Masha Yankovskaya, painter
Story of Masha / Art of Masha
Young artist of 27, Masha Yankovskaya has already had numerous lives. She used to be accessories and watches editor for Esquire, putting to good use her artistic background (Saint-Petersburg State lycee of Art) and creativity for the magazine. After a few years of travel and international excitement, the appeal to the canvas grew stronger and she decided to move on and dedicate herself to painting and art, exchanging movement and teamwork for solitude and focus.
Being part of the fashion crowd, made finding places to be exhibited an easy task. Her 1st show took place in a pop up gallery (AfterSixGallery) run by friends, confident enough in her talent to show her graphic work. Same goes for last year for her two exhibitions at ArtConstantis Gallery in Red October and in Tallinn Portrait Gallery, in Estonia: « When you have contacts and friendships, you have it all ».
And so begins the virtuous circle.
Exhibitions were opportunities to meet with collectors with whom she works in between her shows, taking on commissions and receiving privately in her studio.
Her background in fashion is quite obvious when contemplating her drawings. Feminine silhouettes with sharp lines such as fashion designer sketches strike very provocative pauses with the non-smiling nonchalance of catwalk models.
Having moved from drawing (unfortunately often assimilated to illustration) to oil on canvas, her work has been growing in scale and in maturity.
Still, she continues to build a hypnotizing universe in which the silhouettes from her drawings remain. Stylized visual elements create a network of landmarks in her world : cigarettes, red high heals , skinny women…
But she prevents herself from being provocative on purpose. After having studied Art History and restoration, her mind is filled by images of naked figures and prurient pauses depicted in early century classical art forms. Her quest for novelty is elsewhere : in the search of revealing her inner tale.
To nurture her artistic world, she finds inspiration through mixing unconsciously artistic references accumulated from childhood memories with her actual feelings and discoveries (in music, fashion, etc.). It is through listening to Tchaïkovski or Rachmaninov that new ideas pop up.
To transcript them on canvas, she sticks to a work routine : she wakes up early to paint in her studio (the room next to her kitchen) throughout the morning until mid-afternoon, in a very lonely work process.
Then, she dedicates some time to PR and social networks. If some days she feels reluctant about it, she nonetheless abides to her rules.
Being an artist at stake
Masha may sometimes miss teamwork and brainstorming, but what she names as stakes for the contemporary art scene are more global topics.
First, she finds regrettable the latent conflict between figurative and abstract, brought to light today by the rise of digital art. In her opinion, even though figurative art can be contemporary, it is overused by some artists clearly replicating 19th century inspirations. With the certainty of her youth, she assesses that this demonstrates not only a lack of creativity but also a lack of technique that impoverish the quality of works, moving away from art to simple decoration. These dated visions greatly compromise the dialogue with digital disciples of a proclaimed modernity. Defining herself as a « traditional artist » because of her use of oil on canvas, Masha’s work thrives for modernity in spite of the medium she chose.
Indeed, the art scene should be a place of collaboration where digital would be integrated as a possible medium and where artists could experiment together, sharing their techniques and inspirations in what Masha would call « post-modernism ».
Also, Masha feels the weight of yet another stereotype still at stake for artists : being a woman.
« Being a woman artist is the same as driving in Moscow traffic : you have to be strong and calm. » In saying so, she also refers to the russian education and all the pop cultural references defining women as less intelligent, only domestic, pure easthetic… She regrets that by being a woman in art, she has to show a less emotional version of herself, not to fuel misogynistic arguments.
What modernity implies ?
As much as she is aware of that, she defends herself by denouncing it through her art. When asked, « no politics » is a reflex answer. But nonetheless, she does have a mission : to bring more beauty into people’s lives. Her ultimate goal would be that the beauty of a piece would speak for itself and nullify the inevitable caption, talking directly with the onlooker’s soul and emotions, with no need for any cultural or historical reference.
« That it is absurd that the first thing we do when walking in an exhibition is to look for an explanative text ».
Instead she dreams we would allow no distance between art and the onlooker’s feelings, even though these feelings may be strong (unease, weirdness…). This raw accessibility appears to be a corner criteria to her artistic approach.
« It is important to involve everyone. Distance is not fashionable. I prefer democratic art ».
As such, she turns her « traditional art » in a very up to date manner. Indeed, as her paintings grow, she keeps working on graphics and small declinations of her art, through emojis or phone cases depicting her characters. Well anchored in her time, she sees no degradation of her work in doing so. Democratising her art for free (with emojis) is a way of spreading her universe and reducing the distance that may be felt in front of a large canvas. She does not want to contribute in the sacralization of art but to make it part of our every day life.
In doing so, she demonstrates her commitment as well as her pragmatic vision. Arty phone cases are a way of satisfying a will of ownership that one may have for a piece of art and that may lead one day to collecting. Understanding that, she dedicates herself as part of her working days to developing digital avatars of her characters. She also spends time doing PR, making a point of honour to answer every request on Instagram. Not only because she wishes to be kind and polite, but also because the more ones art is shared, the more influence the artist has. And galeries are very sensitive to that.
Determination and wisdom
As you may have understood, Masha is a XXIst century young woman, with all the muti-tasking and paradoxes it implies. But I believe she has an older soul.
This would explain why in an ever more connected world, she searches for solitude. There is a strong thrive to make her art grow, to invest time and effort to be an artist as a whole and be recognized for her work. Being alone, she finds true focus on her work, allowing no one to interfere in her quest to pursue and strengthen her own style. Strong willpower emanates from her, mixed with the conviction that only work and dedication will bring success. « Success will come one day », maybe because there is no hurry : she wants to enjoy every step of the way.
There are bound to be bumps on the road but also a lot of magic. To her, painting is always magical. Everyday is a new discovery with oil and brushes, enabling her to explore new feelings. Listening to her, I understand that her unique dream is not only success (and the team of PR assistants that come along with it) but being able to forever be the small girl making magic with her canvas, caught in the moment with all the joy it brings.
A Small girl with an old soul.
Follow Masha here.
Credits : courtesy of the artist.