Interview With Rita
Interviewer: Luxi H.
Interviewee: Rita Maikova
Luxi: Hi Rita, the painting “Feeling Soft”, along with the series that’s being exhibited at your solo exhibition “Bones and Ribbons” with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery seems to have opened a new chapter in your artworks, introducing more softness, meanderings and femininity into the scenes which can otherwise be described as demonic, terrifying and ghastful.
On the other side, different from the fully terrestrial landscape in your previous series, the ocean elements like shell and sea snails have also appeared in your new painting, directing the viewers to a new oceanic landscape. What has called for the birth of a new line of visual language? What are the inherent necessities in your painting that have required such a change?
Maikova: In general, I see my art as a process of constant development. To use a metaphor, I compare it to a single-celled organism that changes with every new experience and becomes something new. All the images that come out of me are linked to my inner impressions and emotional state.
As some viewers and readers may know, I’m Ukrainian. The war has revealed the most basic thing, and for me it is the ability to see my feelings embodied in images, my inner stories. Each of my paintings is a unique story and you can trace how characters reappear, play different roles on the stage of my landscapes. The female figure in the image of a goddess or guiding angel was previously present in my works, but it worked in the shadow. But now there is a time when I give them the forefront.
The painting "Feeling Soft" is one of those where the main character is a female creature, and now I am interested to know and explore this female essence. As the aforementioned single-cell organism - it develops and takes shape. I feel an existential connection with each of my characters and the experience I am living; they are living with me. In “Feeling Soft” and in the “Bones and Ribbons” series the female is strong and powerful, fascinating and sometimes frightening – this is the way I create the energy that I lack in reality, to visualize it on canvas. There is a dialogue and a mutual exchange between us. At the same time, all the other inhabitants of my world are also evolving, but for present they act as minor characters, until I feel that one of them is ready to tell his story with a higher volume and intensity.
Luxi: Viewed negatively, language can serve as a decorative wrapping, a rhetorical package to something that’s essentially evil and nasty; but on the positive side, language can also work as the fulcrum for Achimedes to pry up the earth – all of these a very winding way of leading to what you have mentioned in a previous interview that “you have had to find new ways of existing in the world that involves compartmentalize your emotions”.
We know that the emotional landscape behind this seemingly light expression is cruel and muddy, and crueler is the real-world Ukrainian war and human condition. To understand your “feminine, soft turn” in this context, how would you describe its relation to the endless inner monologue as your work has always been engaged with, and is it also safe to assume that it also works as a response to, or an oracular triumph in the war?
Maikova: As you correctly pointed out, language is a powerful tool. If we consider it very dualistic as illumination of good or evil, I have lived and continue living through contrasting feelings and show it in my work.
That's what the Language of War does: it erases the gray and ambiguous - you are either for or against. I either feel uncontrollable hatred and calmly look at the bloody photos from the enemy's frontline, or I exude endless suffering for the deaths of innocent children. And on the basis of overwhelming emotions I tell the story of the victory over evil, showing metaphorical episodes on the way to this victory. I am not just talking about the victory of Ukraine, but about the global victory of man over all the lower vibrations in himself, about a personal victory over his own personal inner evil. I am not saying that it is necessary to eliminate our shadow sides - no, because they are the secret source of energy for self-protection. I'm talking about letting the light inside us burn freely and developing the gift that was put inside us by someone greater than ourselves. For that experience is the essense of everything. And very gently and smoothly I flow into the fluid forms of femininity in my works, showing my need for change and thirst for a new beginning.
I believe my recent visit to Matrimandir in India, the Temple of the Mother, has contributed to this as well. It's hard to put into words how pure, light, and delicate the energy that filled me there was. I felt like a vessel brimming over with crystal clear water flowing down the petals of the world's largest lotus. I will be happy if my new trend in art heralds the advent of victory.
Luxi: Though the interviews and discussions surrounding your identity as a Ukrainian artist have not been scanty, and indeed, many of them have prioritized it even in front of your work itself, it seems that very few has made the effort to ask what Ukraine means to you culturally and artistically, apart from the martial and political situation.
We know that you attended school in Kherson, a port city by the Black Sea that has been inhumanely bombarded and occupied during Russian invasion, and have grown up in Southern Ukraine whose vast plain seems to have morphed into the backdrop of some of your paintings. In some of your early paintings where the kaleidoscope indigo and pink colors come together in a surrealist collage, we can also recognize some traces of the influence from the traditional Ukrainian painting. Can you please tell us more about the visual, aesthetic Ukrainian-ness in your painting?
Maikova: Thank you for this question, it instantly transported me back to my homeland and brought a warm smile to my lips - because after all right now, I want to be able to return to my home.
For me, Ukraine is about a great soul, sincerity and strength and something mystical. I was born and spent all my childhood in the South of Ukraine, surrounded by the Black and Azov Seas, mostly in the steppe zone. The steppe is indeed present today as a habitat for my characters. For me, the steppe is a continuous canvas that lives, breathes and moves in its peaceful, meditative rhythm. It is full of hidden stories inside, and I was lucky enough to find an opportunity to let them out. I have always been fascinated by the details.
If we are talking about a plant, it was important for me to study the shape, the attachment, all the stamens and fibers in the smallest details – this is what I have devoted a lot of time in my childhood: studying and spiritualizing the elements of my native nature. This is how a dialogue came about between us that continues to this day. All the variety of drawings made by me in the process of these studies are still stored at our country house.
One of the most striking memories of my childhood is my acquaintance with the works of Maria Primachenko and her image "Wonder Beast". That’s when my exploratory mind was irreversibly altered. Her creaturs of the unearthly form, color, structure were absolutely unlike anything else, but at the same time also so familiar and dear, and have influenced me so much. It took me some time to realize that her Wonder Beasts helped my сharacters to be born out of the steppe as well. Later at school, during my Ukrainian literature class, I saw a painting "Moonlit Night on the Dnieper" by Ukrainian artist Arkhip Kuindzhi, which opened the door to mystical world of landscapes. I have noticed that the older I grow, the more I feel the strength of my Cossack ancestry, and I am proud to be part of the Ukrainian people.
Luxi: Following on the previous question, we would like to linger on the topic of artistic influence a bit longer. In the literature surrounding your work, Salvador Dalí is a frequent point of reference, and someone has even compared your work to a metamorphosis on Dalí’s scene (a metamorphosis on metamorphosis indeed).
On this particular point – is Dalí a conscious reference in your painting, and if so, has his influence become more noticeable in your work after you moved to Spain? And what are the other conscious influence to you as you gradually develop your own style?
Maikova: I have always been interested in something secret, forbidden and even frightening. I have always wanted to find the Fern Flower (The fern flower is a magic flower in Ukrainian mythology, which opens to its owner the treasures and secrets of the world, giving clairvoyance and powers over the evil spirit). I was really influenced by the great Ukrainian writer Mykola Hohol, who had the same homeland as my father - Poltava region, which gives me a sense of closeness to his ideas. His magical stories developed my imagination and created the atmosphere of a secret night. By the way I really love working on night landscapes, it gives me the ability to create a glow.
On the specific point, you are right I do hear comments on Dalí and my art a lot, and I think that's great as it's hard to deny his genius. But if we are talking about my conscious attitude, he motivates me more as a person with his courage and audacity. Then artists like Yves Tanguy and Joan Miró have really helped me in my discoveries. Yves Tanguy for me is about shadows and forms, and Joan Miró is about senses and compositions. At the moment the evolution of my style is determined by listening to myself and being honest with myself, to keep exploring myself and the world, to explore new senses and to follow my true nature - I think this is the only way an artist can truly realize himself. (As I speak of this I have the feeling of a Déjà vu.)
Luxi: “Surrealism” is another term that we have always seen being associated with you. But no single artist can be categorized into a genre without controversy and discrepancy, and style and genre are always more descriptive rather than conscious. We are very curious about how you think about your relationship with the “Surrealism” genre. Is it something that you have always consciously been wanting to achieve? And do you see it as an inspiration, or a limitation that you’re striving to climb out of?
Maikova: "...And style and genre are always more descriptive rather than conscious." Let's stop here, because I think that’s a good answer to the question itself. I've never looked for a framework for myself, and to label myself deliberately with some style would mean exactly that. The answer is very obvious - it happened that way. And I am happy about it, because my art has evolved from a one-cell organism, and many people call it Surrealism. What will be around the corner and what they will call it next, that's the most interesting thing. I can be an artist as well as an observer, and I am just as curious as you are to see what characters will make up the new novel. And what remains most important to me is to be honest with myself and my art.
Text by Luxi H.
Images credit to Rita Maikova and Lorin Gallery