In conversation: Katerina Pravda
by Joana Alarcão
In conversation: Katerina Pravda
How would you describe your artistic practice?
As a contemporary visual artist, I give life to elegant beings through painting, drawing, and mixed media art. There is a natural focus on uniting human and non-human animals as one, to progress harmonious co-existence and to protect endangered species and the environment.
I use several different mediums to bring my visions of these beautiful beings to life. The essence or energy of the piece or series, as well as the technical and other artistic considerations, determines which medium I use – oil on canvas for vibrancy, energy, and infusion of richness; ink on paper for sophistication, boldness, and a sole focus on the subject; and mixed media to blend elements of all of the above into one work. I crave multiplicity in order to continue evolving as both an artist and a human being. Thus, using several different mediums allows me to explore my chosen subject matter in an endless amount of ways, granting me the ability to innovate and bring forward new possibilities for seeing and creating.
An artistic practice does not consist of mere creation, however. It starts with living a rich, authentic life, full of tremendous experiences of all sorts, nurturing our visions, trusting our instincts, and doing things despite the fear. This, for me, includes a heavy dose of unplanned travels and adventures in faraway lands – living for some time to sink into the culture and just "be"- to observe, question, think, and feel deeply and whole-heartedly. Most of my travels are solitary to give room for the deepest level of presence and connection. I also immerse myself into other art forms, from which I draw great inspiration for the art I create. Currently, these are acting, dance, piano, horse riding, literature, philosophy and martial arts. I stay curious, open to change, and allow novel experiences, which trigger new thoughts and ideas I later explore in my art.
This, in essence, is my fine arts practice.
Can you tell us about your collection entitled The Darlings? What are the materials and concepts behind it? What do you intend the viewer to absorb from the experience?
The original concept behind The Darlings series came to me when I was working in a drawing class while on exchange at the University of Newcastle in Australia. I was 20 years old at the time. I felt free as a bird in my new temporary home, surrounded by other creatives of all sorts – people who were much freer in their spirits and actions than my Canadian peers and communities' more traditional, hyper-academic ways. During my university exchange, I experimented greatly with my artwork, exploring entirely new ways of drawing, painting, printmaking and creating photography. It was then that I created my first surrealist piece titled Don't Strip Me Of My Stripes (elegant zebra woman on a chair). I hadn't realized it at the time, but this would become a pivotal piece in the direction of my artistry for years to come. Many years, gallery exhibits and series later, I rediscovered this particular piece while sorting through my artwork. Something sparked inside me when I looked into those larger-than-life gravitational eyes – I was hypnotized by her magnetic power! And so, I created several more pieces in this original style and essence to join this beautiful zebra-woman (Don't Strip Me Of My Stripes) on exhibition at several Toronto art galleries. Since then, this piece has become quite iconic, bewitching viewers with her seductive intensity and charm.
The Darling Collection, formerly known simply as Beings, always had and continues to have magnificent responses from gallery-goers, usually striking that "sweet spot" that I always hoped for – a place where dialogues begin after a powerful emotional experience occurs that captivates the viewer with something much deeper than we can describe in words. Visually, the pieces of The Darlings Collection - which has grown tremendously in recent years – are a combination of a human figure with the head of an animal (frequently that of an endangered species). My approach to portraying them as elegant beings, harmonizing elements of both the human and non-human animals in a fluid and natural way, is that which gives the series its unique visual and emotive essence, often striking a particular nerve or deep emotion within both artist and viewer.
In respect to the artistic mediums used to create this series, I first began with ink: drawing with Japanese archival ink pens to create the meticulous fine details, which weave into the works like branches and roots, then painting many washes of India ink to give depth, lyricism, movement, flow and a slight sense of reality. The result is at once classic and modern – transcending time and space. The focus is on unity, harmony, beauty, and our interconnectedness – all that is ever-present in nature, in animals, and in us. I later added watercolour with the inks to fuse elements of the environment into several new pieces. Currently, I am working on expanding this series into oil on canvas works, which adds an entirely new essence to their emotive and physical qualities.
I am looking forward to seeing what kinds of experiences these new works hold for their viewers and what new thoughts, emotions, and dialogues they will trigger.
In your bio, you mention that your art is driven by the "intermingling of endangered species, elegant people, and their ever-changing environment". Can you elaborate on this line of thinking?
From a very young age, I was intrinsically pulled towards animals – they always seemed to me and continue to be breathtaking, majestic, and so tenderly innocent. I love them with all my heart and innately felt a deep need to protect these beautiful souls from the cruelty and brutality of others. In fact, my very first drawings were always those of myself living in harmony with animals – they were quite the joyous and chic scenarios! While my technical and stylistic portrayals have certainly developed greatly since those early days, my natural-born inclinations to restoring harmony between people and animals have remained unchanged. As I learned more about the remarkably delicate balance of various ecosystems on this stunning planet and the horrific ways in which we were actively destroying them at unprecedented rates, I knew that my focus would need to be on highlighting the various endangered species as we were and are dreadfully close to annihilating them into extinction. Since the 6th mass extinction is the first of its kind – being that it is the first in history to be entirely man-made – I wanted to focus my work on the elements leading to the disastrous losses of critical species and environments. It took many years of working through the various ways of portraying these themes visually and narrowing down to the exact concept I wanted to come through in my work. Many earlier works of mine dealt with the inner duality of human beings – primarily our capacity for both creation and destruction in relation to animals and the environment. With my artistic evolution, you will now see that there is a clear focus on the intermingling of endangered species, elegant (harmonious) people, and their ever-changing environment. This echoes my deep desire to restore harmony to ourselves so that we can begin to love, respect, and protect the species that are left, which will require the protection of their environments and ecosystems, bringing us back to the ancient wisdom of the interconnectedness of all lifeforms on this planet. And why an ever-changing environment, you may ask? Well, because the only constant in life is change. Every single day, every single hour, every single choice that we make, we have the power to alter the present and, therefore, the future. We can decide to make a better world for all through our cumulative daily actions. Indeed, we are creating and recreating our world all the time! So I hope you'll join me in doing what you can to bring about more harmony in your life, between people, animals, and the environment, to make a beautiful world for all!
What is for you the most rewarding part of being an artist?
I have come to the conclusion that I do not make art for myself. Though it certainly challenges me and evolves my being, I create work as a catalyst for change.
As such, the most rewarding part of being an artist is seeing that my work has caused someone to change their ways of viewing animals, people, and the environment, which then causes a shift in their actions and creates a more harmonious world. Each person influences so many others, so the seemingly smallest change in thought alters so much more than we perceive.
Talking with people who view my work and fall in love with it, which speaks of the connection to its concept and essence (= a connection to all), brings me the greatest joy. This inspires me to get back into the studio to create more artwork, evolve the concept even further, and exhibit the new works to spark inspiration and paradigm shifts. It's truly a beautiful cycle!
How do you start your artistic process? Can you lead us through the beginning to the end of a piece? Any rituals correlated with it?
I start with a general sense of an idea – you can think of it as an out-of-focus image of a central figure – either the feeling of it, or the body positioning. Then, I sense what animal this "feels like". At this stage, this is all a very intuitive. Sometimes it comes right away, other times, I may need to step away for a few hours before it makes sense. I will sometimes sketch out a very rough concept, just the gestural shape – this is very lyrical and organic. After much thought regarding the appropriate mediums for this particular piece, I will begin by very lightly sketching out the shape. This is where more of the definition of the visuals emerge. The body, the face, the flow of lines. If I work in ink, I will then begin diving deeper into the details with the ink right away.
Art for me, has become a process of emergence through removal, even though I am technically creating by adding (mark-making, paint, mediums, etc.). It's just that as I am drawing or painting the work reveals itself to me. The details become clearer and clearer the further I go. In essence, however, I am removing all of the other possibilities, by adding my chosen particular marks, brushstrokes and gestures.
One thing to note, is that whether drawing of painting, I always start with the eyes. This is the center of all connection and the most vital part of any work for me – especially in the beginning. I then move onto the rest of the face, then the body, then other elements, whether clothing or background. Only in the mixed media pieces that use watercolour, do I start with a wash of colour first, then the eyes.
I work on each piece for several weeks, or months, often taking anywhere from several days to a week in-between layers. I also tend to work on five or six works at once. Oil paintings need a week between each layer to properly dry, while stepping away from the ink and mixed media pieces gives me "fresh eyes" to see and sense what they're missing or needing, once I return to them.
The last stages are adding the finest details and making sure that there is harmony (balance) throughout the work. This means that the eye travels the work in a specific way and doesn't rest on unnecessary details or other elements that may be taking away from the main concept or feeling. There are a remarkable amount of thoughts and considerations that are automatically deliberated throughout the process of creating. While these were elements that were brought to light individually and thoroughly taught while I was studying for many years, they are second nature now, and happen almost automatically in my mind while I am painting and drawing.
I like to "work it out" directly on the canvas or paper, and am not a fan of creating the work as an actual "study" or miniature version and then converting it to a larger rendering. For me, that takes away the flow of creation and the connection to the work. Throughout my creation process, I am wholly connected and present, and everything in life disappears. I work until exhaustion strikes and I can do no more (usually 6-12 hours in a row). The work is finished when I step back and know that there is nothing else that needs to be added or taken away – when it is essentially perfect in its specific elements and essence (emotionality, tone, vibrance etc.).
Reflecting on it, I'd have to say that my arts practice emulates an engaged meditation, where the mind, body, and soul are hyper-active, while fundamentally being connected to creation and only that creation for hours on end. I'd also like to point out that I undergo all stages of emotions during this time. From child-like excitement of a fresh canvas or blank piece of paper, to the deep frustrations and feelings of disappointment when things aren't going how you wish, to working through the difficulties, to the love and joy of a parent watching a child take its first steps as the artwork begins to emerge, to the giddiness when its nearly there, to the profound pride and sheer wonder of it standing on its own at the very end. Having just written this and taking a long look at each piece in my studio, I smile fondly realizing that my artworks are like my children in this way, having gone through this complete process with each and every one of them, knowing that I will have to let them go one day, so that they may flourish in the world on their own. It's as if, they almost become living at this point!
The very last steps, following signing the work, are adding a coat of protective varnish for the paintings, and preparing the works for exhibition, which means painting the edges, wiring the works in the back, and custom framing the pieces. Then there truly ready to get out there and change the world!
How has your practice changed over time? Why do you think it changed?
Over the years, I have become more confident in my work, which correlates with feelings of connectedness and inner self-assuredness. This is due to my decade-long introspective journey to understand why we're here, what the purpose of life is, what compels me to create, and the like. I have come to understand myself, my work, and the interconnectedness of life in a much more profound way in recent years. I have explored the above spiritually, intellectually, and artistically, which has left me with a solid foundation on which I have built my creative life. In truth, the more art I created, the closer I got to exactly what I wanted to express and how. It was a process of elimination through trial: if I wanted to create something, I did; if I wanted to try a new medium, I did; if I wanted to travel and get lost in a country, I did. I allowed myself to be free, and I continue to live this way.
I also waste a lot less time on doubt and do not hesitate. I always think about my artwork, even when I am not in my studio. I work through a lot of it in my mind before I even touch a brush or pen so that when I get into the studio to create, I dive right in, knowing that no matter what happens, I will figure out the details and find my way.
Moreover, I now tend to spend a lot more time connected to nature and find a way to either volunteer or work with animals hands-on. This brings me closer to the harmony that I aim to communicate through my work, strengthening the emotionality and truth that I am able to bring forth in each new piece.
Lastly, I will say that meditation has helped me tremendously in life, and thanks to it I have become ever more connected to the true inner message that needs to be shared with the world through my art.
Most of your projects focus on endangered species conservation, environmental protection, and the deep need for the ethical treatment of animals. Why did you choose to dedicate your art practice to highlighting these issues? Why does it touch you particularly?
Apart from my deep love, respect, and connection to animals from a very young age, this focus came about from several shocking life events. The primary being my deep-dive into the gut-wrenching unethical brutality of factory farming, fur farms, and general human insanity when it came to the annihilation of the animal species.
I was 15 years old at the time and researching ancient Greek philosophers on their stance on animal sentience and treatment – this was my chosen topic for a philosophy paper. This led me to a shocking discovery of how the world treats its animals, people, and the environment. It shattered my innocence entirely, and I remember being so utterly heartbroken from the experience that I crawled under a desk and truthfully wanted not to exist anymore. But after balling my eyes out and feeling the full grief and sorrow for all those innocent, precious animal lives, I decided right then and there that I would stand up against their oppressors and be their voice. I automatically quit eating meat, which at the time (2005-ish) was preposterous in Canada – everyone was convinced that I would die if I didn't and prodded me daily, but they didn't see what I saw. They hadn't felt what I'd felt watching those horrific graphic videos and hearing the screams of the tortured animals. I joined organizations, signed and ran petitions, voiced my concerns to anyone who would listen, and even started an environmental organization in my school (which, like veganism, was 10 years ahead of its time), but few would listen or care, especially when it came to policy-makers, large companies/corporations, or the government. I was heartbroken, angry, and saddened, but I never gave in. I couldn't. Those animals and the environment would continue to suffer if I did. So I pressed on and continued learning about the environmental destruction that we were causing and actively working on implementing ways to combat the damages anywhere and everywhere I could.
When it came time to decide on a university and a course of study, I applied and got accepted to both the environmental sciences and the fine arts departments in several phenomenal universities. This was really the moment where it came down to the way in which I would go on to help animals and the environment (for this was always the path) – ultimately, deciding that my contribution through the fine arts would have a much greater impact.
Ever since then, I have continued aligning my beliefs with my life, creating artwork based on this desire to restore harmony between people and animals. I am so proud of others for finally coming to the same realization and of the global efforts and movements toward plant-based diets, cruelty-free products, animal conservation efforts, environmental preservation efforts, and so many wonderful, beautiful paradigm shifts that are now leading us to live in greater harmony with nature and each other.
There is a long way to go, but we are so much closer than we were fifteen years ago! We see now that our daily choices really do make a significant impact. And so, I continue on with my duty, creating paradigm-shifting artwork and having much-needed dialogues to bring about harmony, love, unity, and interconnectedness.
As an artist what would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
Persevering. It's really the greatest accomplishment for any artist, creative person, or anyone impassioned with their particular vision/contribution/focus. Finding the belief in yourself and standing up against the harsh opposition, staying dedicated and true to your unique voice and vision.
Oh, and winning the Murray Jacob Clerkson Award in 2015 was certainly a lovely cherry on top! It's always heartwarming to feel cherished, celebrated and recognized!
Cover Image: Critically Endangered Black Rhino
Mixed media on paper. 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy of Katerina Pravda.
Image 1: Vulnerable Polar Bear
Mixed media on paper, 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy of Katerina Pravda.
Image 2: Extinct Eastern Puma
Mixed media on paper. 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy of Katerina Pravda.
Image 3: Fennec Fox
Mixed media on paper, 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy of Katerina Pravda.
Image 4: Endangered Woodland Caribou
Oil on canvas, 36 x 42 inches.Image courtesy of Katerina Pravda.
Creating predominantly in rich inks, mixed media, and luxurious oil paint, Katerina Pravda’s artistic inclinations bow to the graceful intermingling of endangered species, elegant people, and their ever-changing environment. She is driven by her undeniable passion for endangered species conservation, environmental protection, and the deep need for the ethical treatment of animals.
Having taken initial inspiration from the great impressionists like Degas and Monet in their boldness of light- and colour-use, Katerina’s work has evolved into her inimitable personal style, which is loved and celebrated for her lively bold use of colour and line, as well as her expressiveness of brushwork and mark-making, and an undeniable touch of sophistication through lyricism of movement. Her artwork is known to bring tremendous energy and breathe life into any space.
Katerina’s most recent accompaniments to The Darlings Collection have been inspired by the timeless class and elegance of Old Hollywood, as well as the breathtaking artistry from the fashion houses of Dior, Chanel, and the like of that time. Luxurious golds, and colours of precious gems like rubies, sapphires, and emeralds have been a natural addition to Katerina’s glamorous oil paintings, combining the beauty of human refinement with that of the breathtaking natural world. All the while, there continues to be a strong focus on endangered species conservation in Katerina’s works (premiering soon). There is a sophisticated essence in her black and white ink works that are at once classic and modern, adding effortless appeal to any designer home and fashion- or animal-lover’s life.
Katerina Pravda’s artistry is widely celebrated, with many of her masterful pieces gracing gallery walls and private collections worldwide. Her artwork continues to be featured in high-profile publications, where you can further acquaint yourself with her meaningful inspirations and philanthropic efforts in saving endangered species and their habitats, with the use of her art and its great influence. Katerina Pravda has been recognized for her artistic talents and contribution to the arts community with the honour of the prestigious Murray Jacob Clerkson Award. She is deeply touched and appreciative of the great honour and recognition.
Katerina graduated with distinction, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2013 from Mount Allison University, Canada’s top undergraduate university. She also studied abroad at the University of Newcastle in Australia in 2012, where her artwork found a new sense of freedom and bold expressiveness. It was during her studies in Australia that Katerina’s initial concept for her surrealist pieces took form, in the shape of the iconic piece “Don’t Strip Me Of My Stripes” (elegant zebra-woman on a chair).
Katerina Pravda has recently signed with Galeria Pura Vida in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, where earlier last year, she had spent 6 months learning about animal and environmental conservation while living in harmony with nature. Katerina looks forward to infusing her next collection with her new-found understandings and inspiration.
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