -“PRIX CULTUREL DES ART PLASTIQUES”

2017 - Personal exhibition at AIAP –UNESCO MONACO and presentation of scarves’ collection.

2016 - Personal Exhibition during the Symphonie de Fleures at the villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.

2016 - Personal exhibition La Rotonde de Lenotre, Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, France. 

2016 - Exhibition at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Franco-Russian Association “Menton-Sochi”, Casino Barrier, Menton, France;

2016 - Participation at the exposition at the Easter Fair, Russian Orthodox Cathedral Nicolas II, Nice, France;

2015 - Exhibition during “Symphony Cote-d’Azur” at the villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France;

2015 - Art Exhibition at the City Hall of Falicon, France;

2015 - Participation at the Russian Art Week, Moscow, Russia;

2015 - Participation at the Art Exhibition Monaco-Japan. JURY AWARD - “PRIX ROSE DE MONACO”;

2014 - Publication of Art Book “ Alexandra Otieva. Watercolour”. The book is registered in the National Library of France;

2014 - Personal exhibition at la Rotonde, Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, France;

2014 - Private exhibition in Monaco;

2012 - Personal exhibition at the Hermitage hotel, Eze, France;

2010 - Publication in the book “Art and Nature”, Patou publishing, France;

2006 - Personal exhibition in Nice, France;

2005 - Art Exhibition at the City Hall of Malaussena, France;

2003 - Participation at the exhibition “Memories of France” Exhibition Hall University, Saratov, Russia;

2003 - Contest at the National School of Fine Arts ( Paris);

2003 - Exhibition in Saratov, Russia, Audience Award;

2002 - Participation at the Аrt and Photo exhibition “Days of Russian Art in France ( Saint –Cloud);

Vineyards in September, 2012
From the series of Irises, 2012
Sky, 2012
Dreaming Boy, 2009
Autumn, 2001
Morning trail, 2012
Venice, 2003
Samovar, 2011
Book-album "Watercolor" dedicated to 15 years of creativity. It is registered in the National Library of France.