In the Studio with Maria Kostareva

The paintings of Russian visual artist Maria Kostareva oscillate between abstraction and representation; whereby, she is able to create timeless scenes that appear like half-remembered or imagined memories filled with a sense of nostalgia and longing. We met with Maria to tell us more about her practice, growing up in Russia, and inspirations behind her recent works.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

For several years I have been trying to combine my art practice with my full time job as a designer in a publishing house. So in my case, the most important thing was to give myself permission to call myself an artist. When I started introducing myself to new people like that, I got the confidence that it was true.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

I was born in the Privolzhsky village in the Tver region, Russia (the name means ‘near the Volga river’). There were no examples of people from the creative field around me. I grew up in the 90s, this is a difficult time for Russia, especially if you live in a small place like this. I always knew that I would leave. But I grew up with my twin sister and we constantly composed different stories and songs. And my mom instilled in me a love of reading and drawing. 

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work?

I have painted since I was a kid and always wanted to be an artist, but it took me time to believe that it could be a real profession. I studied at an art college, but then I moved to Moscow and became a designer. At the same time, I never stopped making art for myself. I seemed to have two parallel lives. A really turning point was a trip to Can Serrat art residence in Spain, where I lived a whole month only as an artist. Besides, there I met some amazing emerging and established artists who really inspired me. It wasn’t easy, but after a while I finally quit my regular job and since then I’ve been a full-time artist. I never had to regret this decision.

What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose?

My images are laconic, they oscillate between abstraction and representation; whereby, I am able to create timeless scenes without clear narrative. 

I am fascinated by the connections between familiar and unfamiliar people, spaces, events. Sometimes these links are obvious, but more often they are confusing and unclear. I wonder how these invisible connections between insignificant events make our reality a single space of possibilities. In the end everything is interconnected. I would like my work to make people a little more sensitive to their everyday life and to each other. I think this is particularly important in the current turbulent times.

An unexpected source of inspiration?

Routine. This could be public transport, random encounters with strangers, daily activities.

Who/what are your greatest influences?

It’s hard to tell. I really believe more in those imperceptible processes that happen every day then in ‘big’ events or meetings. So a lot of things every day can affect me. For example now I am learning to play Go, and I am amazed at the same time by the severity and variability of this game.

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

Usually I don’t make any sketches. Work begins with an impulse. It can be something that affects me like a combination of colors, a random silhouette, geometry of light and shadow, movement of the figure. Then I collect references, such as mobile photos, frames from films, memories, feelings. All these elements form in a single image, first mentally. Then I try to catch it and transfer it to the canvas. I don’t think about the viewer, just want to convey as closely as possible the feeling of fleetingness from which our everyday life is woven.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your work? 

My visual language develops gradually. At first I was very passionate about black and white ink painting. This ascetic technique taught me to give up details for the sake of clarity. Then, I started to study the history of world art. Through many images, from the frescoes of Pompeii and Old Russian icons to Matisse, I came to use color.

On the other hand, when I started working in the studio, it became possible to paint several works at the same time. Now I’m very interested in the forms of interaction of works within one series, in addition, now I can work on larger canvases.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work ? 

It is important for me to work in a calm state of mind. Therefore, usually in the studio, I first meditate, and then I start working. I also prefer to work in natural light, but in Russia there is not much of it at this time of the year, so I also use lamplight.

Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your  works?

I painted ‘Don’t leave the room’ artwork right before the announcement of the lockdown in Moscow. The heroine of this picture is my twin sister Irina, she is sitting in an armchair wrapped in a blanket. Its folds fall like the clothes of antique statues. I like that private and common motives are intertwined in such a simple plot. I borrowed the first line of a famous poem by Joseph Brodsky as the title.


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