Working in oil and watercolour, Orinko’s painting style is best described as contemporary realism, drawing heavily on her traditional training.
Orinko has received numerous art awards and has been featured across a variety of publications and media including Graeme Stevenson’s Put Some Colour in Your Life.
We had the privilege of spending a couple of hours with Svetlana at her beautiful Fendalton home and studio in the heart of Christchurch’s leafy suburbs.
How would you describe your work?
I see beauty in the simple things and there is a poetry in simplicity. I look for how light transitions across a form. I like to transform my chosen subject into visual poetic language. I am constantly making an extra effort to be open to new possibilities and innovative ways and, if possible, not to remain at the same stage all the times. I never stop learning.
My work begins long before I take a brush in my hand and I’m deeply committed to entire process. I choose the highest quality and most permanent materials that I can acquire and I take pride in stretching and priming my own canvas as well as framing it with my own hands. For me, as a painter I like to focus not only on the image that I am creating, but also on the archival qualities of that image – the craftsmanship.
When did you first study art?
In Russia school is different. Art school was like a polytech that I attended at the same time as my normal school and university over about ten years.
After that, I had a child, I worked as a dressmaker, and then I was doing technical drawings in flash newspapers… by hand. We didn’t have computers then.
I never thought I would be an artist. I had all this education, but there were no jobs for artists.
I had very bad memories of the society I grew up in. Communism was just horrible and I was depressed from a very young age. I knew I just couldn’t live in a place like that so I escaped. It was kind of drastic.
At that time, businesses in the Ukraine had so much money, but the owners couldn’t draw it out for themselves. They could only spend it on business related costs and draw wages. So what they started doing was spending money travelling and pretending to study. They’d take courses and try to find joint ventures, but it was just a business expense for travel. I came as an interpreter on one of these trips to America, and I just decided I wasn’t coming back.
What is your opinion on formal art training?
When you’re properly trained, you can do any subject and any medium. You’re not limited.
When people say to me, “I’m self-taught,” I think sometimes people think they’re very clever because they are born with a talent, when in actual fact it can be quite limiting.
I don’t think anyone is really self taught… I went to art school, but I actually learnt so little compared with what I’m learning now. With the internet and youtube and access to top artists all over the world, you never stop learning.
Talent is overrated. I don’t think it exists. For me, when someone tells you you’re talented, they’re taking away all the hours and hours of hard work I’ve done learning and studying. People call you talented when you achieve something, but to achieve that you have to have to work hard and have stickability. It’s passion to the point of obsession.
Sometimes I think I’m crazy because painting is all I want to do in the world. It’s like a drug! It’s like breathing. If I don’t paint for a few days, I feel depressed.
I haven’t always had a happy life, and through my painting I’m creating a perfect world for myself. Through painting you can turn pain into beautiful things and create your ideal world.
This a feeling that has always been there, but I think I’m becoming more aware of it. Art is a good for healing but it’s also hard mental work to create serious art
I don’t think anyone is really self taught… I went to art school, but I actually learnt so little compared with what I’m learning now. With the internet and youtube and access to top artists all over the world, you never stop learning."
People have said it lifts up their spirits. Usually they talk about joy and happiness.
Someone once said, “you must have had a wonderful childhood experience to create such joyful work.” They were comparing me with a friend who was painting very dark works, and they said, “he looks like he might have experienced some trauma.” Actually it was the other way around!
I don’t have to try to find that sense of joy in my work. It’s who I am. It’s really what attracts and grabs me. I want to create art that is uplifting when you look at it.
Is it easy to tap into that emotion when you’re painting?
I think that sometimes the faster you work, the more emotion there is. You could describe so much with very few brush strokes and for me, that’s where true art comes. Of course, you can spend hours and weeks and months on a painting. It’s the same with words. You can say something with few words, or you could say the same thing with thousands of words. What’s more powerful?
That’s why it’s hard. Sometimes people ask me, “how long did it take you to create that?” Well the thing is, the quicker I create it, the more powerful it is. When it takes longer, it weakens.
I wouldn’t say I’m creating art. I think the art happens in the reaction of the person who views it. Someone might look at it and experience nothing, and someone else might start to cry.
Does inspiration come easily to you?
I never have to try to find inspiration. It’s always there.
For me, the challenge has always been wanting to paint but struggling to find the time. It’s never the other way around.
As a professional artist you make the time. You start painting and while you’re doing it you get into the mood and the space. If inspiration isn’t coming, simply don’t sit and wait: just start doing it and while you are you’ll get into the zone.
The more you do, the better you get, and the more enjoyment you get out of it. It’s addictive.
You don’t always get the feeling you want. Quite often, when I’m painting, I look at it and I think, “that’s terrible”, but then you walk away and think wow! Of course, other times you think, “wow, it’s so cool, I’m enjoying it”, and then you walk away and look and it’s awful!
It’s important to know when to stop. If it doesn’t feel good, leave it. I only have energy to paint for about four hours a day - sometimes only two - before I feel like I’m running out of that good energy. Then I know I’m not actually making it better: I’m fiddling, but it’s going downhill. That’s when I walk away. Sometimes I might leave it for a long time.
I am inspired by other artists. I discover beautiful artwork every day on Instagram.
Some artists worry that if they watch and study other artists too closely, that they may end up in a place where they’re copying. What are your thoughts about that?
I think that if you’re learning, that’s good. In art school we were copying old masters. Even if you try to be like someone, in time you will develop your own style.
Of course, there are just so many styles and ways of working which means it’s very hard to create something totally new. For example, I discovered a technique in watercolour that took me a couple of years to develop. Then, afterwards I discovered someone else who was using exactly the same technique! I’d never seen that artist’s work.
You tend to be influenced, perhaps by someone who’s class you’ve taken, and that’s okay. You can learn so many things from other artists, but I think we are all so unique. Now matter how much you try to be like someone else, in the end the world will be your own. It’s like your handwriting.
I really value skill. Good art is the combination of so many things. There are a lot of good ideas, but if the skill isn’t there it doesn’t work. It’s not often the other way around. It takes years and years to develop skill, and once it’s there the ideas will come.
Put Some Colour in your Life gave me a lot of exposure. They filmed me for four hours, and then put it across in 20 minutes, and for some reason he put me across as a teacher, which I wasn’t at the time.
People started enquiring about tuition and workshops, and I wasn’t sure about it.
I thought, “what would be a price that I would be happy to do this for?” Organising group workshops is not me. I don’t like administration and stuff like that. But if someone organises a group of ten people and pays me $800 a day, I’ll come. It doesn’t happen often, which is the way I like it. I do maybe two workshops a year, and maybe ten weeks a year where people come to the house. But that’s it.
It’s not that I don’t like it, but I need to find a way of teaching where I don’t get drained.
So it sort of happened by accident?
For many years, I never thought I could be a teacher. I think you can be a good artist but not a god teacher, or the other way around. To begin with I found it hard because I thought painting was all about intuition, and I didn’t know how to articulate it. But, I went to America and did a few workshops and found the words.
Art is a learnable thing. Pretty much anyone could learn to paint or draw.
Do you think everyone would agree with that?
No. But what I’m saying is true… if you put enough time into it.
What I’ve started understanding, and I wish I was taught it at art school, is that everything in art is logical. If it’s logical, it’s learnable. You just have to take the time and work step-by-step to learn it.
Everyone can become an artist. That doesn’t mean everyone will be exceptional; but they can learn it.
So, for you, it’s about the art. Teaching is not what you love, but you still think it’s important to share what you know?
Oh, yes! There’s so much joy that I have from my art, and I want to share that with others. People have done that for me in the past. Nancy Tichborne was one of them. She introduced me to a layering technique which opened new horizons for me!
In the Ukraine I had no-one to look up to as an artist. I had no-one to inspire me. As a child, I was in an institution, which was a horrible place, and I went to art school as a way to escape. But even at art school we never saw the teachers painting. And under communism, you only saw work in museums.
Now, in New Zealand and with the internet, it has been so amazing to discover other artists.
How many people do you follow on Instagram?
Probably 100 or 200.
I probably spend half an hour a day browsing instagram to look at other artists’ work. But what fascinates me is the marketing thing. Not how to paint, but how to present yourself and how to explain what you’re doing. Sometimes you don’t even need to post a finished painting, you can share your process.
For me, social media isn’t about what I’m putting into it, it’s about what I’m getting out of it. Sometimes people say, “thank you for sharing, it’s so good to see your process”, and It’s encouraging. To be honest, I think, “who would give a damn what I’m doing”.
The internet has turned every artist into a business person. There’s a pressure to have a website, and be on instagram, and market your work. What is your experience of this?
Three years ago I didn’t even have a Facebook page, and I knew that I was one of the last artists to do that.
I’ve had varied experiences with galleries, and I think it’s important for artists to develop confidence about the value of their work and how it should be priced. Some work is over-priced and some work is under-priced; I see it all the time.
Social media is a good thing because it means you’re in charge of your own promotion.
How do you decide on your prices?
It’s very hard. You have to look at other work that is selling and you have to have a feel for the market. Pricing is pure business. Sometimes you might choose prices and not sell, and then you have to meet the market. Unfortunately there’s no consistency.
Ten years ago I struggled to put an exhibition together because it was selling so fast, and at the moment it’s building up a bit.
I will still paint, whether I sell or not. When I sell, it’s such a bonus but it’s not the main reason I paint.
What would you say to people who aspire to be a professional artist?
It’s not that glorious. It’s so much hard work. Being an Artist can also be a very lonely occupation. If you prepared to spend hours and hours by yourself in the studio then it’s for you.
You have to be prepared to work really really hard. I don’t have any magic talents. Everything I can do I’ve developed over a long time. It’s all learnable.
When I look at my work, I see what I want to keep learning.
Images of artwork courtesy of