COLLAGE OF REALITIES, CACOPHONY OF MEMORIES
VISUAL ARTIST OXANA KOVALCHUK TALKS ABOUT HER ARTISTIC JOURNEY AND HOW SHE USES VARIOUS MEDIUMS TO DELVE INTO THE INTERSECTION OF WORLD EVENTS AND THE HUMAN REACTION TO THEM
Oxana stands in her Hoboken studio in jeans and a brown hoodie. Her “creative hideaway” as she likes to call it. On the table, gouache is set, along with various materials and tools that testify to the multifaceted and complex work she creates: collage, painting, glasswork. We feel that we have been directly invited to visit Oxana’s vivid imagination. An honor. Oxana Kovalchuk is an artist who explores the boundaries between the intimate and the public, reality, and fantasy, while offering a grandiose visual experience to the viewer. Oxana was born in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan, and has since lived in four different countries: Self-reflection and self-identity are the key themes of her work. We sat down with Oxana to dive deep into her mission as an artist and her very unique practice.
Fig.1 "Invisible" Mixed media collage (cardboard, printed images, decorative paper, gouache) 16x20 inches. 2019
Originally from Kazakhstan, Oxana now lives in NYC with her family; before that, she lived all over the map. She is grateful for the time she has spent in the UK and Europe, which “has helped further her critical thinking,” she shares. The experiences she has gathered while adapting to various cultures have weaved themselves into her work. The challenges have also been turned into artistic fuel: Having been a resident of four countries, Oxana explains that she is familiar with the mental, psychological, and social repercussions of immigration. On paper, Oxana appears to be an artist who might include biographical elements in her work. This is partly true, but her pieces have a universal resonance: they are both intimate and accessible to the viewer.
Oxana works with various mediums and tools: She focuses on painting and collages. For her 2-D mixed media collages, she uses oil, acrylic, and gouache. For her 3-D pieces, she works with layers of glass. Her series of glass collages entitled “Place yourself” features gorgeous illustrations superposed with various glass elements: glass shards, and flat sheets. It is an invitation to reverie and childlike imagination. First, we see children or people doing everyday activities: spending time with family, riding a bike, and jumping. One cannot help but smile when looking at the illustrations. Some might think Oxana has secretly chosen to represent her loved ones, while others might recognize their own siblings, daughters, and nieces.
Fig 2. "Infinity" Mixed media collage (cardboard, printed images, decorative paper, acrylic) 16x20 inches. 2020
At first glance, Oxana Kovalchuk’s work tugs at your heartstrings; there is a simplicity, a universality to it, that connects us immediately to the most intimate part of ourselves. After a first impression, the viewer is encouraged to take in the playfulness of the pieces: the collages and illustrations are directly superposed on a lightbox. There is an obvious metaphor, maybe even two or three: a remedy for our childhood’s fear of the dark, our coping mechanisms, our solution to a global problem. This connects to the artist’s initial intention: this particular series was inspired by the recent global changes. It is the artist’s view of “our path forward,” she explains. “The lifestyle we got used to before the global pandemic has changed. This project is a search for new ways of coming together. It is about getting out of our comfort zones and seeing things differently. It is about coping with challenges and surviving a difficult time. It is about hope for a new future and strength of the human spirit. “ she adds.
This intersection between global events and our reactions to them, as people, is at the core of Oxana’s work. Oxana’s varied body of work explores the human spirit in various forms: the past we all contain, the fleeting present, and the future we face. How does one capture the ever-changing human consciousness? By observing just like Oxana does. In her most recent exhibition, “Roots” at the Kente Royal Gallery in NYC, the public could lose themselves in a body of work composed of the artist’s childhood memories, adult reflections, and gratitude for the person she has become. “This is my inspection of existing and missing family bonds - those roots and branches that were severed due to major political shifts in my birth country,” she adds. This gap, this fracture between what is and what could have been, is evident in the various pieces: broad strokes of gouache on canvases paired with collages, some from photos but also installations.
Fig 3. "Transience" Mixed media collage (cardboard, printed images, decorative paper, gouache) 16x20 inches. 2021
Her work appears universal to the viewer, yet this particular exhibition is deeply personal for the artist: “I realized that my roots and connections include the people I know, remember, and love… They are all in my mind and memories - more than places where I was born or grew up. Through family photos, like creating mosaics, I try to reconstruct pieces of memories - or what seems to be memories but are just fantasies. I'm collaging those memories and reflections.” she shares with her audience on her blog.
The viewer is invited to enter this world which is part memory part fantasy. A little girl, painted, leans over a body of water, as fish pass by. Her brown hair is a collage taken from a photograph. It looks like a beautiful Spring day. The piece exists in the liminal space between a memory and a visual souvenir, a photograph. We cannot help but wonder: did we imagine the little girl? Was she real, somewhere in our imagination? Does she remind us of a loved one, of our own inner child?
Fig 4. "Everything is Possible" Mixed media collage (cardboard, printed images, decorative paper, gouache)
16x20 inches. 2019
Further down the gallery, as the public walk, they are invited to read a note: In beautiful cursive handwriting, the artist shares a childhood memory: hanging laundry on lines due to the absence of a washing machine. The note is an invitation to take a sensory voyage back in time: we feel the hardened bed sheets under our hands, frozen by the cold of a country or a place that might not be ours, but feels incredibly familiar. The note is an introduction to Oxana’s installation: Threads connected to flattened-out white garments hung directly on a black wall.
Did we mentally pull on these threads to enter Oxana’s world? Are we the thread between our childhood and adulthood? Oxana’s work raises so many questions, a cacophony of memory that echoes all around us: which memories are ours and which are not? It doesn't really matter.
You still have time to catch Oxana’s exhibition STORIES FROM MY CHILDHOOD at NIU Art Museum in Illinois.