An Interview with Featured Artist Stanislava Ivanova:
Anja Claus (AC): What motivated or drew you to choosing urban nature as your artistic subject? Do you have some special relationship or story about nature thriving in urban centers?
Stanislava Ivanova (SI): I was inspired by the resilience of nature in the face of urbanization, and the beautiful patterns and textures you can see when moss, wind, erosion, ivy, roots, etc. are left unattended. Like the saying goes about weeds and all, they just spring right up the moment you’re not looking! I like that. I was always a city dweller—I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and then I moved to New York City with my family. I always lived out on the outskirts, though, where things would be a little neglected, and alive with growth. Even in the dead of winter the roses would bloom in the snow.
Constantly, there are glass and steel skyscrapers springing up out of the ground. It’s hard to remember that they aren’t forever. Inevitably, though, structures we build up become obsolete. Sometimes they are torn down. Sometimes they are decommissioned and given back to nature.
I am really into the vaporwave, lush lofi, and eco-brutalist art styles. There’s something about an ugly concrete structure overgrown with ivy, or the statue of David draped in blossoms, set against a glitch background that just does it for me visually. I love that feeling of equal parts of futurism and nostalgia all together at the same time.
Glacial, acrylic on canvas with holographic dust accents, 16x20in, 2020
AC: How do you relate to nature on a day-to-day basis where you currently live?
SI: I live in Queens right on the border of the Cemetery Belt. So, I actually see a bit more green than most New Yorkers do on a daily basis! There are not only cemeteries in the Cemetery Belt, but also parks—Forest Park and Highland Park are really awesome underrated gems that the city has to offer. Ridgewood Reservoir is this old reservoir that got turned into a nature preserve, and it’s on top of a massive hill. So you go there, and it’s overgrown and wild and pretty. And at night, it looks like something out of The Witcher 3, you know? Spooky and ethereal. But you turn around and behind you is the city, spread out and glittering and wild in its own way.
There’s the beach only half an hour’s drive away, out in the Rockaways. And we drive out there for walks and to collect seashells. I’d like to try to use sand from there for textures in an upcoming work soon. It’s gorgeous at night, and it’s cleaner than Coney Island or something, because for most people it’s really a hike to go to the Rockaways. Dark blue of the sea, and a velvet sky studded with stars, silver sand, and soft fluffy reeds. You go there, and you feel like you’re encountering something bigger than yourself for a minute.
Really, it’s about nature being all around you when you’re out where it’s not fashionable to live. You get a good dose of peace and quiet, the produce is affordable, and the parks and the beaches are right there if you want to go. I love to take walks with my fiancé when the weather’s good and I’m in a good mood. Get some photos of textures and compositions to use for future paintings, maybe pick up some sticks or rocks or shells to hoard for future works. It’s there if anyone wants to experience it.
I mean, it’s nice, you know? Sometimes it’s nice to just relax and let nature surround you. It’s nice to hear the rain drum against your window in the night while you sit there with a notebook and a candle, and a hot cup of tea. It’s nice to hear the hiss of the sand falling from your hands back on the ground. All these things have been here long before we were, and they’ll still be here long after we’re gone. It’s kind of nice to remember how small we are.
Blossom, acrylic on canvas, 36x48in, 2020
AC: I love this quote from you: “Inspired by rain storms beating against a window, the oil slick in the canal, and nature taking back what once belonged to her.” I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this perspective.
SI: I grew up in Bensonhurst in South Brooklyn. It’s not quite the tourist-loved Coney Island, and it’s not quite the wealthy Bay Ridge—it’s kind of just there. It’s a more popular area now, so a lot of repairs and construction have taken place, but when I was growing up it wasn’t the best maintained. There were stalactites, mold, and moss growing on the walls and ceiling of the outdoor subway stations. Tall weeds took over empty lots. There were tens of thousands of people living there, of course, but it was a bit wild, a bit unkempt. And when I’d feel sad or lonely, I’d go sit by the oceanside and watch the gold sparkles in the water or sit by the window and feel the fresh nighttime wind on my skin. The world would just fade away until there were only the sparkles of the sea, or the twinkling distant stars in the night sky.
As an adult, I spent some time in Astoria as it was on the cusp of being gentrified. For every construction project there was a half-forgotten alleyway filled with gravel and graffiti. It was, as the young people today would call it, aesthetic. I found myself drawn to the parts that hadn’t been built up, going on long walks to explore and just take in the overgrown parts of the neighborhood.
More recently, I spent three years working in Red Hook, an old industrial area of Brooklyn. It has a lot of canals, but they are quite polluted, and sometimes turn strange colors. Sometimes there are oil slicks on the surface, just floating along. There are empty lots filled with wild growth, and parks that were abandoned and shut down due to the ground being full of toxic chemicals from manufacturing. But did the plants care that the ground was toxic? Some didn’t. So you’d have all these bulky old warehouses and factories crumbling, and plants just doing their plant business, reaching up high to the sky.
So when I began to create my art it was a natural combination of textures I saw every day—soft moss, crumbling brick, blooming flower vines climbing higher and higher on walls of old movie theaters (now sporting goods stores). No matter how much glass and metal and concrete we erect, in the end, nature is going to have its way.
Waterfall, acrylic on canvas with mica dust details, 24x36in, 2020
AC: Why do you choose abstract expressionism to reflect the urban nature dynamic?
SI: To be honest with you, it kind of just happened. I didn’t really plan on it. I thought for a long time that I wasn’t good at art, because I didn’t have patience or interest in realistic art styles. All my drawings of people always felt wooden and stiff. When I would try to emulate popular art styles like manga or whatever, it would just look like crap. And then I started experimenting with these abstract, sharp, flowy kind of strokes in minimalist color schemes, just black and red, or black and blue, or something, and I tried posting them online. It would take me days to do one drawing. But I got comments like “this isn’t real art” and “take your stoner doodles out of here,” and like, I was just so demoralized for ages. And then in late 2018 I started just painting a bit for myself, just for fun. I was inspired by stuff like Yayoi Kusama’s work with all the mesmerizing dots and the infinity rooms. I’ve always blended slightly different shades of blue and green to the point where my old teachers used to call it “scary” and “terrible” and I leaned into that heavily. I’d spend hours just applying gold leaf to stuff. And then I was sharing my work with my friends both in real life and online, and everyone was really encouraging about it, so I started posting online again. When I shared my pieces on Instagram several galleries reached out to me almost immediately, and I was able to show my work at a real art gallery for the first time. It was just instantaneous, and addicting.
So of course, after getting all that encouragement and good feedback I kept going and kept making things and bringing my interest in vaporwave and chillwave aesthetic into it. As I keep going forward, I have been trying to add more three-dimensional elements and textures because it just works for me. It makes me happy. And it’s okay if I still can’t draw a person to save my life. I’m making something that I think looks good, and there’s people out there that like it, so it’s fine.
AC: Please share some of the process in creating your pieces. Like, how do you arrive at the palette?
SI: I just let the canvas speak to me! Every piece feels different. It tells me what it wants to become. Then once I’ve heard what it has to say I grab the tubes of paint my hands lead me to, and I try to make what the canvas wants. For some people they have sketches and plans and miniature versions of their plan and mockups. For me, life just kind of, uh . . . finds a way.
I use a lot of blue and green, I think it’s just something I’ve always been drawn to. My fiancé put me on to the shockingly awesome combination of blue and orange. And growing up in St. Petersburg I’ve seen my share of opulently gilded palaces to the point that now, if it hasn’t got gold leaf on it, I don’t want it. It’s just a very natural evolution in each piece. I let it become whatever it needs to be, and whatever it wants to be.
Cover art for Minding Nature, vol. 14 no. 1, Untitled, acrylic on scrap paper, 7inx4in, 2020
AC: What is your goal with each creation in terms of affecting the viewer that sees your paintings? What do you want them to see or feel?
SI: Really, I’ll just be happy if someone can feel like, ok, this is bringing me joy and tranquility. This painting makes me feel safe. This painting makes me feel happy. I want my painting to let people feel relaxed, nostalgic, calm. I want them to remember those moments of rain beating against their windows and feeling like they’re part of the universe.
There’s a song by Kesha called “Spaceship,” and at the end she says, “I’m nothing more than recycled stardust and borrowed energy, / Born from a rock, spinning in the ether.” I think that’s my ultimate goal, making art that feels like that.
AC: What is your goal in life and has 2020 and 2021 affected this goal in any way?
SI: I think I’d like to just be left in peace to make art. If I could be a full-time artist, that would be nice. I’m still in the beginning stages of my career so there’s a long way to go! I had a goal at the start of 2020 to participate in at least one art show a month, but of course everything closed down. For a while I didn’t even paint because the inspiration just wasn’t there.
In 2021 I’d like to get into murals, if I can. I was inspired by Sam Skrimpz, a non-binary artist in New Orleans, who does these amazing murals of birds and snakes and gators. When I first started following them, they were painting these beautiful tiny gator minis, and over time they transitioned into murals and one day they posted, “Don’t be afraid to take up space,” and I felt that. I work in my apartment and space comes at a premium so each big thing I make is a risk, but I want to take up the space I deserve.