Elena Zolotnitsky | Studio Visit | The Studio Work

Elena Zolotnitsky's paintings draw you immediately in - they have a sense of timelessness and at the same time, capture a particular moment, as Elena says "I like to think that I am painting an emotion."

I just love what she has to say about archetypes and her creative process. Hope you enjoy!

Coming from Moscow, how did you come to be an artist in the Bay Area?

I was an artist way before I came to the Bay Area. I grew up in Moscow in the family of an artist. My father was a well-known movie set creative director and illustrator. I remember myself drawing and painting watercolor since a very young age and started to be really serious about ART at 14. But after High School it took me 4 years to get enrolled into college withthe art education program - the competition was fierce (the selection and acceptance process is very different from the one here and it is incredibly hard to get in). It was the Cinema Academy in Moscow (VGIK, The Allstate Institute of Cinematography, Moscow) and our class was only 15 people, boys mostly. We were trained as movie set designers and creative directors in animation.

I always wanted to work on the movie set, but the girls were only allowed into the animation department (at the time). I had an amazing art education, 6 years of painting and drawing , 24 hours a week plus. During my last, diploma year, I was invited to work as a creative director on the 10 minute hand animated movie at "Souzmultfilm" in Moscow. It was quite an experience to work with the team under you while still in college. The movie was called "From 9am to 6pm" and depicted one day of a female architect, juggling her family and her creative process. It still runs on Russian TV and You-tube. I wasn't really happy to work as a team member, because it felt like I was responsible for other people's mistakes and imperfections, but mostly it was a PRODUCTION and I wanted to CREATE. And I think that it is best when done in isolation.

That is when I decided to start my career as a painter… By the time I ended up in Berkeley in 1999 I already had lived in Baltimore for 8 years, showing work and trying to support myself with painting, teaching at the Maryland Art Institute and picking up an occasional editorial project.

When I immigrated, there was no question for me who I would become. I already was.

When did you first work with oil paint?

I had always painted with watercolors, but was forced to start working with oil because it was a requirement during the exam in order to be accepted into college - a 2 day (16 hours) live painting competition. A portrait painted from the model, oil on canvas. I flunked it the first time and had a year to prepare - starting from pure technicalities. The funny thing is - once you were a student nobody really cared what medium you did use, so I went back to the watercolor after my daughter was born (third year) because I could achieve the same results faster. Basically, I started oil painting in earnest after the graduation...

And it feels that I have been reinventing myself constantly - 30 years of loosening up!!!

We talked about how you want to keep a painting from being overworked, sometimes completing a painting in a single sitting (bravery!). How does this approach drive your work? Do you ever wipe a painting clean to start over?
It is not a goal to finish a painting in single sitting. The goal is to paint something decent and just BE in that moment of achieved perfection, when nothing else matter. It might take a day or a few years - it depends on the painting, because they do have the way of painting themselves.

I do feel however that the paintings I have created over the short period of time are more successful - they feel more alive.

I also like to use the whiteness of the surface as part of my painting. When the translucency of paint becoming part of the design and creates an extra depth. There are two major approaches for me in painting: to get it at once (one, two sittings) or to rework it until I feel that it is done to my satisfaction. "A la prima" or "wet on wet" works for me the best.

I am not saying that one way is any better than the other, they are just different and bring in different results. However sometimes nothing works...... then it's trash. To me "a la prima" makes more sense in general: everything changes all the time: the light, myself, my mood, the painting itself - nothing stays the same. It is hard for me psychologically to keep working on the same painting over a period of time and not to loose the freshness of the medium along with the feeling.

I like to think that I am painting an emotion. For how long you can feel the same really?

I am really interested in the scale of your paintings – the subjects often transcend the scale and seem to be painted larger than life; however, at their core they are intimate paintings. Some writers refer to your work as archetypal. How does this factor into your artistic vision?
I prefer to paint small because I can handle them better and also I see them as more engaging, sort of dialogues, little secrets, revelations and "jewels". If I knew how to paint large and keep it fresh, alive and intimate at the same time - I would. I do not want to use a projector, because my whole philosophy of painting is based on "immediate creation", novelty of working the medium, engaging all my psychological and sensual resources.... When I find the way to paint large and remain true to myself - I will start all over again.

"The term "archetype" has its origins in ancient Greek. The root words are archein, which means "original or old"; and typos, which means "pattern, model or type". The combined meaning is an "original pattern" of which all other similar persons, objects, or concepts are derived, copied, modeled, or emulated.

The psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, used the concept of archetype in his theory of the human psyche. He believed that universal, mythic characters archetypes reside within the collective unconscious of people the world over. “Archetypes represent fundamental human motifs of our experience as we evolved; consequentially, they evoke deep emotions."

It is a perfect explanation of what I am trying to achieve - to find the most direct way into the psyche of another human being. When I paint the idea of a thing, not the actual thing - the outcome has a much broader meaning: you can fill that idea up with anything you feel like at the moment, so it is perfect for my creative process. The idea of a rose, the idea of a maiden, the idea of a face and so on. It gives me a certain freedom, but ties up the composition. It gives me the power to reinvent myself over and over again - makes it fun!

Where can we see your work in the Bay area and beyond?
I have work in two upcoming shows:

Paul Mahder Gallery, San Francisco,
Nov 16-Jan 10 / Holiday Group Show
Opening reception November 19th, 6-9pm

SFMOMA Artists Gallery, Fort Mason, San Francisco
Jan 11-Feb 20 / 3 person Show
Opening reception January 11, 1-3pm

I also show work at Pryor Fine Art in Atlanta and Selby Fleetwood Gallery in Santa Fe, NM.

I am also open to showing my work at my studio ( by appointment only) at Bryant and 5th
Streets in San Francisco.

Posted 20th November 2013 by Elise Morris