What a great experience it has been meeting, getting to know and interviewing the great @alina_zamanova over the last few weeks.
"I find it fascinating how an ‘ugly’ mind can control our body and our lifestyle - can paralyse us from getting out of bed, bring us anxiety, and panic attacks. I think these ugly feeling unite people in a way."
Her grotesque paintings of the female form, the human body and the mind are astonishing in their depth, emotion and passion. Zamanova embraces her experiences as well as her struggles with mental health to produce this incredible body of work, inspired by the muses around her.
"I hope that each of my painted characters and ‘alter-egos’ will reflect back onto both myself and the viewer."
Zamanova is part of an incredible collaborative exhibition with Michaela Stark (online from 14th November 2020!) with Gillian Jason Gallery called 'Inside Me'. "Inside Me explores the artists’ collaborative process to help one-another explore social perceptions of beauty in the female form and what it means to embrace feelings of discomfort in one’s own skin."
Alina, how would you describe your work in 3 words?
Stay Ugly, please.
FIRST OF ALL, PLEASE Tell me A BIT about your exhibition with Michaela Stark?
This exhibition was conceived a year ago when Michaela and I met on Instagram. I was fascinated with how Michaela’s photographic self-portraits portrayed so much confidence and power. We started chatting and found a crossover between so many concepts and influences in our works. At the time, we didn’t even realise the importance of the collaboration we had started! Everything then fell into place when Gillian Jason Gallery confirmed to represent this exhibition in London. I’m enormously grateful and honoured to be exhibiting my works this year in a time when it has been difficult, weird, and ugly for everyone in the world. It has been a challenge for all of us and I really hope that everyone is staying strong and safe.
I JUST CAN'T WAIT! ALINA, What themes run through your work?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the female form, human bodies and the mind. In 2014 at the University of the Arts London, I began to study the representation of ugliness in art & fashion. This idea of visually translating something that is an intangible and abstract - like a feeling or emotion - is a constant source of inspiration for me. I first started exploring ‘ugliness’ from a visual point of view: why grotesque bodies are a huge part of art history and how designers such as Alexander McQueen shocked audiences with designs and performances that were completely out of the norm. Since moving back to Ukraine, my practice has naturally transformed as I dig deeper into ugly feelings within my own body. I find it fascinating how an ‘ugly’ mind can control our body and our lifestyle - can paralyse us from getting out of bed, bring us anxiety, and panic attacks. I think these ugly feeling unite people in a way.
What do you hope your works get across to the viewer?
Emotions, thoughts, feelings, memories.
THAT DEFINITELY COMES THROUGH. STRONG EMOTIONS EMENATE FROM EACH ONE! I'M CURIOUS, Who are the women in your work Alina? What are they feeling?
For the past five years I have been inspired by muses around the world; women who are confident in their skin, in their message, and confident in the work they create, but at the same time exposing their vulnerability and ugliness, something that makes them unique.
In my upcoming exhibition ‘Inside Me’, it is the first time I am painting ‘myself’ in a way. Before this exhibition, I felt the need to abandon any physical feelings and focus on my virtues. Now, I am adding another layer to my work by painting characters from my imagination that embrace my feelings, my own experiences, and my own struggles with mental health. My body was, and still is, full of pain but by delving deep, I have gained that little bit of confidence from my own paintings. I hope that each of my painted characters and ‘alter-egos’ will reflect back onto both myself and the viewer.
What is your studio like Alina? Do you have any artist essentials?
I have recently moved to a new studio in the heart of the historical part of Kyiv, which is such a beautiful and creative area. For the first time, I have the whole studio to myself, which has helped me to learn to spend more time with myself. The only thing I must maintain is self-discipline! My biggest artist essential would probably be a studio that is walking distance from my home. I try to work every day, no matter what I create.
Do you listen to anything while you work?
When I paint, I don’t realise that I am listening to the same playlist over and over again for four or five hours. When I do finally realise, I prefer to just work in silence. Recently I have been really enjoying classical piano music, suggested by my mom when we went to the Carpathian Mountains together.
SO YOU OBVIOUSLY PAINT SO MUCH EVERYDAY - What does an average working day look like to you?
I wake up, have my coffee, perhaps do yoga, and then I walk my dog (another form of meditation). Then I have one more coffee before I head to my studio. You can tell by now that I am a fan of coffee time. On a serious note: I am still searching for the perfect time management strategy for my studio practice because oftentimes I find that I work myself so hard that my hand no longer listens to the rest of my body. It is very hard for me to take breaks while I paint so often I work for five hours without a break. We humans need to drink water and stay hydrated!
Who or what are your biggest inspirations ALINA?
Who: Jenny Saville, George Condo, Egon Schiele, Vanessa Beecroft, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso and Parris Goebel (globally renowned choreographer).
What: psychology, mindfulness, the human body.
How do these inspirations come out in your work?
I usually research ideas and themes in my work for six months to a year. After that, my inspirations become almost internalised and transform into my work quite naturally. I find myself in an ongoing process of trying to understand everything: learning, reading, watching, listening to people and then painting my response.
How do you know when a work is complete?
I know my work is complete when I feel it’s time to sign it. I once thought my painting was finished but then a year later I took it out and realised that it wasn’t signed so I just went over and totally transformed it. Only then when I signed it was truly finished.
Can you select a piece of your work and tell me a bit about it?
I would love to talk to you about the new work called ‘Dance’ (acrylic on canvas, 120 x 150 cm, 2020). This particular piece is inspired by two main factors; one physical and one intellectual.
A few years ago I was reminded of my passion for dancing by the choreographer, Parris Goebel. I am constantly mesmerised by her performances and explosive power. I am literally painting every year a respond to her performances that she creates for Rihanna for Savage Fenty shows. And by doing that I am learning so much through women on my canvases and from the diversity of the show. I used to dance as a young girl and I can remember how alive and energetic my body felt. I wanted to translate these energetic movements onto the canvas.
From an intellectual standpoint, the reference appeared in my memory while already painting the distorted figure on my canvas. The image of Louise Bourgeois’ bronze contorted women hanging from the ceiling (Arch of Hysteria, 1993) appeared in my mind. Bourgeois was responding to theories of psychoanalysis around the time of Freud, who in fact believed that women's bodily contortions were similar to Bourgeois sculptures in times of distress. I find it fascinating that the exact same posture can be read and translated into two different emotions and feelings - one is hysteria and another one is power/pleasure. Themes of this dichotomy between emotions and actions was thus a really important factor that I wanted to portray in ‘Dance’.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time:
a) Who would the meal be with?
b) What would you eat together?
We would eat Ukrainian borsch with bread.
I feel like she would be open to trying my national cuisine.
amazing answer. she would be one of mine i think! Are you currently watching anything on Netflix (other streaming services available! lol)?
I recently discovered a very cool YouTube channel (it is in Russian) where a girl is reading and discussing so many books about self transformation, psychoanalysis etc. It’s called . On Netflix I watch A LOT ‘Friends’ - it has gotten to the point where I can just lip sync along to every episode!
What is your guilty pleasure Alina?
Sleep, wine, bath time, cuddle time.
Final two questions... Who is your favourite historical female artist?
I feel that every artist leaves their mark in a different way so for that reason, I don’t think I could truly pick just one.
And Who are your favourite practicing female artists and their instagram handles?
Jenny Saville @jenny_saville_art
Chloe Wise @chloewise_
Toyin Ojih Odutola @toyinojihodutola
Tracey Emin @traceyeminstudio