Natalia Avdeeva’s works are huge, powerful landscapes with vast skies and affecting vistas. Each of the works on display is a piece unique, based on plein air studies and has been created using an innovative technique that combines painting with print-making technology.
Painting these vast skies seems to come instinctively to the artist who was born, and grew up, in the Altai region of Russia, in Southern Siberia where the borders of Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia meet. Altai is a majestic land of immense proportions and extreme climates – exceptionally hot summers and winters where the temperature regularly drops below -40ºc. The boundless skies, the mountains and glacial lakes of the region’s natural environment provided the inspirational backdrop for the young Avdeeva’s childhood where her first job was picking herbs in the mountain passes for the local shaman. This natural influence is clearly evident in her work today and she describes her sense of being “in dialogue with the natural world, with the air, the sky.”
To suit their subject matter, most of the works in this exhibition are large scale – some measuring more than one by one and a half metres. The subjects are mostly landscapes with some cityscapes, depicting skies, water and snow. Searing hot summer scenes with intense blue skies, downy white clouds and sultry shorelines are contrasted with images of the chilly depths of winter and snow, so much snow. “I have a particularly good memory for snow landscapes,” Avdeeva explains, “I miss snow and find it very exciting to depict...when I saw London first in snow, it looked so beautiful and so different –and very familiar at the same time.”
The daughter of an artist father and an architect mother, Natalia Avdeeva has always had a hunger to express herself and trained as a painter at the Barnaul School of Fine Art in Siberia, Russia. The prize-winning artist – she won the Winsor and Newton Young Artist Award in 2011 – is a regular exhibitor at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters annual exhibition, and is now based in London. She says she “is driven by colour, light and contrast.” As part of her dialogue with nature she works in the tradition of plein air, painting small canvases from which the much larger images are created in the studio. She has painted in this way for many years depicting the landscape of her native Russia but she has also painted Italy and the English coast, especially Cornwall where she has captured its rugged beauty in her huge paintings. One work of a Cornish beach is deceptively simple – the blue of the sky contrasting with a sandy beach and a hint of green landscape on the horizon; but it is the clouds that dominate. These are hazy, somewhat imprecise, yet delineated with a certain power that almost overwhelms with their immensity.
These large-scale, powerful paintings are created on a large format vacuum bed. Painting directly onto the silk screen, it is a fast paced, freestyle process, which at first glance appears to be frantic and chaotic belying the reality that each painting is the result of meticulous preparation. Avdeeva selects an image from a pile of small studies and paintings – she also sometimes works from memory – it is a small watercolour of some traditional-looking Russian village houses in winter. She glances at it and then starts her preparation. A colour palette is prepared and much time is taken mixing the acrylic paints – in the same way as she would mix oils outside, en plein air – until the desired shades are achieved. The paint is quickly but precisely applied directly on to the screen with small pieces of card and plastic palate knives, each of which is scrupulously selected. There is an extremely short window of time to get the paint applied and the image made before it dries. The process is finalised by ‘squeegeeing’ the paint through the screen and the results revealed on a large piece of white paper; a breath-taking, chilly snowscape of the two houses. She says she will decide later whether to be pleased with it.
In this way, the paintings are exposed, only in the final seconds, through printing technology. The innovative method produces unique pieces in an adrenaline-fuelled 15-20 minute period, where Avdeeva taps into the emotion of the painting experience and captures the moment. The process is a paradoxical mix of spontaneity and precision. There is as much creative freedom as there is in painting with oils, as the artist can use a limitless palette, but there is limited amount of time in which to apply the paint so that each and every attempt is a risk or a challenge for the artist to tackle anew. Painting directly onto the silk screen results in more abstract forms than with the traditional approach of painting on canvas and Avdeeva believes the technique can be taken further.
It was through a mutual friend that Avdeeva met Scarlett Massel, owner of the Loughborough Hotel Gallery and the Pellafort Press, the printmaking studio housed in the basement of the large Victorian building in Brixton. Avdeeva explains that it was Massel’s energy that propelled her further “Scarlett’s very experimental, she gets very excited and this enthusiasm gave me the green light to experiment with my traditional painting skills and printmaking techniques.”
The results of this experimentation are stunning, and as the exhibition’s title promises, ‘explosive’. The paintings themselves are sublime and so is their subject matter, in the sense that they capture nature’s overwhelming grandeur. Avdeeva is drawn to paint the sky and nature as it represents a “spiritual freedom” explaining that she wants to escape what she sees as an ever-present disingenuousness in the human world. She is driven to capture “a source of honesty and purity in the works through colour and vibrancy ... to reveal this to people, so it can uplift them” and by doing so to attain, for herself, “emotional integrity” which is she able then to share with us.