Painter Polina Tereshina has spent half of her life in Russia, where she was born, and half of her life in Seattle, where she is now based in Capitol Hill. In her work, she interprets her feeling of being between cultures, neither purely Russian nor American—a little of both. An abstract sense of statelessness is reflected in characters that move and interact within a fantastical geometric playground that is detailed yet vague.
“Visually it’s important to me that the paintings have a sense of place and dimension in certain areas, but I want them to be totally flat in other areas… Between figurative and abstraction,” Tereshina explains. “Figures and characters that bleed out into a space that is really difficult to define, the result of a process that is partially conceptual…and partially accidental, in a way, because I have a clear idea that drives me.”
The accidental aspect comes from the process of interpreting the source of her ideas—fleeting interactions—and through that process the image also becomes more removed, but never entirely. From a silhouette covered in hair to a geometric rock with legs, each character seems to have been called forth from the ether of the indefinable, the liminal. Playful and strange, they are yet unmistakably recognizable.
“I find inspiration by looking both outward and inward. From these observations I have developed a cast of characters who help me tell the stories. Then I pose the characters out of context in a simple, shallow space. And what is that feeling? It’s the awkward that you can’t put your finger on—that strange intensity that grabs you sometimes. I am obsessed with these situations. It’s very strange what the brain does. I try to describe it on paper: headspaces inspired by interactions.”
Much of Tereshina’s inner dialogue is about the varying aspects of navigating life: mental transience, headspaces and their fallibility, misunderstandings, incomplete sentences and loss of data. Their bizarre aspects embody the folly and struggle of being human.
Tereshina explains, “I get ideas in weird moments of the day, and they snowball when I do the dishes and when I walk down the street. Generally it starts as just a figure, and then I start removing and adding. Certain body parts sometimes get deleted. I want to disable certain functions in the body to emphasize certain inabilities, a certain incompetence, or emphasize other parts and distort them. And that’s the more spontaneous part. It’s very visual, when the distortions come into play. It’s really in the language of lines and colors as opposed to words and logic. It’s a lot more emotional, push and pull. I really scribble, scribble, scribble. I work until I feel it has something.”
“As for the backgrounds, that’s another tool to communicate a certain headspace. I fill the shapes with a sense of density, a sense of flatness, a sense of pattern. For example, the hedge marks and some of the distressed, dense spatial compositions that often have geometric outline [are] about the static in conversation, the noise that we experience in day-to-day life. A way to describe a state of mind. A lot of them have been grey. I really like the ambiguity of grey—the everythingness of it, the nothingness of it. And just living in this city I have really learned to love it. The light that you get in the winter—it’s so crisp and so weird, and the way skin looks against that light, it’s a really special contrast. A really special glow.”
The color values of some of her bodies are so near to the background that they seem to be of the same indefinable substance, infused with a vital light and warmth. The paintings at first appear modest and flat, however curious, and invite one to approach to explore their appealing surfaces and subjects. Once one is immersed in Tereshina’s ether, the emblematic figures and high abstraction allow for endless interpretations. Conversely, speaking of her own experience of her body of work, Tereshina calls it “a string that keeps me from getting lost in the woods.”
“I used to make similar work before I went to art school. And now that I’m done with it I am coming back around to reaching for that guttural, visceral desire to make things and really trying to channel that and not focus on more formal aspects of art making.”
Tereshina has worked with many mediums through her artistic career, and is now using mostly watercolor and paints exclusively on high quality paper.
“Painting on paper instills a modesty and lightness to the subjects. By transposing pieces of vellum over some paintings I give them a more ethereal feeling. Paper allows me to create even, flat color and use collage to push and pull the viewer’s eye throughout the shallow space of the painting. Normally, with watercolors, you let the paper be the brightest bright, so you leave certain parts of the paper to expose it, but in a lot of my paintings there’s a thick coat of gesso that covers the paper, so in a sense I do treat it like a canvas, because I am not playing with water so much as I am with color. I gesso it. I sand it. I gesso it again. Instead of relying on the color of the paper and the texture of the paper, I really take control of it and work with it in a way you don’t normally.”
Within Seattle, Tereshina has strong ties to the community. She works with locally operated businesses and utilizes her art for their promotional material, and she has shown in many prominent workspaces within Seattle’s artistic community, as well as internationally. She also works with a small group of artists to host seasonal critique sessions.
“Now that I have traveled with the purpose of looking for art scenes, I have really come to love Seattle. It’s okay to be weird here. There’s a culture that promotes individuality in a way that you don’t find in other places. There are a lot of people doing interesting stuff in every pocket. The older I get, the more serious the people around me are and the more pressure I feel to do good work. If you see someone doing something then you feel a responsibility to step it up.”
To view more of Polina Tereshina’s work, visit www.polinatereshina.com. All images courtesy of the artist.