Yelizaveta Bakhtina, Veta for short, is a Russian born artist residing right here in Olympia. She has been making and practicing visual art since she was a child and hasn’t stopped. From her stunning still lifes to her medieval pet portraits, her work is multifaceted and very much her own. Immigrating to the U.S. in 1991 at 11-years-old, she thinks a lot about what home is and the concept of one’s roots.
I met with Veta in her studio. Inside, the walls are filled with her recent works and the cabinets are loaded with well-loved paint tubes and distressed brushes. She offered me a fresh carrot and the interview began. Veta grew up in St. Petersburg at the end of the communist era when Russia was still the Soviet Union. Recalling her childhood, she had nothing but good things to say. Her family had properties in both the buzzing city and the peaceful countryside so her environments were diverse, and being a child, she didn’t have to bear the weight of being an adult in such a serious time. She also came from a literary family: her grandfather was an author. “We also had family friends that were translators,” she shares, “which afforded me an immense library of children’s books from around the world that were translated into Russian”.
Having recently funded a Kickstarter for one of her illustrated children’s books, she tells me that a good portion of her artistic inspiration is from those books she had growing up. Other artistic influences come from some of the old masters, ancient painters from all over the world such as Mikhail Vrubel, Isaak Levitan, and Dorothea Janning.
Veta has taken their influences and created her own form. “As far as form, I like to leave a lot of raw texture in my work and use a lot of the underpainting and glazing,” she explains. “Color is paramountly important to me and I feel it is one of the best painting tools to convey subtle feeling. But in regards to the process in general I would say that the part before the painting is important to understand. I feel that painting is the reward of finishing an idea.”
Liza’s art is very much from the heart. She has the ideas, emotion and technical skill to whip up something that is visually appealing and has feeling. “After being away from Russia so long I felt more confident in my English and feel that maybe I don’t fit in as well or am an outsider,” she says But after having visited recently she put those worries to rest and feels more like she and her culture fit together. She schooled me on Slavic history and answered so many questions I’d had about the place. To me it seemed like it was shrouded in mystery, spies, the Cold War, long and bloody histories, shaky alliances and beautiful country sides.
Her most recent pieces are wrought out of a handmade canvas and are reminiscent of Russian lacquer boxes. Each is painted black and has a single image in the center. They deal with concepts of home and isolation as an immigrant: an investigation into one’s “place” and where their love for place lives. The use of warm and cool colors together combined with subtle and not so subtle themes will draw you to them. Art is not a fast talent. “The oil paintings take weeks, months and sometimes years depending on the size,” she says.I work on multiple ones at a time and my environment plays a huge role in how fast I work. Olympia is not the easiest place for my process. There is a struggle to this place, but I am also very pleased with the work I have produced here.”
Veta is modest when speaking of her art. “My greatest reward as an artist is living with a constantly driving purpose,” she shares, “and knowing that the work I do holds meaning that is true to me, is mine, intrinsic and honest.” She adds that it is also extremely time consuming as a professional, the “do this every day” aspect. Always looking through the artist lens and mulling over or expounding upon one object or another can be a lot of work and even be exhausting.
Yelizaveta’s work makes me nostalgic for a place I have never been and for things I have never experienced. Her desire to help humanity and every critter on earth really shines through her paintings. It gave me a glimmer of hope for the future and made me feel safe. Can one really ask for more than that?
To learn more, visit Yelizaveta Bakhtina’s website.