Inner Sanctuary

“As It Flies Away,” 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 inches, Photo credit: Fyodor Shiryaev

Between The No-Longer As Still-To-Come: Darina Karpov

Pierogi Gallery, NY

Darina Karpov's artistic journey began in a communal apartment in St. Petersburg to being awarded an MFA at Yale University. Infused with color and shape we asked about her influences and direction in conjunction with her new show at the Pierogi Gallery, 155 Suffolk Street, New York, NY, 10002 Pierogi will also be participating in the Armory Show from March 4th-8th at Booth 719 at Pier 94. Karpov describes how her beginnings fostered her artistic sensibility.

"The communal apartments were not communes, but just shared living quarters. Most people lived as roommates -- several families per one apartment, sharing a bathroom and a kitchen. Each family had at least one room which served as a living/dining room during the day and was converted to a bedroom at night. My family was considered privileged as we 'inherited' (apartments were assigned by the government as there was no private property) the more spacious apartment than most from my great grandparents who were prominent scientists -- geologists, leading researchers at the St Petersburg Mining University. We shared with just one unrelated family, but there was also our extended family (cousins, aunts, great aunts, etc. living there. The apartment was large -- 6 bedrooms situated in the main historic square of the city overlooking the Mayor's Palace and St. Isaac's Cathedral. 

The contrast between the luxuriousness of the location and the derelict state of the apartment -- with no running hot water, leaking ceilings and cracked walls, albeit the grandeur of czarist era moldings, and detailing, is what I think really stuck with me aesthetically and comes through in my work."

Kathleen Cullen: In your bio we learn that you father was a geologist and you grew up in St. Petersburg in a small apt with loads of other people living there (commune style). Your mother also worked but since there was no money for a babysitter she dropped you off at the Hermitage museum. How did these life experiences impact you're work and how you saw the world? 

“Unspooling II,” 2020, Ink, watercolor, graphite on paper, 26 x 55 inches Photo credit: Fyodor Shiryaev

Darina Karpov: My father was an engineer, and my mother studied economics but ended up working as a teaching assistant at the school we went to. Once in a while when she ran errands she dropped us off at the Hermitage Museum as it was a really safe place. Traditionally the guards at the museums were pensioners, very severe old ladies, who took any opportunity to discipline my sister and I. It was a great escape to wander the grand opulent rooms of the Winter Palace and see the collections -- as a small child I especially loved the peacock room with giant mechanical peacock clock that was set in motion at the same hour every day. There were also small marble tables inlaid with semi precious stone mosaics arranged into flowers, landscapes and mythological themes. Later as a teenager I preferred to look at the northern renaissance Dutch and Flemish art. 

KC: It has been said  your work is an abstract reaction to the Russia she grew up in? In the culture of the dilapidated apartment there were no boundaries and things and people flowed into each other.  In such an inward landscape or memory of growing up in Russia- what is the social narrative?

DK: I wouldn't say there were no boundaries, however there was definitely very little privacy and private space was not very respected. There was no place to hide, so I had to develop a strong sense of inner sanctuary -- a magic place. I shared a small room with my very socially active older sister. People constantly came and went, especially because we were located right on the main square. 

In my work I want to express the density and complexity and interconnectedness of relationships through time, that's why there's so much movement. I am not trying to simply represent the space I felt as a childhood memory, it's also how I always see and feel the space -- it's embodied through time. I did an interview for Bomb magazine a few years ago where I talk about the space and movement in my work in more detail.

“Tiger Tyger,” (Detail) 2019, Glaze and underglaze on porcelain, 9 x 8 x 8 inches, Photo credit: Fyodor Shiryaev

KC: How are the childhood memories reflected in the ceramic orbs?  Is there an influence of the all-over opulent patterning of the Faberge eggs?

DK: I studied Russian miniature tempera techniques and looked at Russian folk art, especially through the lense of Russia Folk revival movement  -- World of Art (Mir Iskusstva) movement from the turn of the 20th century. I don't specifically look at Faberge eggs, but Faberge aesthetic arose in the turn of the 20th century, and I believe was also influenced by the Russian folk miniature tradition which might explain the connection.

KC: You did a series of drawings called "Magic Days," which were a mix of abstraction and figuration. 

DK: I described it best for the press release and it applies for the "Magic Days" series as well.

Certain objects and situations recur as if in a dream or a memory from childhood or early adolescence. These include objects strewn over the dilapidated communal apartment I grew up, scenes from abandoned, industrial parks and yards of the apartment buildings where we gathered as teenagers, Electronic equipment that my father worked with as an engineer. Many characters reappear from old sketches, culled from various sources. Even though much of my work is essentially abstract, I'm constantly drawn toward story telling, culling from cultural myths and cosmological structures which are open ended and circular. 

KC: Ultimately there is a "transitional state" referred to in the press release from the drawing into clay sculpture. Are the ceramics an outlier to what she is doing on canvas.  

DK: In the last few years, I began to branch into three dimensional work, sculpting and creating reliefs in porcelain. The process emerged organically from my drawing practice. Cutting through, layering and collaging my drawings naturally led me to work in relief, eventually to build and carve porcelain clay. The need to create three dimensional objects also arose from giving birth, as if I had given birth to a new form of drawing. Working in porcelain, I work on an intimate scale, hand building the abstract, semi-figurative objects. I then carve, creating various relief patterns on the surface while the pieces are leather hard. Once they are bisque fired, I apply underglaze to cover the surface in the intricate patterns and figurations. The initial form and relief of the earlier stages echoes the drawing -- creating a dialogue and interplay between various modes of mark making.

“Magic Days,” 2019, Glaze and underglaze on porcelain, 11 x 7 x 7 inches

KC: What are the different themes that you have developed over the years and what new influences inspired you?

DK: Movement, arrested motion, density, spatial structures in the state of formation are the recurrent overarching themes that stem from my process. Organic structures found in nature or referencing the interiority of the body, The work is always rooted in abstraction and the narrative vignettes weave in and out of it as lines of recognized lyrics in a song.

I've been looking at a lot more Soviet-era story books, manga and anime, graphic novels, but also as I mentioned, the World of Art movement, and Silver Age women artists Olga Rozanova, Natalia Goncharova, Alexandra Exeter, Sonia Delaunay.

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