Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?
I am of the impression that any kind of development or apparent Becoming that I have undergone, has been a process of 'coming back' to something original, perhaps something forgotten or neglected, rather than a movement toward something new. This sense of return feels at the same time very much familiar and undeniably new. I began drawing in high school, when an art teacher assigned the class to draw a photograph upside down. That introduced me to observing the world as an abstraction, as shapes and colors that come together to become images. In college, I was studying molecular biology, until I met Professor George Dugan, in whose class I began painting. When he looked at the world he saw poetry, and his vision has framed the way I see, for which I am incredibly grateful. George became my mentor and friend, and upon meeting him I irrevocably turned to painting. It felt as though he said aloud the thoughts that I had but couldn’t phrase, evoking a sense of familiarity and rediscovery of something inherent. When I was a kid, I had spent a lot of time imagining, observing, and building in both tangible and imaginary dimensions. All that is what I do now. When I was a child, I was simply unaware that it is the source of art.
What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?
Throughout my childhood I have moved around quite a bit due to my parents' work. I was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and we have lived in Israel, Kiev (Ukraine) and Moldova. I think I switched 8 schools. Although leaving friends was painful, the frequent relocations were more stimulating than stressful. The frequently changing environment, culture and language has certainly affected my work. A changing setting means that the external system of values and objectives is not a fixed structure, you learn that it varies from place to place. This outer flux enabled me to look inward to seek my own sense of verification and understanding. I think this has reduced my dependence on my surroundings for understanding my own identity, letting it be a bit more self contained, which has been invaluable to my work.
What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?
I think that in the very beginning of my practice, I was most thrilled with the new kind of vision that I had gained. I was able to see things that I had previously not been able to perceive (or at least it had been a while since I could do so), such as the color of a shadow on the wall, or even its existence. I was also very taken by the incredibly asserting sensation of creating something that is mine – a painting or even a single mark feels very much different from all the other objects around. There is a sense of belonging, and causality, the experience of which is incredibly satiating. I think that when the first wave of thrill had subsided, I fell into the trap of pride, which demanded of me the kind of skilled and detailed work that tries to easily impress others. I sensed the shallowness of that pursuit, but it took me some time to understand how to dig up my more true aims, and find the courage to change direction. Not forward really, but back to the original, back to what has driven me from the beginning.
Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?
I am forever grateful to my grandparents. Both of my grandfathers are makers, they build things around the house, and would talk to me about science, show me how to make electrical circuits, carve things, and burn stuff with magnifying glasses. One of my grandmothers was the kind of person who managed to hold on to her childhood, so she was able to partake in my imaginings fully. I think that staying the summers with my grandparents has been a big inspiration for me, they shared with me their natural curiosity and the value of making things.
Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration stems simply from life. I think that life is full, overboiling, chaotic and orderly at the same time, jammed with confusing emotions and attempts at rationality, and that our existence is crowded with contradictions, our reflective capacities often overdeveloped while our courage is miniscule, our imagination getting ahead of ourselves, the simplest things like a carrot appear utterly complex, and complex things like death completely straightforward. Any kind of art that is about life is icing on this cake. In other words, inspiration is overabundant.
Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?
There is one single work that has marked my transition from making a painting through an attitude of control, expectation and mastery, to a kind of resignation, openness to opportunity (as well as to failure), and with the intention of satisfying a need in my life, rather than a desire to impress. The piece is titled The Consolation (Two Places), it is an 80”x64” oil on canvas that I painted in early 2015.
How did it begin? and how did it evolve?
This painting began as a result of a handful of experiences. For some time, I had been growing increasingly unsatisfied with my work. I had a very positive critique in my graduate program, however as I looked at my own work, I felt acutely that it is just fairly well painted, whimsical facades. At around the same time, I attended a very short workshop with the artist Jonas Burgert, who introduced me to approaching my work as a conversation between myself and the piece – a conversation, not a monologue. This was followed by a month long winter break, which was all I really needed to move ahead. I stretched a large canvas, and dove into it without knowing where it is headed. As we all do, I carry a good amount of baggage, and the openness of the work, allowed it to start permeating the paint. I was able to listen to the painting, and allow myself to learn from it, rather than just laboring and carrying out what was on my mind. It was like nothing I ever experienced, and at that time I believe I found what art means to me. Since then I allowed the work to go to places that are strange, unpredictable and much more exciting.
What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?
The realization that I have experienced through making this piece, has been the driving force behind my work ever since. My particular subject, medium, visual language or process may change, but my intimate relationship with my work, which germinated at that time, has been deepening and evolving ever since.
What are you working on now?
I tend to work on a number of pieces at the same time, because I get too many ideas of what I want to make and have too little patience to put them off. Also, since I inevitably get stuck with each piece, this allows me to have something else to move to while waiting for it to get unstuck. I am currently working on a large constructed sculpture/painting that consists of a several parts, mainly on wood and linen, some of which are hanging on the wall in front of each other, and others are free standing on the floor. I don’t know yet if this piece will grow larger, but I am hoping it will not. I am also working on my first large scale drawing, which I suppose is a kind of collage. The other in progress piece that I am very much enjoying, but taking rather slowly is a knitted, low relief, life sized female sculpture. Since the sculpture is soft and malleable, she is able to move, act and exist in a much more dynamic state than a sculpture made of a solid material. This dynamic nature of yarn and fabric led me to explore the sculpture through stop motion animations which I have been experimenting with lately.
If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?
If ever in doubt, ask your 8 year old self.
About the Artist
Based in Hoboken, New Jersey
Anya Kotler was born in Odessa, Ukraine, grew up in Jerusalem, Israel and studied painting at the New York Academy of Art. Anya has shown in solo and group shows in the US and China. Most recently her work was included in exhibitions at Silvermine Gallery, Touchstone Gallery and Ely Center of Contemporary Art, and was featured in Reed Magazine, ArtMaze Magazine and the upcoming issue of New American Paintings. Anya is a two-time recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant. She teaches courses around the US and in Ireland, and currently works out of her studio in Hoboken, NJ.
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