Monday, September 1, 2008

Interview with Jordanka (Tree Artist)

I once had the distinct pleasure of "doing art" with a three and five year old. We spread newspapers over the table and then, on top of that, what seemed like a ream of paper, several jars of water, a jumble of brushes and a huge array of watercolors. Painting, I soon learned, was a seriously fun business.

The three year old seemed more absorbed by the process of painting than what he painted (though he gave an elaborate story afterwards about his subject, I got the impression that he was making it up. I sensed the story telling was also part of his "art"). His technique was to grab hold of a big, fat paintbrush with clenched fist and gob paint--as much as possible--onto the bristles. He spent a good deal more time feeling the movement of paint on paper than he did trying to make objects out of paint. His was as much a tactile experience as visual.

The five year old, likewise, was intent on her painting project, but in a different, more studied way (befitting her personality). Subject was definitely important to her. Lines. Color. She worked swiftly with brisk movements of the brush. She took a sort of minimalist approach. Decisive (she'd planned out her painting), yet unfettered, free with her strokes. I couldn't have reproduced the vibrant paintings she made.

Fast forward a few years to "art" projects these children now brought home from school. Gone were the thick, flowing lines. Gone were the energy and freedom of movement. Gone were the unrestrained, surprising colors and creative spirit. Self-consciousness had crept in. Stiff stick figures. Dictated subjects and forced perspectives. Painting wasn't something to be done just for the fun of it. "Art" was now a homework assignment: just another subject in school. It was something to be done within a prescribed time limit and to get a grade. Ugh. I couldn't help but feel sad.

"I could paint realistic portraits by age 10, but it took me a life time to learn how to paint like a child."--Picasso

I took this quote from the website of Jordanka, Tree Artist. I read that Paul Klee, a Swiss painter who taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture, felt similarly and I wondered how many artists, known and relatively unknown, struggle to get back something into their artwork that life, maturity, and formal schooling often knocks out of us.

Jordanka is a Naive artist I met through Etsy and whose work I've admired from afar. Those TREES she paints! You can't help but get drawn in! In 38 years of working her craft, Jordanka has won numerous awards and participated in solo and group exhibitions in both United States and Canadian galleries. She has also been featured in countless articles in local newspapers, including Chatelaine Magazine, and appeared on four local television shows. Since "getting the child back" into my own work is something I think about a great deal, I was delighted when Jordanka agreed to share some of her insights.

"I was born and raised in Bulgaria," Jordanka tells me, "and interested in art ever since I was a little girl. I used to visit the only Gallery in my hometown, Burgas, and wished I could paint like those great artists. I came to Canada in 1970. Along with raising a family, (a son with Cerebral Palsy and a daughter), I taught myself to paint. First I copied every picture from the "How-to" paint books and later from National Geographic and other magazines. I tried all kinds of mediums: Pastels, Oils, Colored Pencils and Acrylics. I painted flowers, animals, and mostly portraits in a truly realist manner."

Jordanka worked this way for about twelve years. "As I learned more I discovered the whimsical art of Henri Rousseau, a Naive French artist who painted famous Jungle scenes. Later I discovered Grandma Moses. She painted her everyday life experiences in the country in a very simple way. This made me want to paint scenes of my childhood memories of Bulgaria, but I did not start until about 19 years later. I guess I wasn't ready before that. I just had to follow my inner gut feelings."

World Wide Arts Resources defines Naive Art as follows: "...the work done by an artist who was not trained in an academy or other traditional manner of art education. It is characterized by an unusual approach to the formal qualities of painting and awkward drawing skills, resulting in an almost childish image. Other qualities of naive art include pattern, unrefined color and simplicity. Notable naive artists include Henri Rousseau, Camille Bombois, and Alfred Wallis. Naive artists are sometimes referred to as primitive artists."

While Naive artists may lack formal, academic training, they are often well read and practiced and capable of using sophisticated (if intuitive) techniques to obtain simplistic, childlike results. "My primitive, naive style," Jordanka says, "evolved over the next 19 years."

"I think this style of art was in me all along. I wanted to tell stories of my life in Bulgaria in a simple, childlike way. That's why it's called Primitive, Naive art. No one can teach you how to do it: untrained and unrestrained. I am a person who does not like to follow any specific rules, especially when it comes to painting. I learned to trust my gut feeling and go with it. I have not become rich from my art, but I am rich, because I am happy when I paint."

"I worked on the Bulgaria series until 2005," Jordanka continues. "A I painted my childhood memories, I refined my style more and more. I had so much fun that I included scenes of my life in Canada, as this Country has become my second home. UNICEF and Leukemia Research Fund of British Columbia, Canada created Christmas cards from 8 of my naive scenes of children playing in the snow with all the proceeds going to the Charities."

"Now I work in acrylics on canvas, watercolor paper or mat board and paint TREES. I don't put much detail in my TREE paintings. I want to show each tree has a character and soul all its own. If you observe trees in the spring--before they start getting leaves--you can see how different each tree is by the way their branches twist and turn. Of course, I take liberties in design and mood and make each tree a star. People tell me my TREES have human qualities. When I look outside my window or go for a walk and see all those beautiful trees I want to paint. Painting, creating, helps me keep my sanity, and it makes me happy."

Along with trees, Jordanka finds solace and inspiration in music and dance. "When I go in my studio, I put soft rock music on and sing along or whistle while I paint. Sometimes I stop and dance. It energizes me and puts me in a great mood for creating my art."

As to what shoes Jordanka wears? "Dancing shoes. I love to dance."

You may find out more about Jordanka and her work in her shop, and at Yessy, Zazzle, and Cafe Press.

Some of Jordanka's paintings are available on pendants, created by Anna Leah Designs and Cross Stitch Designs.

Jordanka is a member of the following groups:

Interior Design Team
Visual Artists Street Team
Worldwide Women Artists


ElizabethGraf said...

Janyce, this is brilliant -- I love the way you write!
Elizabeth Graf

Marionette said...

Janyce, another wonderful article! I learn so much by reading your lovely blog!

Jordanka, your style is very colorful and playful! I love your trees - they show movement and personality!


Jean Levert Hood said...

I loved reading all about Jordanka! I love her work so much!

I also stop and dance in my studio!