Editor’s note: an earlier version of this post ran in 2021. We’re publishing this update in honor of our July 2023 exhibition, Ancestral Landscapes: Investigating Heritage and Home, which includes work from Olga Nenazhivina.
Often overshadowed by painting and sculpture, drawing is widely considered the foundation of all art, the first medium an artist must master. Russian-American artist Olga Nenazhivina is especially fond of pen and ink, a fluid medium she uses to create the fantastical works in her Pictorial Essay series.
Far from being a mere technical exercise, the works describe a loose narrative based on the artist’s observations. “For many years I have drawn the world in which I live, and I continue. I draw it as I see, feel and understand it,” Olga explains, acknowledging that viewers are likely to read her works as fantasy or allegory.
Filling every inch of paper, Olga tiles flat shapes—usually human—across a flat plane, rendering multiple vantage points and perspectives. On this particular aspect of her work, the artist notes: “Keeping respect for the peculiarities of other cultures, we learn to live in a world where one culture complements another, creating a new, single world for all humankind.”
Scroll through to read our interview with Olga, then head over to NOT REAL ART’s July 2023 exhibition, Ancestral Landscapes: Investigating Heritage and Home to see her submission, “East and West.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Olga Nenazhivina discusses her fondness for anatomy tutorial books, the role of multiculturalism in her work, and the fading line between art and craft.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Olga Nenazhivina: There are many books. Artists learn from different sources so they can speak about themselves through art. As a child, in my parents' house, I had a lot of books. Art books were on the lower shelves of the bookcases so that I could always grab them myself. These large books with bright pictures often replaced children's books for me. It isn't easy to choose just one, but the artist should have an anatomy book. My first one was Plastic Anatomy by Pavlov, and then Anatomy For The Artist by Jeno Barcsay. I think these are some of the best tutorials out there.
Which cultural concepts, themes, or philosophies inform your work?
ON: I am an adherent of the idea of multiculturalism, and I like cultural diversity. In the modern world, cultural diversity has become the common heritage of humankind. Keeping respect for the peculiarities of other cultures, we learn to live in a world where one culture complements another, creating a new, single world for all humankind. I think you can see this in my work.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
ON: If I could, it would be my father, the sculptor Valery Nenazhivin and my sister, the painter Irina Nenazhivina, or, perhaps, the Great Architect of the Universe.
What are you trying to express with your art?
ON: Love only.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
ON: I do not separate these concepts, probably because I grew up in an artistic environment. Work is my personal life.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist?
ON: It's straightforward. When you follow your principle and you put your soul into what you do.
What role does the artist have in society?
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
ON: It's like if you ask: which child is the worst in your family?
If you had to pick one, would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist? Why?
ON: Historically significant. Otherwise, what is it all for then?
Have you ever turned down an opportunity? Why?
ON: Yes, the proposal was contrary to my principles.
What do you do to maintain your mental health?
ON: I work.
What do you dislike about the art world? How would you change it if you could?
ON: I'm not too fond of the fact that the line between art and craft is often fading. I guess one of the reasons is the weakened training in today's curriculum.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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