Watercolour: Combinations of life

In August 2014 in the hall La Rotonde in Beaulieu-sur-Mer (2/08 At 19:00 – Vernissage by invitation, 3/08 – free admission) there will be another personal exhibition of the famous artist Alexandra Otieva, whose author's style was formed in Russia in the 1990s, which was a difficult period not only for art, but for a country itself, where many things were subjected to total rethinking – it is an opportunity to understand oneself, one's destiny, one's devotion to the chosen path.

It's always difficult to talk about art: it's a conversation about visual images which are difficult to be described in words. In this respect, the upcoming exhibition of the young artist will tell about her art itself. We will try to penetrate into the secret of her creative sensation, to understand reflexions and hopes. It seems that the lines taken as an epigraph very accurately characterize the creative path of Alexandra Otieva.

Assorti: Sasha, personal exhibition is always a serious step for the artist. It is a responsibility to yourself and the audience. What are your feelings about the upcoming vernissage? Is it possible to consider it as a certain boundary line?

Alexandra Otieva: First of all, this is certainly a desire to share your worldview through your works. At the same time, the exhibition is always a reason to make a summary out of your creativity, an opportunity to look from the outside, to see how professionalism develops, to see technical and plot discoveries, to analyze how they appeared, with what the various ideas are connected with.

А.: The first steps of the artist remain important for him for the rest of his life. When did you realize that painting is important to you? 

А.О.: My mother tells me that I painted since I learned how to hold a pencil. But everything on my pictures was turned upside down: it happens to small children, their sight "walks". From the drawings it was clear that I see the world turned upside down. By the way, today in graphic sheets-drawings you can find two images simultaneously: in the usual and upside down form. This usually puzzles the audience, who think that some mistake has been made while making the exhibit. In fact, this is just the ability to perceive the world absolutely freely. After all, the "bringing into focus" occurs in our minds. Then it worried my parents. Soon everything took its place. My dad was engaged in minting, and it was he who became my first teacher of drawing. He had a workshop in the city centre, and I was happy when he took me with him. Getting into this world, watching the process of creating paintings from metal was wonderful.

А.: Why did you decide that watercolour is your material?

А.О.: I chose watercolour when I was a child. I fell in love with this technique for its transparency and wide possibilities. And I remain devoted to it for many years already. The technique of working with watercolour is one of the most difficult ones. It's like a challenge that you pose yourself in front of a sheet of white paper. Today, a lot of additional techniques are used in watercolour painting: scratching, mixing with other materials – pencil, whitewash, etc., processing the top layer of paper mechanically. But for me creative honesty, so to speak, the purity of the experiment, is more important. Only a white sheet, water and watercolour paint.

А.: There is an established opinion that creative people too early become strangled within the framework of standards. Did you try to move beyond school program?

А.О.: At school, drawing was one of my favourite subjects, besides literature and history. Though quite often I was given only good marks, as at a lesson I was painting not according to the task or the plot given. Believe me: I'm not a rebel, there was nothing I could do with myself ... I often did drawing homework for my classmates. My second passion was theatre. I even thought for a while of becoming a costume and set designer.

А.: As a result – diploma in International Economics...

А.О.: Time to choose the future profession was in the mid-1990s. Neither the drama school nor the art school seemed to my parents to be a serious place to get a profession: the artist is always hungry, becomes famous only after death, and actors play the same role for years, and it's better to be a talented spectator ... I was ordered to choose between economics and jurisprudence. I agreed to the global economy. In fact, I was far from advanced mathematics and audit ... Simultaneously with my studies, I was engaged in ballroom dancing and spent my time in the workshops of the Union of Artists. In fact, I got a real education there. There, the fate brought me to acquaintance with the artist who opened me the technique of watercolour on wet paper.

А.: Sasha, and how do you now perceive your first works now?

А.О.: In 2001, I participated in my first international exhibition in France. The exposition presented works by famous artists and photographers. I was the youngest among them. I remember that I was struck by the reaction of one woman: she stood and cried in front of my snow-covered Russian village – a picture where wooden houses are buried in the snow. She said that she has Ukrainian roots and at her grandmother's village it was just like that ... Even before the opening of that exhibition, several of my works were purchased for private collections. As it turned out, I was the only one who sold something among the exhibitors.

А.: Do you know the feeling of nostalgia? How does it manifest itself? You live away from homeland as well…

А.О.: When I first arrived in Nice, one of the galleries took my works for sale. They offered to paint local landscapes and the sea for tourists. And I wanted to paint Russian winters. Perhaps this was one of the manifestations of nostalgia: the Russian nature, the change of seasons. Here, the seasons do not change dramatically, you do not notice sudden colours... 

А.: And what about "earning your bread"?

А.О.: The first years were difficult ones. I knew no one in Nice. I found a room in the attic. I plunged into the life of the artist, decided to live only by selling my paintings. Having abandoned a lot of things in Russia, I began my struggle for survival. To say that it was not easy is an understatement. Money from the sale of watercolours was barely enough to pay for accommodation and simple food. I went to the dance school on foot to help the teachers. For this I was allowed to attend classes and dance.

А.: Why did you choose Nice? How did you decide to leave Russia?

А.О.: When my mother first stayed with me in Nice, she said once, standing at the window in the early morning: "I already saw it. In your picture. You were fifteen then." I burst into tears – there was a feeling that everything is predetermined and subconsciously we follow the path which was prepared for us beforehand. The early work turned out to be prophetic, the figment of the imagination coincided with reality.

А.: Do you paint your pictures on location?

А.О.: I do not, for two reasons. While working in the technique of watercolour on a wet sheet, it is impossible to go to sketches and paint in the open air. Painting must be carried out indoors, in a studio without any drafts. Secondly, a reliable landscape can be shot with a camera, and when you tell your story it's a kind of a to magic. You start with a white sheet, and the mystery of completing the picture is perceived until the final stroke...

А.: How are the plots of your works born?

А.О.: Inspiration is drawn from nature, meetings with interesting people, travelling, music.

А.: Tell us about the secrets of this technique.

А.О.: Watercolour is an underestimated technique, although it is preserved longer and better than oil paints. There are not so many watercolour painters, and much less are those working on wet paper. Maybe it is because of the fact that this technique is considered one of the most difficult ones. The difficulty is in abundant wetting of the sheet with water from both sides and applying paints at a time. The artist must know the degree of saturation of the paper with water (watercolour is already a water-soluble paint) in order to achieve the desired effect. The error here (unlike the case with the glazing watercolour) is not subject to correction. Creating a picture can take several hours of continuous work and requires full concentration.

А.: The audience will see only the new works that were created after the last solo exhibition?

А.О.: The previous exhibition opened in May 2012 in Èze, France and lasted several months. After that, many new works were created. I will be glad to present them on the vernissage. However, the preparation for a new exhibition is not only thinking about its content. I want to publish a book – an art album, which will include works of different years. Now the development of the printer's dummy is under way. In a word, the new exhibition will truly become a certain landmark in my creativity.

"Assorti": Our magazine wishes you great success!

The interview was taken by the representative of the "Assorti" magazine