Featured Artist: Elena Drozdova
Interview by: Karen Hunter McLaughlin
As one if our newer members, Elena Drozdova hasn’t had the chance to be a featured Artessa Alliance member– a series we ran a few years back. Recently Elena traveled back to Moscow to be with her mother during the current pandemic. While she was away we decided to pose some questions to learn more about her, and the thought behind her bold and powerful work.
KM. I find your work to be powerful, brave and very personal. Do you ever feel vulnerable when making your art?
ED. Since I was a child, shy and introverted, I always had a desire to express. Education in architecture at Moscow Architectural Institute planted in me an admiration for geometry, but in my life I acted not like a line, but like water. I was doing many things related to art, except for fine art. I married a man for whom geometry was his first nature. I envied him. Later, already in America, he became a successful artist. As for me, I kept looking for “my thing”.
One day my husband went on a business trip for a week. After sending children to school I spread a large piece of canvas on the wall and sat down to look at it. My painting was already there, in the blank of the canvas. I could have stared at it forever, but I had only a week, so I grabbed a Home Depot brush dipped in black acrylic and began mopping. I didn’t have white paint to mix with black, but running to the art supplies store only two blocks away from where we lived seemed too much of a sacrifice, so I used white gesso instead. That night, when children went to bed, I was back in the studio.
The paintings I produced that week were large, bold and mad. I admired them. Yet, when shared with audiences, they felt too personal, naked, and poignant. If that was my honest expression, maybe I should consider stopping? But I convinced myself that one day I may get used to it. I am not going to lie to you that I was unshakable. For years after that week I was fluctuating between faking “normalcy,” and locking myself in the CAVE_My_ArtStudio. Normalcy felt false; the darkness of my art felt wrong, and I never was able to fully embody either version of me. To this very day and hour I haven’t known what it was that I was proving, but NOW I do. I am looking for the true expression of who I am. In art it is not less difficult than in any other life situation, since every event determines the future one. But if in a regular life situation we have an option to forget what we don’t want to remember, in painting we leave behind a trace. In painting we may revisit it as many times as we want to to work on expression till we feel that’s it’s right. My paintings are the documents of my struggle to become. They are my courage, my beauty, and my uniqueness. They are the traces of my inner life, and my attention to who I am — my mirror. And now I am totally up to the challenge to show my true face to the public the way it is forming day after day as I keep showing up in the studio.
KM: You are a prolific art maker. Is it necessary for you to make art daily?
ED: You have observed me only for the past three years or so, since I have the privilege of being a member of the Artessa group. I joined it at the time when I already enjoyed a much greater freedom than most women who juggle through raising kids, working full time, and doing lots of other necessary things. It is true that recently I have been working intensely in my studio. Being there with the brush in my hand and earphones in my ears feels good. My art perplexes me. The only thing I know is that I am attracted to art in general and drawn to making it. Since I made a contract with myself a long time ago not to question, I renew it every morning when I wake up. I am most honest with myself when I accept that I don’t know why I do what I do. In the process of painting, it is absolutely necessary for me to get completely lost at the beginning. It creates the feel of despair in the body to the point of trembling. I feel excited and completely on my own. The only one who can help me is myself. Somehow the danger becomes real even in the safety of my studio. After all, my integrity as an artist is at stake. There are many things that I can and want to do in this world. I noticed that they are mostly connected to spirituality, like yoga, or PSYCH-K®️. Art is the first of the spiritual practices in my life that I got involved with, and I intuitively learned that, as such, it must be practiced regularly.
KM: You arrived in the United States in 1989. You have told us a little about your struggles in the beginning. How has living here changed your art (if it has)? Is your heritage important to your voice?
ED: Looking back at my experience I notice two major impacts on my perception, one light, and another dark. The light one is what, in the depth of my heart, I feel as a miracle, and visualize as the beam of light pointing at me.
My husband and I came here to visit relatives, and as many immigrant stories have it, all we brought with us were two suitcases. We also had a dream to have children. I was stricken with some mysterious case of infertility that doctors in Soviet Russia couldn’t help with. Here, in America, a doctor named Dr. Check heard about us through one of his employees and offered pro-bono treatment. Eight months that I was going to his office twice a week, my husband and I lived the life of perpetual adventure. We knew so little of this culture and had such an unshakable faith in America, that our actions during this period and long after could be described either as stupid or brave. I choose to call them brave.
At the end of the eighth month, after Dr. Check exhausted the whole arsenal of medical methods, we cordially thanked him and set the date to return home at the end of the next month. That was the month I got pregnant.
The darkness entered the picture when I started betraying myself in my efforts to fit in this culture.
Painting was an intuitive move that simply helped me to breathe.
I wish I could say that I was truly authentic in it. Is true authenticity even possible? Looking at the art of such artists as Frida Kahlo, or Yayoi Kusama, it seems that it is…
Russia has beautiful art collections of European art, up to and including Impressionism. The wide exposure to modern and contemporary art became available to me only here. Despite her strong Avant-garde legacy, culturally Russia leans towards traditional forms and values classical representation. It is impossible to tell what I would have become had I not immigrated to America. I can attribute my American influences to the Met, MOMA, and Chelsea galleries as well as to the crumbled textures of American cities, the Atlantic’s gray horizon, the fiber of poison ivy woven into cicadas’ songs, the English language, and the endless fields of possibilities that open themselves to those who lose their identity. In this context, for a long time, my Russian heritage seemed non-existant, at least when I stood on the American soil. Yet, every time I was visiting Moscow, my American essence would become illusive. I have started making conscious efforts to unite both of my natures, after all, I have lived here for half of my life.
KM: You bring a very individualistic point of view to our artist alliance- you’re a very deep thinker. I feel that your philosophy has definitely helped make us better artists. Have we help you as well?
ED: It is funny that you mentioned my individualism, because I joined the group to experience belonging. Every artist knows how lonely the studio work may feel. In my case in particular, I didn’t even have much feedback before I joined Artessa. Being a part of the group, observing the tightrope walk of other artists, participating in peer critiques and group shows — all these experiences are very valuable to me. I am looking forward to deepening personal friendships with Artessa members. I feel your warmth and support, and my heart opens back to every one of you. I am looking forward to many more discussions and collaborations. I feel that our journey together only begins.