Maria Ivanova Spices the Zeitgeist of Digital Era With Gothic Literature

Some artworks possess the literary quality of a gothic novel or a horror short story. Take the digital paintings of Maria Ivanova, for example. Not only their mood seems familiar to readers, but you could definitely slip inside of them in search of the complete story. Jumping from one image to another could also make you want to ransack an old, gloomy library.

For sure, Maria Ivanova’s artworks were born in a book lover’s soul. “Reading feeds my mind. I love both fiction and non-fiction.” She confirms. Her Russian soul obviously found an echo in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s writings, as well as in the dark, Germanic tales of the Brothers Grimm and Thomas Mann. But she also counts American writer Donna Tartt as her favorite author, along with another Bennington College’s literary sorceress, Shirley Jackson.

As for non-fiction, Maria quotes Andrey Tarkovsky, Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade and Marie-Louise von Franz; and indeed, you can spot the influence of cinematography, psychology and myths on her work. Each of her paintings is rich in symbols, in turmoil but also in mise-en-scène. As if Emily Brontë’s heroines got lost inside Robert Eggers’ movie The VVitch, and were now delivering us the secrets of Dionysiac ecstasy through oneiric charades…

But the main source of inspiration of the young artist is her city of Saint Petersburg, in Russia.

I’m grateful to be born in such wonderful city; it is a masterpiece in itself. I feel strongly attached to it.

The gothic splendor of her hometown and its harsh winters are certainly impacting on the dark atmosphere of her universe.

Maria Ivanova The Crown Maker digital painting

From her window, she lets rain, clouds, fog and snow instill their intense melancholy, bracing herself for the White Nights of summer. “During these particular nights, the sun doesn’t set completely; evening slowly turns into morning and night lasts for few hours without getting really dark”, she explains. “I just try to survive them.” We’re surprised that her paintings don’t feature vampires. But they do include creatures of dark fantasy.

Maria Ivanova digital wolf painting

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? For sure, not Maria Ivanova. The figure of that fairy tale’s villain is indeed lurking in many of her pieces. “I’ve tried to paint them in different color, like brown, or red, but for some reason it doesn’t work. They are either black or white.” She notes. “Initially, their overall look derived from my dog. Her traits slowly crawled into my art in different forms, then over the years they transformed and changed.”

But who are these wolves? Or, actually, what do they stand for? The artist herself is not sure.

“They usually appear in my mind with their own, pre-existing stories, their own pieces of worlds. These stories usually have no beginning and no ending. As if I was entering the room in the middle of some scene, and witnessing few second/minutes of someone else’s life. I usually don’t know what happened before (at least not everything), and won’t know what will happen after I leave, but I have the chance to memorize the present, to mentally photograph it in my mind, and try to guess what is going on. Because sometimes I actually have no idea what they are doing. But I find it very intriguing and mysterious. I love this feeling very much – the feeling that I’m watching something real unfolding in front of me. And this is how I see this – a captured moment of someone’s world with an open ending.”

If Maria doesn’t roam gloomy forests, she enjoys to haunt museums, and not just for their masterpieces. She loves their mood, their presence. Inside of their large halls, she gets glimpses of Nordic mythologies, archaeology and mystical Middle Age that reappear eventually in her compositions. Yet, she is not looking for references; she rather prefers to let her subconscious talk.

I think I can say that the main, the very first Idea for an artwork comes from within. As if it already existed there, in my mind, or somewhere else inside, and everything comes down to listening, watching, paying attention, noticing and trying to depict these feelings in an untouched way. But, no matter how hard I try, fortunately or unfortunately, it is then influenced by many things, including my own experiences, mood, events in my life.

Latin words, Hieronymus Bosch creatures and classic portraits are thus brought back to life in our post-Game of Thrones age, as they all coexist in her inner world.

Maria Ivanova Baba Yaga digital painting

Indeed, even though Maria Ivanova studied and graduated with a degree in Law from Saint Petersburg State University of Civil Aviation, she became a self-taught digital artist and film animator. Now, instead of dusty law books, she uses Photoshop, After Effects and a 2009 Wacom tablet. But even in this modernity, she cultivates her links with ancient arts, studying egg tempera painting technique as well as the Art of Russian Icons and Icon-painting at the Russian Christian Humanitarian Academy.

“And I see now that this has clearly had an impact on how I create digital works”, the young artist points out. “Usually I start painting with a dark base color (be it a human face or an animal); in Icon it is called ‘sankir’. Then I add layer by layer, each layer being lighter than the previous one, until the face has a normal skin color. Of course, it has a symbolic meaning – going from dark to light. Photoshop, with its layers, allows me to stick to this technique in digital realm.”

There is also a certain idea of loneliness in Maria’s universe, but she celebrates it. “Solitude is an essential component to my mind”, she states. “I think escapism played a greater deal for me. This kind of imagination saved me many times during my life. Escapism is always one of the things that underlies my works.
Due to certain events in my life, I tend to see the world (even though I understand it is not necessarily always true) as dangerous and cruel place.” For this reason, she is not really scared by our current global situation.

I’m just going to immerse myself deeper in the work, going to create some new art. This coping mechanism helps me and yields fruitful results.

Maria Ivanova digital wolf painting

Of course, Maria dreams to illustrate books. Recently, she’s been working on some illustrations inspired by Dostoevsky’s novels. “Also, I would like to continue working on my own paintings and discover new characters, their worlds and stories. As for animation – I have my very own project, it’s an animated film, which I’m working on. Of course, the process is slow. But I’m not losing hope.” Of course not, she knows that there is always light in darkness, harmony despite despair and a future after the past.

Maria Ivanova digital painting
Maria Ivanova surreal digital painting

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