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Interview with artist Tania Rivilis

L i s a  L u k i a n o v a

Interview with artist Tania Rivilis
Hello Tania! Thank you for taking time for that interview. As I read in your biography you started painting at the age of 27. Have you always been interested in Art or was it an impulsive decision? Could you please tell us more how you came up with the idea of expressing yourself through the painting?
I don’t know why it took me so long to start painting. I can’t help myself but think about what it would be like if I started, for example, at the age of 10, how different would it be now. But anyway at this point I’m trying to make up for all that lost time in every possible way. My acquaintance with oil paints happened in Germany, where I had moved at around 26. All my life I had been feeling that I had to express something, that this craving for art was always in me.
And I had been drawn to art for a long time: I studied media design and art history at the university and could stare at a picture in a museum for hours (I was lucky that Moscow and St. Petersburg are packed with great museums). But the urge to paint really rolled over and splashed out when I was left all alone and away from home, from comfort, from being inside the community and not out. After a noisy crowded metropolis, a small German city (I moved to Essen at that time) seemed to be absolutely silent. All the buzz stopped, leaving me with nothing but my consciousness. Perhaps this new state of mind helped me to concentrate on the inner side. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) gifted me oil paints, brushes, and canvas. At first, there were indecisive strokes with a small brush, dozens of books by old masters, and copies of their works. But after a few years, my movements became more confident, and the colors got bolder. And here I am now: covering wood panels with wide brush strokes and painting the shadows with ultramarine or bright orange.
2. How did your moving to Germany from Russia affect your creativity and perception of the world?
Germany is a country of order and accuracy, but also of freedom of being whoever you want to be: I guess such people as David Bowie or Iggy Pop were drawn here for a reason. I suppose this atmosphere helped me get away from all the mess in my head left from my previous life, and finally, be liberated. Although the German autumn still kicks my happy thinking’s ass sometimes, I owe it to those days spent at home with a cup of hot tea, music in the background, and the smell of oil paints.
I live in Aachen now, a beautiful city with small streets of great history, the smell of Prints (traditional Aachen cookies), right on the border of Netherlands and Belgium. This freedom of choice, freedom of movement, a variety of cultures and traditions, languages, cuisine, etc. – this really changed my worldview.
3. How did you find your own unique style of painting or are you still exploring new art languages and techniques? Describe your style in one sentence, please.

Well, I’m still searching for my own expressive language and style, and it seems that this search, this path IS my style in a way. It is still too young to be constant, but already strong enough to write a series of paintings for several galleries. Because of the fact that I came to art so late, I subconsciously try to travel a very long way in an incredibly short time. It feels like I am late for the train and run after it, jumping on the step with one foot – this is how I see my presence on the art scene. As for the technique, I accidentally discovered the OSB panel about a year ago in the Bauhaus. I thought “this is a damn fine surface for a painting”, and ever since have been painting mainly on these panels, having pre-processed the edges and covering them. The oil adheres perfectly to the surface and the texture of the pressed woodиis perfectly visible and gives an unexpected vibe and sense to the picture.
Color is the power – that’s how I would describe my style. Color has some kind of magical power over people. It excites and frightens, lures and rejects. In my works, I want to convey this power – in every stroke, in every line. But if I were to pull my head out of the box with some pretty talking, I could simply say I paint in Contemporary Realism style.
4. You mainly do portraits. So, how do you choose a model for these? Are you painting from photographs or do people pose for you? Please tell us about the process of working with the model or the choice of the model.
I adore people with a non-standard appearance, with unique beauty – the artist can spot such people in the crowd in a couple of seconds. These are people with expressive, explicit facial features or wonderfully deep and sad eyes. There is some kind of connection that is established and strengthened after I paint the portrait. I find a model on the street, in a cafe, on Instagram. Sometimes I can come out as a total creep, staring at a person, imagining writing his or her face, painting a nose with a beautiful hump, and adding a highlight to the edge of the pupil. Hope I don’t make these people go paranoid.
Usually, the process is like this: I invite the model to the studio (already having ideas for the portrait in my head), take a couple of photos (ok, not a couple, often the number is around 100). Then I select those that came out closest to my idea. I make some sketches, plan the composition and color scheme. Although I can honestly say that in the process everything
changes by 80 percent. What I focus on most is the eyes. The eyes can tell a lot more about a person than anything else.
5. Tell us about the spaces within you live and work.
I work in our house in a small studio under the roof. The house is located not far from the forest, so through the window, I see treetops, puffy clouds, and incredible sunsets. Unfortunately, because of my main job, I often get a chance to get to my studio only in the evening. So I created a lighting system: a mix of warm and cold light that helps (albeit with difficulty) to see what I paint. But sometimes I manage to work during the day, on weekends mostly. I had dreamed of natural daylight for a long time and when we moved to Aachen my dream came true. Now I have a new dream – a big studio (hear that, universe?). But I love
the one I have now – it is ideally cozy, smells of oil paints and coffee, a vinyl record or lectures playing, – this is my meditation room, my fortress. On the cedar wood walls, there are paintings in antique frames: my first works that I keep or some paintings from the artist fellas. In the middle, there is a vintage sofa, a bookshelf, and a vintage büro. Two easels, one large and one smaller for parallel work. I try to change my focus if something doesn’t work, so switching from one to the other refreshes the look. And then, returning back to the painting after a pause gives you the possibility to see mistakes that are easier to correct.
6. What is inspiration for you and where do you derive it from? Do you struggle with periods of burnout or vice versa allow emotions to take up?

My most powerful inspiration is people, their faces, eyes, gestures. As well as the combination of colors in nature, the light falling on my sister’s eyelashes, beautiful thin fingers on the phone, an open ankle, veins on an arm. Traveling is one more source of inspiration, people from other cultures, different smells and sounds. Sometimes absolutely strange things can channel my vibe, and I immediately take photos of them for the future because you never know what will come out in handy.
As for the second part of your question, I used to think that I am the only one having burnouts and that this is due to the fact that I am a rookie in painting. But after talking to friends (great artists with many years of experience and recognition), I realized that all creative people are doomed to bear this burden. We have to release all the energy and replenish it, and the period between these two states is that very burnout. Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes it goes quickly. As a very emotional person, I immediately react to such shifts and at times not at all positively. Frankly, there are moments when I want to break my brushes and throw the picture out of the window. But you come to senses (or somebody gives you a good old “you are not shit” pep talk), understand that everybody sucks from time to time, it doesn’t mean the end of the world, the picture can hit the neighbor’s head and that will definitely not be productive at all. Therefore, I go do some sports (I love MMA) or jogging. Sport helps distract the mind and relieve emotional tension.
7. “Tania’s works are focused on the philosophical reading of the human image and the dialectical concept of the human soul.”- this is a quote from your website. Could you please elaborate more what you mean by this?
We all have things to hide. Something we don’t want others to see, something we wish to keep unknown and untouched, something that makes us – us, both good and bad. With that something comes a story. And my paintings aim to tell that story: unique, brave, and most of all honest. The whole idea of a portrait, of an artist exposing the inner side of a model is very
intimate. That is why I always try to get to know my companion first: to make him or her comfortable, to break the tension which almost always freezes a non-professional model, to learn that very story I’m so eager to translate into visual language. A portrait is not just about the technique, and I guess that is why I’m so focused on it. In order to create something worthy, you have to explore human nature – for the painting to be not about the artist, but about the person on it. Live, sometimes even strange postures and gestures, expressive faces, and the most important part – the eyes full of feelings, secrets, and thoughts.
Through years I’d been trying to find my way to capture that great human lure that cannot be told with words. The answer was discovered in being bold. We are used to seeing the world in colors and textures it comes in, but sometimes they are just not enough to reveal life in its true fullness. Sometimes a touch of a loved one is warmer than the sun, sometimes space becomes ephemeral consisting of nothing but emptiness, sometimes tenderness comes along with anguish, and agony is cloaked with peace. It may not be realistic, but it’s perfectly real.

8.What are your future artistic plans and current projects you are working on.

There is an exhibition currently taking place at the Bonnard Gallery in the Netherlands. I met David and Rene (the owners of the gallery) not so long ago, but I’m already totally crazy about them. They are professionals from head to toes, and I am happy to be working with them. At the moment I am working on sketches for large paintings for Bonnard, as well as for several other galleries in the Netherlands and other countries.

I also do works for my regular clients in St. Petersburg and Moscow. For them I mainly paint historical portraits, some can be seen in the great Astoria Hotel or the Marble Palace. The history of the Russian Empire is my other passion. And I am glad there are people who try to preserve it.
Unfortunately, due to the current situation, many projects had to be postponed, but I believe that someday everything will go back to normal, whatever that normal is. There are a lot of plans and ideas in my head. As well as artistically evolving, developing my style, gaining some trust and acclaim in the art community, and never stopping.