Five-Dots is a Cincinnati-based online publication that hopes to open a conversation between artists/craftsman and the public about their work, process, ideas, concerns about their community and workspace.
Made in Cincinnati vendor and fine artist Megan Bickel helms this project with partner and photographer Cassandra Zetta. They release a new interview with a local creative, artist or maker regularly on their site including — this interview with artist Ellina Chetverikova.
Ellina Chetverikova is an artist from a little town, Severodonetsk, Ukraine. She is currently based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ellina moved to the United States in 2007 at the age of 17. She earned her BFA at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2012 and her MFA at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. Ellina’s work is autobiographical in nature, summing up and expressing important moments in her and close friends and family’s lives.
She works with a variety of mediums, usually attempting to correlate media and subject. Ellina uses painting as a visual diary. Her latest series is a reflection of the world as a foreigner, seemingly suspended in between two cultures but not completely belonging to either. Although Ellina considers herself a realist and a naturalist— one could argue that her desire to utilize visual metaphor and symbolism would place her into a neo-surrealist camp. She uses these visual metaphors and symbols to make her experiences relatable to people at different points in their lives. She intends to make work that connects people, and hopes that it helps her to further understand the world around her.
FIVE-DOTS: Where in the Ukraine are you from?
ELLINA CHETVERIKOVA: I’m from a very small town on the eastern side of the Ukraine. Its about 12-14 hours on the train from Kiev, which is the capital of Ukraine. Mostly people on Eastern part of Ukraine are Russian speakers. Our first language is Russian. But I speak Russian, Ukrainian, and English.
F-D: So you speak 3 languages?. . . That’s so cool. . . I’m so envious of anyone that can speak multiple languages like that.
EC: It’s so much easier when you grow up with it! It’s much easier to learn when you grow up with it.
F-D: I’m sure!
EC: Because when I first came here I couldn’t speak [English] at all. It was really hard. .. to learn all of that.
F-D: When did you come over here?
EC: In 2007, in August.
F-D: How old were you?
EC: I was 17. So almost 18, I had several months until I was 18. I can’t believe it was almost 10 years ago!
F-D: You wanna tell us about these two paintings?
EC: I’m interested in portraiture. Pretty much all of my pieces have faces in them, I’m studying portraiture so that I can understand people a little better. I’m trying to emulate [through portraiture] the kind of ways in life we are choosing, what we are doing with our lives. Some people sacrifice one thing so that they can do another. For example: I think artists take a lot of financial risks because it’s hard to make work that interests me and to make work that will sell on the market. I’m trying to portray what kind of sacrifices the person has made in their lifetime for their work. I have just started two portraits of people I know really well.
In this first painting I have my brother, Vladav. I was talking [with him] through Skype one day and I decided to take a screenshot because I thought the light in his room was really beautiful. For the last six or seven years I have been seeing him through the computer or phone screen and also seeing the room behind him that I grew up in, and seeing it change.
F-D: So you’re having a purely digital experience with your brother and your childhood home?
EC: Yes, and I’m seeing things stay the same, and I’m seeing things deteriorate and I’m just watching. When I left the Ukraine I was only 17 and so I didn’t bring a lot of things with me-- just some pictures and other things like that. I wanted to create a window to my brother as I have seen him, just staring at the computer screen and thinking about something. I don’t know how the piece is going to end. A lot of things have happened [since I left]-- people have died, other things have happened. So seeing that room has a lot of importance for me.
F-D: Do you think this work is perhaps also a commentary on the refugee crisis or the state of immigrant lifestyles in this country?
EC: Definitely. And I definitely think this work is me trying to cope with my move over here. I’m so accustomed to this place [United States] and it’s my home now, the Ukraine isn’t really my home any more. And I know that when I go back over there I’m going to have a culture shock. That part of me that I’ve had back there, I had to put away in a box because when I came over here everything was different. I had to start over. Especially when I realized that the language changes-- everything that you learned is wrong. You have to start over. You can’t just be translating it in your head. It doesn’t work that way. . . so that was interesting.
The next piece is of my friend Sea, a lot of things have happened with them too throughout their life. I wanted to keep this painting very simple with just a bright light in the front center, illuminating their face. I can’t verbalize it yet, but I’m really interested in the limited lighting. It has a big significance for me. I’m planning on making more work in that direction.
F-D: What do you think that significance is?
EC: I think that it is purely the lighting [in the studio]. The light is very harsh during the day. But it is shifting now that we are getting into fall. Right now its really difficult to paint during the day. So at night I don’t have contradictory warm and cool lighting coming into the studio.
F-D: How long have you been in this studio?
EC: About two months. I just moved in here.
F-D: When you moved into this space did you have a set plan for how you wanted to lay it out, or did it develop organically?
EC: It just developed. I don’t like to plan things-- I just looked at the space and felt it out. I have moved a few things around after living in it for a while, but other than that it has stayed the same. We also have open studios with every gallery opening at Manifest, so we want people to be able to walk around. I was also considering how much wall space was available. I like to see what I am doing; so putting up the work on the wall is kind of that last step to see what I’m doing. Even if they're really shitty pieces that I just can’t look at--I put them up-- because sometimes after I have looked at them for a while I start to find things that I really enjoy. It changes-- I see new things about them.
F-D: Has the location influenced any of the work?
EC: Definitely. So, before I got the residency here at Manifest I had a really difficult time painting. It was right after I quit teaching, I got a Bridge scholarship from Manifest-- they give scholarships to recent grads so that you have breathing room to keep painting-- they're free drawing classes at the Drawing Center. I realized that drawing and painting from life was very important for me. I like looking at something, gaining a connection with it, and then getting to represent it. Also, I had visited the area before, but I never really hung around here and Woodburn [Woodburn Ave, Manifest’s street address] is really similar to a city in Ukraine, Lvov. It’s a very beautiful city, its very old and has a lot of old Austrian buildings-- Gothic style. It reminded me of drawing with my art school back in the Ukraine-- and painting outside. It was one of the best parts of my life. There are also a lot of parallels between Manifest and my art school back there-- just the support system and the stressing of developing your skills and studying. They both believe that nature is the best teacher-- and remembering not to over conceptualize everything. There is also a clock tower-- it goes off every 15 minutes, and it sounds exactly like a clocktower back in Lvov. It also pushed me outside. I try to place a 50% outside and 50% inside rule to my studio time. I notice that if I work in the studio for too much time I become stale, while if I go outside to work I become more active and attentive.
Read Five-Dots entire interview with Ellina here.
Five-Dots interviews are co-published by Made in Cincinnati in an effort to expand awareness of local artists and their craft. Interviews by Megan Bickel. Photos by Cassandra Zetta.