REBELLION AGAINST BEAUTY
A day in the life of poetry and monsters.
ART FEATURED VALERIE SAVCHITS
TEXT & IMAGES JEZGA STUDIO
It was in Rīga, at Careva Gallery, that we first saw a solo exhibition with work from Valerie Savchits. There are beautiful contrasts throughout her work, from the deep purples counterbalanced by pastel pinks, to aesthetically pleasing compositions inhabited by wonderfully ‘repulsive’ subjects. Whether it be canvas or sculpture, any piece from Valerie is a modern juxtaposition that takes you deep into another world.
It is in London that we get a chance to look behind the canvas and uncover the process that births these visions. From morning until night, we stayed with Valerie to observe, converse and discover for ourselves an artist who creates paintings like poetry. We occupied her world to see where the work comes from, and what is behind it.
We meet amongst the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, – a chilly morning, but at least the sun has graced us with its presence. First things first, we grab a coffee from Pret. On leaving the coffee shop a fumbling of cards and coins leaves them scattered on the floor, establishing that it’s unusually early for either of us to be out and about in central London.
We head up the road to Bloomsbury to find L. Cornelissen & Son – an art supply store that looks like it’s been taken straight from the pages of Harry Potter. Inside sits the most beautiful colours with every imaginable crayon, ink or paint encased in shelves crafted from weathered old wood. Valerie has pre-ordered some materials, that we pick up before moving on.
Jumping on the tube, we make our way south, to another art shop in Putney Bridge.
Hidden beneath a bridge, the second store looks a little shabby from the outside, but houses a surprising treasure trove on the inside. We take our time here, as Valerie handles her way through a rainbow of different spray cans and acrylic paints. She uses a mix of materials for her work, depending on what she is creating – but mentions she has stepped away from using oil paint for now, as she describes herself as a relatively impatient person. With an artists budget, she struggles to decide what to take, and what to leave behind.
With paints purchased, we take a tram to a supermarket to pick up the other essential supplies for the day. Trams are a rarity in London, found only in the deep south where both Valerie’s home and studio are located, away from the scramble of central. I ask her if she ever considered anything but a career in art, and she mentions a brief flirtation with chemistry – those studies were swiftly abandoned after two months. She began taking art classes as early as four-years-old, with the encouragement from her mum – even at an early age, she had a taste for the abstract rather than the real.
Leaving the shop with a well-balanced grocery bag (pizza, chocolate and two bottles of wine), we make our way to the studio discussing our shared contempt for small talk and whether Valerie is an introvert, or just someone who prefers a conversation that has meaning and content. She isn’t one to attend many art openings for this reason, as the pressure of chit chat can become mind-numbing, but she isn’t worried about missing out on anything. Seeming quiet at first, sometimes pausing to find words in a conversation, it quickly becomes clear that she is fiercely independent – deciding what’s best for her without shame or resentment.
We have what we can manage from the large pizzas when we arrive at Valerie’s studio, washing back with some wine even though it’s barely gone midday – how can you not, though? Her studio is in a new building owned by an art’s organisation that offers artists relatively affordable space to work. She was one of the first people to move in and now has two very sizable walls to spread across, but as her paintings grow bigger who knows if the space might be outgrown some time soon. The studio is home to some of her more recent work and all of her materials, but otherwise it’s a blank canvas – a place to create.
From her pieces on display, and the materials dotted around, it’s clear to see a dominant colour palette spreading across the room. When asked about her colour choices, Valerie says that “colours either attract me or they don’t. I can even find some of them repulsive.” Those preferences are clear with purples, pinks, blacks, whites and blues abundant – but she admits a passionate distaste for greens and yellows.
We’re met by Veronika, a friend and fellow painter, who also has a space in the building. The conversation broadly follows debate and discussion of the art world, and the difficulties faced by young and developing artists – where ‘traditional’ galleries make one feel like they’re lucky to be taken on, or feel blessed to hand over a huge percentage of their earnings. There’s a striking optimism when Valerie speaks on this, she has seemingly created her own path by choosing who she sells to and in what way. Discussing more agile ways of selling her art – she mentions how being active on Instagram has secured her reasonable sales, but simultaneously that she’s not addicted or reliant on it, having not posted anything in a few weeks.
It’s impressive that she isn’t afraid to demand that a gallery is beneficial to her, in order for her to want to work with them. However, there is a sense that this bold stance comes from bitter experience, as Valerie tells me of multiple times she has been approached by galleries who don’t pull any weight on marketing, whilst still expecting 50% of sales – occasionally even when the sale has been made privately. Are we seeing a complete shift of power to a younger, more savvy generation?
"I love monsters. I love the repulsive, and since childhood I’ve loved everything that my mother didn’t."
Enough play, let’s do some work. Today Valerie is starting a new piece, so we get a chance to follow her process from the beginning. There’s a variety of sketchbooks around the studio, and this is where it begins, with pencil on paper. Once the visuals begin to take shape they’re photographed and pulled into Photoshop, where she experiments with the colour palette.
Her sketchbooks are a creative’s dream, filled with scribbled drawings, small scale paintings, and written notes found like a breadcrumb trail through the forest of her imagination. With her Belarusian background, these notes flit between Russian and English, capturing internal thoughts and overheard conversations, observations and impressions of the world around her. Valerie started to write as she found it to be an easier way to express herself than talking. Now her writing is a significant part of her art and some element of it tends to be included in her works, to a point of telling me that “when I don’t include text the work looks weak to me, it needs this element – it doesn’t matter in what language.”
This painting will be a continuation of a series, and for Valerie consistency is key – to keep a coherent style across her works the features on her characters need to be similar. She feels the lack of motifs or shared traits can create a severe dent in the presentation of the artist as a whole. At the beginning of her career she had concerns about trying to find her ‘style’, but over the past two years it feels like it has become more visible, and less of a worry for her.
The first thing you might notice about her work is that the characters found on the canvases have a hint of sadness, aggression or sometimes just look plain scary – “I find monsters beautiful,” she tells me. “I love the repulsive, and since childhood I’ve loved everything that my mother didn’t,” this bold independence has been a constant thread in her life, and in her art it manifests as a rebellion against the beautiful.
The canvas is set up, pinned up across more or less the full length of the studio wall. Whipping out a pencil, she begins to sketch straight onto the canvas, recreating the lines from earlier today at a far grander scale. Deciding not to treat the canvas, she starts painting directly onto its surface, building up shapes and forms with considered but somewhat rough brushstrokes. Valerie expresses and love for rawness in materials and process, she wants to avoid any excessive painting on this piece, allowing her subjects to breathe within the white space left behind.
Over the next few hours, some of these gaps are filled with extra scratches of colour at a pace that fluctuates – bursts of activity punctuated with reflective breath. Like any artist, work comes at it’s own pace, and Valerie has finished pieces in just one day, but today isn’t one of those days. We head home at around 9PM, and I’m quite sure she could have finished if she hadn’t been distracted by my presence and curiosity – as well as the wine. Stepping out of the studio where she surrounds herself with monsters and imagination, she is going home to cuddle with her black cat and maybe even sit with different monsters, this time on a Netflix screen with true crime providing the narrative thread.