“Art is slow medicine”. Interview with Yevgenia Nayberg

Ironed Curtains sat down with Yevgenia Nayberg, an artist, theatre designer and illustrator living in New York City.

What was art school in Kiev like?
I’d like to remember my school as a place of rebellion and freedom. On the other hand, it was a small community that existed only for itself. It was a very comfortable place to be rebellious.

Do you think it is different than American art schools and if so, how?
As any Soviet-educated artist would tell you, the difference is in “our” emphasis on strong academic techniques. The idea behind it is that the technical skills will liberate you. It is rarely the case. What I like about the American approach is the healthy dose of sloppiness. I had to artificially cultivate it.

Editorial illustration

Was being left-handed ever a challenge and did anyone ever try to retrain you to use your right hand?
My grandfather and my first-grade teacher both tried to retrain me to write with the right hand. It was quite a struggle. I learned to do it, but to this day my handwriting is terrible. It looks like a seven year old’s. Thankfully, no one had ever attempted to retrain my “drawing” hand.

How has emigration affected your art content or style?
I would not know how emigration affected the content of my work. If one hopes to grow as an artist, there has to be a constant stylistic change. I’ve been exposed to so much visual stimuli here. I’ve been under a lot of new influence.

Illustration from “Anya’s Secret Society”

What is the best and the most challenging thing about writing and illustrating your own book?
Illustrating your own book is delightful. Writing it is a whole other story.

Where do you find inspiration?
The subway.

What project are you working on now?
I am working on two children’s books as an author/illustrator. One is called “Anya’s Secret Society”. It’s being published by Charlesbridge and is coming out a year from now. Another one is about the adventures of a Russian typewriter. Right now, it is in a search of a publisher.

What work do you most enjoy doing? (As in theatre design or illustration or….?)
I love theatre design for the people, the conversations and the noise. I love illustration for the opposite reasons.

Illustration from “The Adventure of the Russian Typewriter”

What is your strongest childhood memory?
My whole childhood is still surprisingly vivid. I do remember painting with watercolor for the first time. I was four years old. My mom, an artist, showed me how. That and climbing with my mom through a dacha window at the age of two.

What themes do you pursue in your work?
A mixture of memories, nightmares and naïve hopes

What do you hope to achieve with your art?
Art is a slow medicine. I hope people feel better someday.

What effect do you hope your art has on the viewer?
It doesn’t matter. As long as they feel something.

Who is your favorite artist?
I change my favorites all the time. Right now it’s Steinberg and Soutine. And Debuffet. And Modigliani–always. Because he’s so handsome.

What do you think about when you paint or draw?
I usually don’t think. Well, sometimes I think about what to cook for dinner.

Editorial illustration

Photo and art, courtesy Yevgenia Nayberg

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