As long as I remember myself, I drew or painted.
I grew up in artistic surrounding, as my entire family was artists, musicians, writers and actors. I literally spent my childhood between backstage of a theater or in an art studio. I lived in Soviet Russia until I was 16 years old. My family had strong anti-communist convictions, and they informed me well about the criminal nature of Soviet regime. At the age of fifteen I was already a young dissident. My family left Russia in 1972 to the free world.
While in Russia I dreamed about New York, which I never saw even in a picture, I created a body of works in which I flew over the Big Apple. When I finally saw New York, I was surprised how my imaginary vision matched the real version. I began my US studies in High School of Art and Design. It was very special and most valuable learning, and a great experience, that set the groundwork for my individuality and future art career. There, there were a small group of art students, together with two famous realists artists, that originated a circle of fanatics, totally devoted to art. I was the only girl in the group, and that I was accepted by this group made me almost burst with pride.
This student group started to work at five in the morning, before the regular classes began, every day. After school I apprenticed to an icon painter and church restorer. In that studio I learned the Byzantine painting technique. After such intense practice any one would become a proficient painter. That is why four years in Pratt Institute was easy for me but it was also confusing. My technical skills weren't needed and my desire for learning did not find support either... It was time of abstract art, and all the learning was directed only toward its philosophy and application. I had to study alone, old masters became my close friends, with whom I couldn't cheat, and I was honest with them.
At those times New York galleries were mostly full of bright colorful abstract canvases. Whether good or bad, it seemed to me they all worked with a formula. I almost followed the game, but then sad eyes from a Rembrandt portrait looked straight at me and I realized that I love art too much not to be honest with it. In fact, art is the only honest oasis in my life. So, I made art my very private escape but it had to be an island where there could not be any dishonesty or business formulas.
The canvases became my conversations and thoughts. Very often it was political concerns or discussions on moral issues. I did not participate much in any shows or tried to build a name and reputation. I just worked in my studio. With the age my views on humanity and my own place in it were changing. The painting styles also had to change in order to respond to the issues. I never produce a painting; I only use brushes and paints to talk and to think. The styles and techniques are dictated by the subject of my dialogue with me.
I can see the connection of theater and visual art in my work. My childhood exposure to the theater played its role. I stage the compositions and figures as theatrical performance. In portraiture, I study the life of a person as a playwright. One time I even created a series of works called "Theater of the Absurd." As Shakespeare said: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."
The circle was closed, real life became a theater, theater came to canvas, and canvas became a substitution of life. After the "Theater of the Absurd", I realized the limitations of canvas. I have had strong feelings that it was just a space between sides of the frame, no matter how big it could be. It was a tough period in my life. I was quite disillusioned with painting and almost lost my passion and without this love and passion, there could not be a conversation anymore. Fortunately, I did not lose an interest in arts. My love was revitalized with another form of it.
I discovered architecture. It was clear and real. I was drawn to the honesty of form and new possibilities. For me it was a pure extension of all my artistic experiences and skills. And most important, everything that painting could not offer to me, architecture did. I began a new conversation, offering innovative concepts and visionary progressive thinking. I received my new diploma and created a design/build company. I wanted to be so real, that I became a builder. I wanted to be in touch with real things, real people, and real life. This experience gave me new growth and much strength. It saved myself as a creator and an artist. It brought new colors to my palette of art and life and after a few years eventually returned back to painting with new forms and ideas.
Whether one has a long or short life, a soul grows with each experience. I have become an older soul with deeper understanding and more compassion. I have become a contemporary thinker.
Today I am devoting my life again to painting. Still, I am constantly searching for new language of expression and really hope that this exploration will never end.
© Mila Strugatsky