Her childhood in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region inspires Nadezda’s haunting art

Mary Corbin, 48 Hills, 18 May 2021

An artist’s life is to be tapped into creative flow from morning ’til night, and even while asleep. Or at least, that’s how Oakland artist Nadezda thinks of her quest to bring ideas to life. Her dreamy, deep-hued paintings take us on a surreal journey into the hours where mystery prevails.

Nadezda grew up in a small town in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia, a land of harsh-yet-beautiful winters and ancient folklore. She came to the Bay Area 15 years ago to study at Academy of Art University and Safehouse Atelier, and has always felt an urge to create—thanks in part to a family who encouraged her endeavors in theater, poetry, music, and painting. 

Her grandmother was a big influence on Nadezda, reciting countless poems and myths of the Siberian land where she grew up from memory. Nadezda’s creative embers were stoked by spending weekends in her grandparents’ home, decorated with masks of mythical creatures, portraits of poets and writers, a vintage telephone resembling a swan, and countless bookshelves teeming with classical Russian literature and ancient tales. And beginning when she was just seven years old, Nadezda spent a decade acting in local theater with her entire family, attending rehearsals after school for weekend performances of fairy tales.

She says that what keeps the wonder so evident in her dreamy imagery alive is the life force itself — both subtle and powerful, ordinary and profound, all at once. “I am inspired by life in its intimate and great scale: from the shape of melted wax on a candle to the space/time continuum and dark matter. From my cat singing for her dinner to interpretative dance, opera, and ballet. From dark shadows around the basement sink to the movement of the human figure observed between action and stasis.”

Nadezda tries not to decipher, force or analyze her creative drive, but rather allow for ideas to arrive and thrive. Images arise, real, imagined, or from collaboration with a model or actor. There are certain objects and shapes that thematically recur, their range seemingly random yet built on particular fascinations. She appreciates the shape of everyday objects like matches and hammers and is simultaneously intrigued with larger concepts of portals and wormholes, the mysteries of darkness, and the wisdom of children. 

“When a new idea comes, it’s unexpected and electrifying,” she says. “I rush to grab a pen and notebook to record it, because if I don’t, it will be gone forever.”

Her process begins each day with a morning meditation. Having a cup of coffee with her husband and their cat by an open window, she listens to nearby sounds of nature and far sounds of human activity. Head clear, she enters her creative den, wondering what the day will bring. She always has several projects going on in the studio—but some days, a quiet hour of reading and writing by the window with a notebook and a pen turns out to be all that’s on the organic agenda. 

“One thing leads to another, in a creative balance that feels harmonious and natural,” she says.

In a recent painting based on a prose-poem that she wrote titled “Hands of the Ancestors,” she reflects on pillars and permissions and support of the elders.She’s also been working on a sculpture of a beekeeper—a tiny creature with a backpack and make-shift wings who makes a wobbly attempt to blend in with the bees he cares for. Imaginative meditations and studies featuring various characters going about their wondrous days and nights abound. As her poem says, “I feel each one of them carrying me with grace to the next horizon.” 

Nadezda’s most recent past exhibitions include a February solo show, “A Place to Dream,” at Berkeley’s SHOH Gallery. She is in preparation for an upcoming solo show titled, “The Great Scale of Little Things,” at Galleria d’Arte Piero della Francesca in Arezzo, Italy, which will take place this summer. A solo show at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco is slated for Feb. 12–March 4, 2022. For more information, visit her website.