Intertwining Autobiography and Abstract Expressionism

Interview with the Painter Natalia  Kostaki

– Natalia, what do you think, how would you characterize the essence of your original and fine art? Can it be attributed to any of the existing artistic movements? Maybe you have already answered this question for yourself? And in general, have you thought about it?

– I thought about what the direction of my art could be called. Someone said that this is psychophysics. Maybe this definition has something to do with my direction, but it is too mechanistic. Once, when I was just starting to paint, my husband called my style a religious avant-garde. It seems to me that what I am doing is very closely related to symbolism. This trend is characterized by the liberation of painting from the “shackles of authenticity.” Symbolist artists used mythology, allegory, and biblical subjects in their works. My compositions depict not concrete realistic images, but the moment of their birth from energetic substances. I prefer absolute freedom, the abstract self-expression. It seems to me that there is a soul in my works that speaks on my behalf. However, I find it difficult to assert anything. This is the privilege of art critics. Irina Pronina, senior researcher at the Tretyakov Gallery, says: “N. Kostaki’s work tends towards monumentality. On the one hand, it carries the idea of space, but on the other hand, of the vital forces of nature. Therefore, Natalia approaches her own solution of the theme that was developed by the organic direction in the art of the avant-garde. ”

 – I wanted to ask you for a long time: you grew up in a house where everything was literally “saturated” with art, every centimetre of living space. Moreover, contemporary artists frequently visited you. So, did you decide your early path for yourself? When did the voice of calling speak in you?

Despite the fact that I grew up in my father’s house that would almost count as a museum, where there were works not only by avant-garde artists, but also by other artists (for example, the so-called Sixtiers), this did not have a direct impact on me. Perhaps my friends also had some indirect, apparently psychological influence. I was friends with Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, I am friends with Francisco Infante. In my childhood, Anatoly Zverev and I dabbled in drawing together. Zverev visited my father’s house, and after his departure to Greece he often visited us – we were friends. He painted us and wrote an autobiography. My teacher was a wonderful person, a muralist painter and bard – Vladimir Geydor. He prepared me for the Stroganov School. He could replace my spiritual father, especially after my father’s death. My husband and I were friends with him and we continue to be friends with his family, who were also artists. After graduating from the Stroganov Moscow State Academy of Arts and Industry , I began to engage in creativity, but at first it was an applied direction. At the institute – art design, then, for some time, I was fond of jewellery and was engaged in painting on glass. But soon I had to leave these activities, because children were born, and it is impossible to engage in this type of creativity with children. This activity involves acids, burners, and chemical reagents. Besides, there was no time.

– What is the strongest influence you have experienced in your life? And was there any obvious influence of fate, or providence, in your life?

In 1991, we were forced to leave for Greece, because a crisis with all its difficulties began in our country. This period of life was very stressful and difficult for me and my family. After my father’s death, I had to endure had great difficulties communicating with my closest associates. It was a big shock for me. I could lose the meaning of life. But suddenly, apparently at the behest from somewhere outside, I wanted to take paper and paints. I started painting and got out of this situation. Against the background of stress, I felt a desire for self-expression, for the work of an artist. But I didn’t want to imitate anyone. When I realized that I could do something individual, I started to work to the fullest. The influence of providence, apparently, was also with my father. He was not an ordinary collector who collects things: be it paintings, toys, sculptures, etc. He was completely captured by one feeling of the need to preserve something important that was lost, something that could disappear irrevocably. It was the Russian avant-garde. Probably, it came to him from above, since he did not have an art education. This fact contributed to the fact that he became not just a collector, but the highest professional. He fulfilled this mission to the fullest.

-It seems to me that today the most difficult thing is to find an audience. There are many artists, but the audience (I’m not talking about a get-together) is not enough. Do you have an audience? And is this very audience important for the artist?

Spectators…. Many people visit my exhibitions. The last one at the House of Nationalities in 2016 attracted so many visitors that some could not even get in. We did not finance any of my personal exhibitions, the organizers offered to hold them. Of course, the audience is important, the presence of art critics at exhibitions is very important, because they can evaluate my work. These people visited my exhibitions and their opinions were voiced to the audience and entered the catalogues. For example, the famous art critic Alec Epstein (culturologist, Doctor of Science, Israel) says: “It is a pity that there were no memorable works by Natalia at the large exhibition at the State Tretyakov Gallery, dedicated to her father and the artistic environment associated with him.”

– As it seems to me, Natalia, in your work there is a very strong, but not obvious, religious principles. Isn’t that right? And what influence does religious art have on you?

– I grew up in a room where there was a collection of unique icons collected by my father, subsequently donated to the Andrey Rublev Museum. Since I am a believing Orthodox person, there are subjects in my works that reflect my attitude to religion. These are not canonical images, but my personal perception of being. Religious art is akin to abstraction. But this topic is a very different analysis.

– Nowadays, it is very fashionable to refer to the origins, to try to imitate folk art and its samples. Many rush towards the naive. But the work, as a rule, turns out to be fake, vulgar, far-fetched. Few people succeed in stylization of a high standard. Do you think the influence of this or that national art is important? And are examples of folk art relevant today?

– In my opinion, folk and national art are works created by the talent of many creators, sometimes unknown. And some artists exploit this moment. They imitate folk works and call them folk, national art. I believe that you cannot divide art into any subtypes. If the works of these or other styles are made by talented individuals, it is all art. Each “view” can contain elements of both (but this is not necessary). My works reflect my own view, my own vision of reality. There is a very thin line between one’s own creativity and the use of ideas and perception of reality by other artists (including folk and national). It is very easy to slip into epigonism or outright kitsch. Unfortunately, some modern folk crafts are turning into the production of souvenirs, which has nothing to do with great art. At present, art is taking on the form of a supranational, universal. Therefore, the figure of the master, his individuality, his vision, his thinking, as well as his sensuality are important in art.

– Natalia, is it difficult to combine family life and creative life? How do you manage it?

– I successfully (in my opinion) combine family and creative life. My husband fully supports my endeavors, helps in the design of works, and takes part in organizing exhibitions. Our eldest daughter, a certified designer, composes catalogues of my exhibitions, makes their layouts, and deals with our family affairs. Our youngest son helps in translating catalogue texts into English.

– Does your last name dominate you? After all, being a Kostaki means something. Your father raised the bar in life so high that many people, one way or another, looking at you, may compare and think about Giorgi Kostaki.

– In no case does my last name dominate me. Fact is that my genius father was an outstanding collector, and I am an artist. These two hypostases do not intersect, but can only enrich each other. I am very pleased that my father is a world famous person, art critic, a collector. I wish that fate helps me to success as well, so that my father, if he was alive, would not be ashamed of me.

– Natalia, what are you working on right now? Are you planning an exhibition?

– Today I am working on compositions using the polymer clay technique. This is a new direction that has captured me at this stage. The first works were exhibited at the House of Nationalities in 2016 and were highly appreciated by art critics. I continue to work on relief mosaics and graphics. As I said, I gladly accept offers to hold exhibition, I would like to hold a retrospective exhibition of my works in the future.

Alexey Shulgin, art critic and writer

(Photos is from the Natalia’s  archive: Georgi Kostakis’s family, Natalia Kostaki –student at Stroganov Academy, Georgi Kostakis in Moscow with his friends artists,  meeting of friends and artists at Kostaki’s apartment, Natalia Kostaki at exhibitions)


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