The color of a bud opening in spring, dismal gray leafless trees looking slightly reddish from a distance, and the almost crass lemon yellow of blooming daffodils announce the freshness of each new spring. The transformation of dormant life into energetic green and wild color is so powerful that poets wax on about it and artists paint about it. Aleksandra Katargina, a blossoming young painter living in the DC area, is on the same path. She is the Touchstone Foundation for the Arts first Emerging Artist Fellow Winner mounting her first oil painting solo exhibition In Pursuit of Happiness.
Aleksandra became captivated by Nature at a very early age while spending summers with her grandparents in Penza, Russia. She lived in Moscow during the school year, and early on found the urban environment too artificial for her tastes. Although Moscow offers its 12 million inhabitants the tallest skyscraper in Europe, the colorful onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Spasskaya Clocktower in Red Square, for Aleksandra city fun was to be enjoyed in small doses. The quieter realm of the countryside was more suited to her personality.
Aleksandra’s summer experiences in Penza, a smaller town south of Moscow, allowed her to bask in the peace and quiet of her grandmother’s garden. There she developed a green thumb, scrutinized plants and animals, and learned to draw the figure. While her mother wrote and illustrated little books for her little Sasha, Sasha practiced her craft by drawing on top of the original images. During her teen years, Sasha recalls, “Drawing was peaceful and gave me happiness. I realized that making art was the best thing I could do in this world.” So she settled comfortably into drawing and painting with watercolors.
Coming to the USA at the age of 14 to live with her father was quite an adjustment for Sasha. In this new place her previous studies of English and interaction with Russian friends already in the states made the transition easier than it would have been otherwise. After high school she studied art at Maryland College of Art (MICA) and then earned a master’s degree in art with a painting concentration at Towson University near Baltimore, MD.
In her studies Aleksandra really wanted to learn traditional technical processes to hone her skills. “I wanted to collect a set of tools so I could express what I want to express,” she says. Through the help of teachers she did attain her goals. Michael Economos taught her anatomy and figurative techniques. Additional figure and landscape classes from Mark Karnes, built up her skill and confidence. Sangram Majumdar pushed her very hard to develop the necessary work attitude. Lance Moore’s technical process class unraveled the mystery of oil painting for her. “It was kind of like cooking,” she says. “One adds a little bit of this and a little bit of that to make an explosion of taste, but I had to learn which spices to use in each project.”
While inspired by nature, Aleksandra is not a pure landscape painter in the sense that any given landscape dominates the canvas. Faces, figures, and animals that capture her attention are set into each natural living (landscape) environment. Using her friends and herself as models, she forms the composition of the painting focusing on the body language of the posed model. Although she does refer to her own photos of people, Aleksandra says that “work from life makes me work faster, but that doesn’t mean the painting will be quick to complete. Brush strokes are more expressive and loose when I paint from life. Light is much more expressive and has a strong presence in life drawing, whereas photo references don’t show light or depth of space accurately.”
Even as humans these days try to distance themselves from the natural world, Aleksandra purposefully pairs animals with people in a natural environment. In the process she paints parables, connecting the disappearing dots between humankind and the natural world. For instance, her painting Shaman was inspired by the manga movie “Princess Mononoke.” Director Hayao Miyazaki also thinks about connections. He says, “Modern life is so thin and shallow and fake. I look forward to when developers go bankrupt, Japan gets poorer and wild grasses take over.” In Aleksandra’s maiden solo exhibition In Pursuit of Happiness, she asks what avenues contemporary humans take while trying to find to happiness. Her mastery of painting techniques are a visual feast, and the deep philosophical subtext worth deciphering. Leo Tolstoy said that, “Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows people these secrets which are common to all.” Viewers should expect to spend contemplative time here, because Aleksandra’s paintings focus on the secrets of her soul, which are, in reality, as Tolstoy observed, common to all. –Rosemary Luckett
Touchstone Foundation for the Arts first Emerging Artist Fellow Winner Solo Exhibition
In Pursuit of Happiness
Paintings by Aleksandra Katargina
Touchstone Gallery May 1-31, 2015
Opening Reception: Friday, May 1, 6-8:30pm
Preview: April 29-30, 11am-6pm
Quick Portrait Event: Sunday, May 31, 2-4pm